Friday, May 13, 2016

5 to watch in Omaha


 Digg Image Reddit Image Image StumbleUpon Image RSS Feed Image Mail Image Print Image



Every year, there are several U.S. swimmers who have the meets of their lives to make their first Olympic team. This summer in Omaha will most likely be no exception. 

Here are five of the United States’ best swimming hopefuls to have their breakthrough meet at U.S. Olympic Trials – Swimming this summer. 

Will Licon celebrates his win in the 200 breast at NCAAs. (Large)
Will Licon

Athletes realize their potential at various ages and stages of their lives.

For University of Texas All-American Will Licon, his came as a 10-year-old. 

“It felt like already a really long process getting there, but that was when I realized I truly had talent for the sport,” said Licon, who hails from the El Paso, Texas, area. “My family also saw potential in me and made many sacrifices to make sure I had every opportunity to reach it.”

Licon’s journey to his current status – five-time NCAA Champion, U.S. National Team member and 2016 Olympic hopeful – began when he was 7. 

His dad being a former competitive swimmer at Texas A&M, Licon started summer league and within a few months joined a local club. Shortly thereafter, he took a serious interest in the sport. 

That interest and subsequent hard work paid dividends last summer at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships where he took home the silver medal in both the 200 individual medley and 200 breaststroke events. 

“I kind of think of myself as a late bloomer, so it’s great that things are coming together for me now,” Licon said. “I didn’t have a weight training regimen in high school, so doing that at Texas has made a tremendous difference in my strength and endurance. Eddie and Kris are two of the best at teaching and pushing us to strive for more.”
He’s confident everything will work itself out as it’s supposed to now that NCAA Championships are finished and he’s able to focus on final preparations for Olympic Trials next month in Omaha. 

Four years ago, he finished 19th in the 200 breaststroke as a 17-year-old. Now, he’s a definite Olympic contender. “I’m excited about the possibility of representing the United States at an international meet,” he said. “I didn’t qualify (in 2014) for the teams that competed internationally last summer, so I’m more eager than ever to experience that.”

Josh Prenot (large)
Photo courtesy: Tim Binning - The

Josh Prenot

Even though he went just under 2:09 (2:08.90) in the final of the 200 breaststroke last summer at World University Games, Josh Prenot expected better.

Just a few weeks before at the 2015 Arena Pro Swim Series at Charlotte, he went under 2:09 for the first time and felt that was a harbinger of things to come.

Still, despite what he considers a “slow”  swim (he shaved almost 4 seconds between prelims and finals) proved more than fast enough in the end to earn his first senior-level gold medal and place his name among the top swimmers in the world heading into Olympic Trials next month.

“I genuinely expected to be faster in the final, but it was still great to win,” said Prenot, who completed his senior season this spring at Cal, winning the 400 IM at NCAA Championships.

“Overall, WUGs was a great learning and practice experience for me – particularly training my mind and body to compete in several events on the same day – something I will no doubt be doing at Trials in Omaha.”

Prenot ended WUGs with a second gold medal in the 200 individual medley (tied with Australia’s Justin James) and a silver in the 400 IM – an event he calls “hit and miss” for him as far as strategy and outcomes are concerned.

He has also added victories this season in the 200 breast at the Arena Pro Series Swim meets in Austin and Orlando, and last December at the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool, he won the 200 IM – displaying a versatility that gives him many options at Trials next month. 

At WUGs last summer, he was part of the team that set a new swimming record for gold medals (15) and overall medals (34) at a World University Games. Swimming also accounted for more than half of all the medals won by the United States at the games (54) and a huge majority of gold medals (20) overall.

“It was so great to look into the stands and see everyone cheering for one another and compete at a super-high level,” he said. “It was a great test for myself and for everyone.”

He considered taking this past season off to train exclusively for Trials, but Prenot said he knew that Dave Durden and his staff would put him in the best possible shape for Trials. 

“We trained long course four mornings a week (in addition to short course) this season, and Dave puts together plans to get the most out of our training every day,” said Prenot, who admits he was a bit overwhelmed at his first Olympic Trials in 2012. “I have no doubt I’ll be ready this summer.”

Molly Hannis (large)
Molly Hannis

Swimmers grow up imagining – dreaming, if you will – of what it would feel like to experience a gold-medal swim. 

For those select few who do get to realize the feeling, it’s often far beyond anything they imagined.

For Molly Hannis, hers came on a relay with her University of Tennessee teammates at NCAA Championships three years ago. 

It proved to be an experience she was able to share with her closest friends while getting the thrill of racing….and winning.

“I’ve always loved racing on relays as much, if not more than individual events, so I guess it’s no surprise that my favorite ‘gold medal’ swim was the 400 medley relay at NCAAs in 2013,” she said. 

“After prelims, I remember we all felt confident we had room to improve our splits. Going into finals I recall a high level of confidence in both myself and my teammates.”

Now, with Olympic Trials just over a month away, she’s ready to experience some individual success and make her first Olympic team.

While she didn’t win any medals (she finished sixth in the 200 breaststroke, swimming almost a second slower in the final than she had in prelims and semis) last summer at World University Games, Hannis said she learned a lot about herself as a swimmer and competitor. 

She used those lessons last August at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships where she finished as the silver medalist in the 200 breaststroke. She also made the semifinals of the 100 breast.

Hannis spent the past year living and training with a group of post-grad/professional swimmers in the University of Tennessee’s Pilot Aquatics (TNAQ) to prepare for next month’s Olympic Trials in Omaha.

With so much experience over the past few years, Hannis said she is expecting quite a bit from herself at Trials.
“Over the past couple years, I’ve seen my chances of making the Olympics continue to steadily improve,” she said. “I feel very blessed and very excited to know that I have a legitimate shot at making an Olympic Team.”

Josh Schneider (large)
Josh Schneider

With the build of an outside linebacker, at first glance Josh Schneider looks much more like a football player than freestyle sprinter.

But as we all know, looks can be deceiving, and while he may compete with the rough-and-tumble mentality of a gridiron gladiator (he did play linebacker and wide receiver in high school), Schneider is every bit the consummate swimmer. 

And he makes no apologies for it.

“I’m a very physical swimmer, but I haven’t always been,” he said. “When I was a freshman and sophomore in high school, I was still 6-4 but I weighed around 190 pounds. Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard in the weight room to get stronger, and that’s resulted in faster times.”

But that’s not where it begins and ends for Schneider, one of the top freestyle swimmers in the world over the past few years despite missing making several of the top-level teams.

Since he finished fourth in the 50 freestyle and missed making the 2012 Olympic Team – a harsh disappointment that stuck with him for quite a while – the University of Cincinnati All-American and NCAA Champion has recommitted himself to the sport. 

That dedication includes paying strict attention to his nutrition, giving up drinking alcohol, sleeping and resting his body more and just taking the requirements and responsibilities of being a professional athlete more seriously.
In many ways and for the first time in many years – possibly in his career – Schneider is fully invested in doing everything he can to swim his best and make his first Olympic team this summer. 

“I honestly thought I was doing enough to make the Olympic team in 2012, but I didn’t and that was an eye-opening experience for me,” he said. “It truly showed me that I didn’t give enough last time, but that’s not the case this time around. 

“After that race, I spent a lot of time analyzing what I could have done differently – technique, body position, stroke pacing, breathing, even facial tension – and I made changes that have made a positive impact. I’m more focused, and I’m really seeing how special it can be when you see how far you can go when you fully invest in something. It gives you a different perspective.” 

Testament to this came last summer when Schneider swam to gold – his first international medal – in the 50 freestyle at the Pan American Games. 

And what if he comes up short again next month in Omaha at the “old age” of 28? 

“Right now, I don’t even want to think about it (the possibility of not making the team),” said Schneider, who believes this year his best shot to make the U.S. Olympic team will be in the 100 freestyle rather than the 50.

“You can’t leave things up to chance – you have to take the necessary steps and preparations to make sure you’re ready to make it happen.”

Hali Flickinger (large)
Hali Flickinger

Hali Flickinger proudly describes herself as an introvert – and as such, she craves an introvert’s career.

Not as a public speaker. Not as someone who interacts regularly with people. Not as someone who draws much or any attention to herself. 

A numbers person, she prefers working more in her head and less with other people – unless, of course, she’s working with her University of Georgia or U.S. National teammates.

That’s a different story all together. 

“But when it comes to swimming, I am all about my teammates,” she said. “It’s the one area where I’m happy to put aside my shy nature for the benefit of being with others. I just hold myself to very high standards, so I do what I need to do to accomplish my goals.”

For the past couple of years, Flickinger has made the most of those opportunities by swimming fast. 

Her third-place performance in the 200 butterfly at the 2014 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships earned her a spot on the 2014 Pan Pacific Championship team, as well as last summer’s World University Games. 

In Korea, she contributed a leg to the United States’ gold medal-winning 800 freestyle relay and also won individual bronze medals in the 200 butterfly and 400 individual medley events. 

A few weeks later at the Phillips 66 Nationals in San Antonio, Flickinger won her first National title in the 200 fly, and also finished in the top 3 in the 200 and 400 freestyle and 200 backstroke events – displaying her versatility. 

Having completed her senior season at Georgia this past spring with multiple All-America honors, Flickinger believed in her growth at Georgia so much that, rather than redshirt to focus on training exclusively for Trials, she put her faith in Jack Bauerle and the rest of the Bulldog coaching staff to achieve her Olympic dreams.

Four years ago at Trials, she was a recent high school graduate taking in the entire experience.
This time, she knows she’s a strong contender, and she intends to make sure she’s in the thick of the race – literally and figuratively. 

“Olympic Trials (in 2012) wasn’t the greatest experience for me, but it proved to be a great learning experience; all the big meets I’ve been part of lately have taught me some valuable things,” Flickinger said. “This time, because of Pan Pacs and WUGs and NCAAs, etc., I feel so much more prepared. 

“I have learned to move on from each race and not allow the last one to linger, and that helps me keep focused on what’s next. I’ve always worked a ton on my race strategy, post-race recovery, time management between events, etc. Overall, I just know this summer will be better and different for me.”

No comments:

Post a Comment