Now that the collegiate season is over, it would be fair to assume USC swimmers would be eager to leave the pool in favor of the sand and surf of Los Angeles’ beaches, free of any kind of walls or lanes. Instead, the Trojans are hitting the pool even more vigilantly as many of them are preparing to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
With the coming of another Summer Olympic Games, it’s no surprise that the swimmers of South Los Angeles are hopeful that they will have the chance to represent their respective countries. In what has become a quadrennial tradition, USC swimmers are turning up the heat on their training as the summer months approach.
Over the summer, Trojan Olympic hopefuls will compete in their respective countries’ trials. For some swimmers, like Poland’s Michael Domagala, a junior, just making the FINA “A” cut might be enough to qualify for the national team. For others, especially American swimmers like junior Reed Malone, senior Kendyl Stewart and junior Chelsea Chenault, the competition is a little stiffer.
“In the U.S., we don’t have to worry about the ‘A’ cut,” Malone said. “Everybody is going to hit it.”
Instead, the United States will take the top two swimmers from each individual event, except for the 100 and 200 freestyle, where the U.S. will take the top six for relay events. Training for these Olympic events will require a slight change of gameplan, as Olympic events are long-course (50-meter lanes), whereas collegiate events take place in short-courses (25-meter lanes).
In preparing for the 2016 Olympics, Malone, Stewart and Chenault are continuing a friendship built over just shy of 10 years of training together. The swimmers met sporadically throughout high school at various national events before joining forces in the pool at USC. Though the three swimmers have trained together since their early teens, they each have their own secret to success. For Malone, the key is confidence.
“When you’re racing the best in the world, you have to think that you belong there,” Malone said. “Otherwise you’ve already been beaten.”
Chenault, a perennial All-American, knows it’s always been about managing stress and staying focused when the time comes.
“I can’t take myself too seriously,” Chenault said. “I have to be goofy with it. I’ll be sitting in the ready room which can be the most intimidating place, for some meets, but I’ll try to figure out where to find cute shoes or start dancing to stay relaxed.”
Stewart, a graduating senior who debated taking this season off to train for the Olympics full time, knows she belongs among the top swimmers in the world. This year in the trials, she anxious to prove it.
“I try to make it not a bigger deal than it is,” Stewart said. “I’m pretty relaxed in most situations, and I try to keep swimming in perspective.”
Domagala, Malone, Stewart and Chenault have established themselves as the frontrunners to be this year’s Trojan swimming representatives, but — to steal another sport’s metaphor — it’s anyone’s ballgame.
“Anything can happen,” Malone said. “Basically the whole team is going to trials. On any given day, if you’re on, you’re on.”
Other Trojans to look out for this Olympic season include sophomore Estonian Ralf Tribuntsov, junior Canadian Santo Condorelli, senior Kasia Wilk and sophomore Pawel Furtek for Poland, senior American Haley Anderson and junior Dylan Carter from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Regardless of who makes it to this year’s Olympics, any Trojan will be continuing in a legacy of greatness. Since 1912, a Trojan has won a gold medal in at least one event at each Summer Olympic Games, and many of them have been swimmers — including a Trojan gold in 1980, won by Australian Michelle Ford while the United States was boycotting. Two of USC’s six U.S. Olympic Hall of Famers — John Naber, and Janet Evans — are swimmers.
At the 2012 Games in London, Trojan Rebecca Soni won three medals: two golds, in the 200 breaststroke and the 400 medley relay and a silver in the 100 breast. Clement Lefert and Ous Mellouli, Trojans representing their respective home countries of France and Tunisia, were double medalists in London, while Anderson took home a silver medal for the United States.
“When you walk into the weight room of the John McKay Center, it has the name of every USC Olympian,” Malone said. “To put your name on that wall would be a dream come true.”
For the time being, Trojan swimmers might be missing out on the Santa Monica Pier and the surf at Manhattan, but they’re hoping their hard work will pay off soon in a beach city more than 6,000 miles to the southeast of Los Angeles.