Senior sprinter Henry Gaissert ’20 has been pivotal to the success of the men’s swimming and diving team this season. The Olympic Trials qualifier has provided a series of consistent standout performances against other conference teams, having most recently dismantled Harvard and Princeton in both his individual events and as part of a relay team.
The Dover, Massachusetts native discovered his passion for swimming after unsuccessful stints in soccer, lacrosse and basketball. Having an older brother, Philipp, who was a competitive swimmer, the pool was Gaissert’s logical next step. Swimming his first laps at age 7, he was quickly hooked on the “peaceful and meditative” feeling that came with being submerged underwater. Philipp, who would later go on to become the captain of the men’s swimming and diving team at Columbia, was both an early role model and an immense source of pressure for Gaissert.
“[Philipp] was such an incredibly talented student and such an incredibly talented athlete that it was hard not to compare myself to him,” Gaissert said. “When he became a sprinter I chose his same events to take after what he was doing. I felt like it was in my blood to succeed at those events.”
After rallying back from an injury during his junior year of high school and improving upon his times, Gaissert was recruited by Yale in 2015, joining his cousin and future team captain Adrian Lin ’19 as a Bulldog.
Swimming at a Division I level was a completely new experience for Gaissert. Previously, he had only competed at a club level with local club team Bernal’s Gators back in high school. Becoming a Yale swimmer meant that he had to put his teammates first.
“I was always bred to have this team mentality,” Gaissert said. “Coming here and being able to wear the Y on your suit, the Y on your cap, to be a Bulldog, that really completed the picture for me. It allowed me to pursue the sport from an angle that was outside of myself. There’s nothing more humbling and gratifying than to be able to put out results for your team.”
During his time as a Bulldog, Gaissert oriented himself to fit in alongside the team’s plans. He picked up the 200-yard freestyle, which has now become one of his best events, to improve the team’s scoring potential. Gaissert has also become a leader outside of the pool, reaching out to new recruits and organizing retreats for the team.
According to former Yale recruiting coordinator and assistant coach Kevin Norman, Gaissert “was like a big brother.”
“What made him such a special leader was he did more than just push people to be better, he actually taught them how to be better,” Norman said. “He has a huge heart, cares so much about the team, but also has an unmatched work ethic and the ability to flip a switch on meet day and be a relentless competitor. He’s the type of person you want in your corner. ”
At the 2018 Winter National Championships, Gaissert qualified for the 2020 U.S. National Trials. He swam the 50-meter freestyle in 22.94 seconds — 25 milliseconds faster than the national cut time.
Despite having secured his spot at Omaha this June, the Olympic Trials qualifier says he is certain that the crowning moment has still yet to come. That moment could have arrived two years ago, however, when Gaissert — alongside veterans Lin, Kei Hyogo ’18 and Aaron Greenberg ’18 — were agonizingly close to being able to represent Yale at the NCAA Division I Championships.
“[Lin, Hyogo, Greenberg and I] were 0.6 seconds behind the [NCAA] cut time,” Gaissert said. There’s a photo of us up on the second-place podium — nobody looks happy, nobody looks pleased. It’s pain. It shows how intensely we believed in ourselves and how upset I was that that was my last chance to swim with those guys.”
The Eli’s freestyle relay teams are on hot form this season, cruising past strong teams from Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell and Penn. Having developed a new synergy with underclassmen on the team, Gaissert says he will do all he can to secure that elusive cut time.
With Ivies later this month and the NCAA championships at the end of March, Gaissert hopes to take all the opportunities he has to represent Yale as well as possible. His individual performances this season have been nothing short of stellar, racking up wins in his signature sprint events and edging closer to his personal best times.
“When my father, an outdoorsman from Michigan, came to visit in 2017, his comment about Henry was, ‘That dog can hunt,’” associate head coach Kyle Schack said. “I know Henry has individual goals he would like to accomplish [but] it’s the team goals that motivate him the most. Henry leads by example and by mentoring the younger students on the team. When he isn’t in the water winning his race he is on the side waving his towel for his team.”
Though Gaissert’s performances this season have helped propel the men’s team to a string of victories, he maintains a humble view on his plans for the future.
But for now, the Olympic Trials will be the Yale phenom’s last competitive race.
“It’s a nice way to bookend my career,” Gaissert said. “I hope to get some best times there, perhaps advance to the semifinals or finals. I don’t think there’s any environment that will push me to perform better than I have been able to do here.”
The 2020 U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials will be held in Omaha, Nebraska.
Ryan Chiao | firstname.lastname@example.org