While most sports fans comfortably watched the 2012 Olympic Games unfold from their couches at home, USC senior swimmer Haley Anderson was in the water for nearly two hours — one hour, 57 minutes and 38.6 seconds, to be exact. Most of the attention for Olympic swimming centers on what happens in the pool, but Anderson was attempting to give the United States glory in the open-water 10K Marathon at Hyde Park in London.
When she reached the finish line, she was 0.4 seconds shy from taking gold.
“Everybody afterwards was like, ‘Oh my God, you got second, you were 0.4 off,” Anderson said. “But I got a medal at the Olympics. I didn’t care that it was silver.”
It was more than just silver, however — it was the first time that an American had ever medaled in the event.
“There’s no disappointment,” said USC men’s and women’s swimming coach Dave Salo. “She demonstrated that she’s one of the best in the world. Here she was going to her first Olympic games, and she comes back with a medal.”
Along with her open-water prowess, Anderson, 20, has also been successful in the pool, taking the NCAA and Pac-12 titles in the 500-yard freestyle and her third-straight Pac-12 title in the 1,650-yard freestyle last year.
Anderson currently holds USC records in the 500-yard, 1,000-yard and 1,650-yard freestyles, as well as in the 800-yard freestyle relay.
“We’ve learned in the last three years that she has been here that she’s tough as nails when she trains,” Salo said. “I felt really confident that she would be tough enough to compete against anybody.”
Many perceived Anderson as an underdog before the marathon because her documented success was in the pool rather than in open water, but it was a label that she graciously accepted.
“Nobody knew how I raced. I never raced some of these top girls, so they didn’t know me and know my strategy,” Anderson said.
During the race in London, which spanned 10 kilometers and looped the lake known as “The Serpentine” six times, Anderson had a different plan of attack.
“Normally I’ll start out in the back and work my way up. I knew this time I had to be in the front at the beginning,” Anderson said. “I knew that would give me a good position for the finish.”
In the final 1,000 meters of the race, Anderson surged from fourth to second place to finish 3.2 seconds faster than Italy’s Martina Grimaldi and 0.4 seconds short of Hungary’s Eva Risztov.
No one would dispute the insanity of swimming 10 kilometers — two of the 25 swimmers were pulled out of the water during the race and needed medical treatment. But nonetheless, the physical nature of the marathon often goes unnoticed.
“It’s kind of a brutal sport. There’s stuff going on that you don’t necessarily see,” Salo said. “It’s not like pool swimming where you got your own lane. There’s a lot of crowding and a lot of grabbing.”
In preparation for the Olympics, Anderson maintained her training focus in the pool and occasionally spent 30 to 40 minutes swimming in the ocean on Sundays.
“She beat a lot of swimmers who have been open-water training, and it’s been their whole deal and their big passion,” Salo said. “We didn’t do anything different, so it was exciting from that standpoint.”
It is hard to top a historic Olympic medal, but Anderson claims she’s not done quite yet.
“Finishing out my last year of eligibility, hopefully defending my title and getting another in the mile — that’s definitely my goal for this year,” Anderson said. “And Rio 2016 is definitely a possibility.”