This past weekend at the NCAA Swimming Championships, captain Alex Righi ’09 concluded his collegiate career with fourth, fifth and 12th place finishes in the 100-yard freestyle, 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke, respectively. In his first race of the meet, the preliminaries of the 50-yard free, Righi tied the American record with a time of 18.82 for the top-seeded spot going into the finals, where he later finished fifth.
Righi’s later performance in the 100-yard back preliminaries improved on his own Ivy League record and earned him the second-fastest time going into the finals, only .03 behind the top seed, and he later finished fourth in the finals. Righi was the sole competitor representing Yale at NCAAs this year, and his three finishes tied Yale for 21st place among universities that sent swimmers to the nation’s top collegiate swim meet. With his collegiate career wrapped up, Righi talks to the News about his weekend, his tying the American record and his hopes for the future.
Q: How do you think the weekend went overall?
A: I have mixed feelings about the meet and my performance. I was happy with my time in the morning and breaking the American record [in the 50-yard free]. In preliminaries, I did pretty well. I was seeded second and the first seed was just a few hundredths of a second faster [in the 100-yard back]. But in night swim, I placed fourth. I had a problem with doing better in the morning swim than the night swim, which is very characteristic for me in this meet for the past four years. It’s not a huge problem, but a frustrating one.
Q: What was it like tying the American record?
A: When I got out of the pool, I thought it was just a good race. I didn’t realize it in until later, but it showed me how much I improved over the four years. It made me confident about the next swim. Unfortunately, certain factors played in my not swimming as fast.
Q: What did you think were the factors?
A: The 50 yard meet is such a short event because anything that goes marginally wrong, which would not have made a difference in a longer race, can change the out come. Little things like not going of the block incredibly fast, staying in water too long, can add up. It may just be a couple of hundredths of a second, but it adds up especially in such a short race as this. I certainly wasn’t pleased with the outcome since I was much faster in the morning.
Q: What do you think is the difference between an athlete’s mindset at the morning prelim versus the final night swims?
A: Morning swims are seen as more of a warm up — since the morning has no effect on the team’s score. It’s still important, but it’s more like a preparation swim. It’s necessary to finish at one of the best times in the morning to feel confident about going back at night. The morning sessions demand a lot of effort and perfection in getting the best time, since being fast in morning makes the swimmer well seeded for the night. At the night, it’s more about trying to beat the people next to you, so you’re less worried about the time and more worried about the competition.
Q: What was the atmosphere and quality of competition at the meet?
A: It was very competitive. There were a lot of really great swimmers there at high levels of accomplishment across the board. It was much different from what I was used to in the Ivy Leagues. At first, it was intimidating and then, I got used to it and preferred it.
Q: What were your expectations going into the event?
A: Going in the meet, I had high hopes for my time and my place. I guess to some extent I accomplished my goals, but the expectation that I will swim well and actually win didn’t happen. That was a bit frustrating and disappointing.
Q: How did you prepare for the event?
A: Preparation was a whole year — as soon as I got in the water since last year’s meet. More specifically, for the last couple of weeks I had one-on-one trainings with my coach trying to perfect my technique.
Q: What do you think is in store for your future?
A: I am not sure yet. I’m really trying to find a job right now, and it’s not easy. I’m also trying to go to law school and trying to fit swimming in to that. I think I have a good shot at making the 2012 Olympics team.
Q: What lessons did you learn from swimming?
A: I can write a whole book on that! Swimming, more than anything else, taught me how to be dedicated to one thing, and really excel at it. Throughout the years, it has taught me to never lose faith in myself regardless of hard times — I think sports in general are good at doing that. I learned the humility that comes with defeat, but also the emotional maturity that comes with taking losses and stumbling through them. I also gained a competitive nature as well.