OMAHA, NE -- Over the past eight nights here in Omaha, the 2016 U.S. Olympic swim team took shape. Out of the 1,700+ athletes (who through qualification to the Trials established themselves in the top 0.5% of eligible U.S.A Swimming competitors) a mere 47 were elevated to the status of U.S. Olympian.
None of our five Williams swimmers were counted among the 22 females and 25 males that will now travel to training camp in San Antonio, TX before heading to Rio de Janeiro to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games. But what those Ephs experienced at the Trials, whether racing in front of sold-out crowds of 14,000, featuring on NBC broadcast streamings, receiving world-class athlete hospitality care or jumping into the pool (sometimes even sharing a warm-up lane) with icons like Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps, are all memories that will last for the rest of their lives.
The often untold story of competing at Olympic Trials is that the large majority of swimmers don't improve their times. Though the meet strives to bring out the best in all swimmers, only about 25% post their personal best time at the Trials (swimswam.com has available performance statistics from each session).
|Ben Lin '17 before his 100m Back
All of the Williams swimmers were among those that added time in their races. One was disqualified during his race. Yet even though they didn't quite perform at their best, the five Williams swimmers have shown remarkable poise and perspective to appreciate the whole experience of the Trials.
"There's nothing I love more than throwing on an Eph cap and getting to race," said Thad Ricotta '15 about representing Williams for the last time. "To me the cap represents all the hard work we've done as a team."
Meanwhile Emma Waddell '18 said of her time in Omaha, "It was an incredible, memorable experience. I am honored to represent Williams at such a competitive meet."
The reason that so many struggle on U.S.A. Swimming's biggest stage is unclear. For many, it took the race of their life to qualify; for others, the pressure is too anxiety-inducing. There may be no single cause, and U.S.A. Swimming works hard to create an environment that allows the athlete to best prepare their body and mind for the challenge. The lavish warm-up facilities also included hot-tubs, massage therapists and a recreation room that for the first time featured stress-relieving therapy dogs.
But the fact remains that around 75% of swimmers at the Trials will not improve their time.
Despite this, the five Ephs in Omaha carried that indomitable Williams spirit with them, and what the clock read couldn't detract from their experience. Ricotta sees their presence at this meet as impressive enough.
He said, "I consider Williams to be one of the top swimming schools, and seeing five Williams caps sprinkled amongst the major D1 powerhouses solidified that idea for me."
While the top storyline from the week will be Michael Phelps qualifying for his fifth Olympics, the meet was full of drama, heartbreak and inspiration. Williams has its own place in the history of the 2016 Trials for qualifying five tremendous athletes.
From the stands there were some incredible moments that deserve to be mentioned. One was the Men's 200m Backstroke where California teammates Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley punched their tickets to Rio. Murphy cemented himself as the nation's top backstroker and nearly knocked off a couple of world records this week, and Pebley clawed his way onto the Olympic team and was emotional after the race.
Then there was the Women's 200m Backstroke where Maya DiRado and Missy Franklin added events to their schedule in Rio. DiRado is a first time Olympian and has burst onto the scene at this Trials, and while Franklin is one of the biggest names in swimming, she struggled this week and barely squeaked onto the team in this, her signature event. For these two teammates it was a very different road to the same result.
DiRado and Franklin after the 200m Backstroke
(Source: Al Bello/Getty Images North America)
U.S. Olympians of the past were pushed off the team, like Natalie Coughlin, Cullen Jones and Tyler Clary--all are former gold medalists. New-comers replace them as the face of U.S.A. Swimming, like Lily King, Josh Prenot and Leah Smith.
For the Williams swimmers like Ricotta, all these athletes together were part of his experience. "Being surrounded by the top athletes in our sport," he said "made it truly unforgettable."
--Colin Hogan '17