After swimmer Hayes Hyde ’12 touched the wall at the end of the 200 butterfly race at the 2011 AT&T Winter National Championships on Sunday, she could not decide whether she wanted to turn around to look at her time on the scoreboard.
If Hyde had finished under 2:16.49, she would have qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Earning a trip to the Olympic Trials had been Hyde’s goal since high school, and she had set this competition as her own personal deadline to earn the cut.
Eventually, she did turn around and look at the scoreboard.
“I immediately felt this sense of relief because I had been trying to get this cut for a while now,” Hyde said. “I really didn’t get that feeling of accomplishment and happiness until a good 15 minutes later. It didn’t really sink in when it happened.”
Hyde is not the only member of the Yale swim team who will be heading to the Olympic Trials, which will take place from June 25 to July 2 in Omaha, Neb. Teammates Athena Liao ’12, Alexandra Forrester ’13 and Molly Albrecht ’13, who have also met the time standards in at least one event, will join her.
“[It’s] well-deserved,” Cristina Teuscher, head coach of women’s swimming and diving, said. “I think what you see with the four girls that made it, and obviously what I think has been a consistent thing on the team, is just strong work ethic.”
On the men’s team, freshman swimmers Rob Harder ’15, Dillon Thompson ’15 and Ronald Tsui ’15 have also punched their tickets to the Olympic Trials.
And, with time still left to qualify, the list of Yale swimmers heading to the trials could only grow.
In order to qualify for the Olympic Trials, Yale swim team members said swimmers must meet certain time standards that are set by USA Swimming in each event. Anyone who swims below the mark at an official USA swim meet earns a trip to the Olympic Trials. Athletes must also race in a long course pool, which is 50 meters in length, for the times to count towards Olympic Trial cuts. (College swimming competitions take place in short course pools, which are only 25 meters long.)
Though the 2012 Olympic Trials standards were released in November 2010, the qualifying period extends from October 2009 to the 2012 entry deadline. Thus, some swimmers had already qualified for the Olympic Trials even before the time standards were announced.
This was the case for Albrecht, who earned a cut in the 200 backstroke with a time she had set a year and a half ago. Albrecht called it “a happy coincidence” and added that if she had not previously qualified she would have still pursued a trial cut.
Forrester had met the time standards three years ago, but because she had swum those times outside of the qualification period, she had to requalify for the events. Like Hyde, she did so over the weekend at the Winter National Championships, where she picked up cuts in the 200 butterfly, 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly. Forrester also earned a silver medal in the 100 butterfly, finishing only behind Dana Vollmer, who is the reigning world champion in the event.
“It’s always fun to go to Nationals and race against really fast people,” Forrester said.
Liao qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 200 breaststroke with a strong showing at the ConocoPhilips USA Swimming National Championships in August. In the preliminary race, however, Liao fell short of qualifying. Undeterred, she decided to try again in a time trial, where she finished under the 2:35.99 standard.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and literally stared at it, thinking there was a mistake,” Liao recalled. “I looked back at my lane number to double-check and was still convinced the 2:34 up there wasn’t my time. But eventually after looking at it for a solid minute, I realized I had made it, and it made me so happy.”
Similarly, Harder also qualified for the Olympic Trials this summer in the 1500 freestyle after competing in the Speedo Junior National Championships.
Once at the Olympic Trials, elite swimmers will compete for the chance to be a part of the team that will race in the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Because the number of swimmers who can compete at the trials is not capped, the actual meet is extremely competitive.
Due to the caliber of USA Swimming, the number of athletes who qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials has been steadily increasing over the years. Teuscher, who is an Olympic medalist, said that in 1996, approximately 800 swimmers earned trial cuts, but by 2008, that number had ballooned to around 1,600. She added that she expects approximately 1,500 to 1,600 swimmers to race in Nebraska next June.
“I think Olympic Trials is probably the most difficult meet to make in the States, and it tends to be the fastest meet,” Teuscher said. “Ten to 15 years ago, they talked about it as the meet that sometimes people viewed as harder and more stressful than the actual Olympics, simply because sometimes you would have a top-eight heat of Americans that was faster than the top-eight heat at the actual Olympics.”
Of the athletes who make it to the Olympic Trials, only the top two finishers in each event earn berths on the U.S. National swim team.
Still, Yale has a rich tradition of producing Olympic swimmers. Twenty-four Elis have swum in the Olympics and have combined to win a total of 25 Olympic medals. Two of those Olympians, Mike Austin ’64 and Steve Clark ’65, even donated their gold medals from the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo to Yale.
The last Eli swimmers to compete in the Games were George Gleason ’01 and Stephen Fahy ’00, who represented the Virgin Islands and Bermuda, respectively, at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.
Nonetheless, the current Yale swimmers who have earned trial cuts are realistic about their chances of making it all the way to London and are instead more focused on simply swimming their best and making the most of the Olympic Trials experience.
For Hyde, just achieving her goal of making it to the trials is enough.
“I don’t have any expectations for going to the Olympics, and I really haven’t for a long time because that’s not what is predominately important to me,” she said. “But to go to the Olympic Trials, to have a good time, to swim as well as I can and to be proud of my accomplishment and to close out my swimming career on a really high note — just being able to go to trials has set me up for that.”
And with the Olympic Trials not set to take place until next June, the Bulldogs have more pressing concerns, such as their current swim season.
“I don’t think any of us have less focus on how important Yale is to us and college swimming is to us,” Forrester said. “The Olympic Trials is just icing on the cake. I think our main concentration is supporting our team and supporting our teammates. We’ll deal with Olympic Trials after our season is over.”