Jul 1, 2016
Nathan Adrian, Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Held, and Anthony Ervin – Olympians in the men’s 100 free… A snapshot of collective pride and joy…
“Veterans, meet rookies. Rookies, meet veterans,” said Brendan Hansen in his post-awards interview.
There stood a pair of Olympic champions alongside a pair of wide-eyed Olympic rookies. All four beamed like there was no place on the planet they’d rather be. And there wasn’t. How could there be? These four gentlemen were the latest newly minted 2016 Olympians in Omaha and there was no hiding their bursting pride. They’d all taken long roads to this spot.
It was the destination all along. It was hard to tell who was happiest.
First came Caeleb Dressel, the next chosen one of American sprint kings who’s always appeared uncomfortable with the mantle of heir apparent. This is a man who followed one of the most stunning high school careers in history by quitting the sport for six months. The expectations got to him, there’s no way around it. But now those expectations were fulfilled. The weight was lifted from those tattooed shoulders.
“Olympian,” he told Hansen. “That’s a title that no one can ever take away from you.”
The relief in his voice hinted at the torment behind his supposed can’t-miss career. This was a guy who tore up the NCAA record books this spring, the Florida sophomore who blitzed a 18.20 in the 50 free. His bodily potential belied the doubt upstairs. Dressel is still a teenager. He’s still a big stage rookie. It’s easy to forget when everyone gets wrapped up in how fast he might someday be. First he had to make it. He had to show he could do it in the big pool, on the biggest stage. Tonight he did. 48.23, 2nd place at Trials. Good enough for two Olympic berths – in the individual event and the relay.
Next in the interview line-up came Ryan Held, a junior to-be at NC State. Who’s that? Held, you say, what’s he ever done? Well, he was 4th in the 100 free at NCAAs this year; 7th in the 50; he was part of the Wolfpack’s first ever NCAA relay title, in the 4×100 free relay. That’s impressive and all, but it doesn’t exactly match the resumés of his competitors. That no longer matters. Over the last two days Held has delivered three brilliant 100 freestyles – a pair of 48.4s in prelims and semis, and an ice cold 48.26 in the final, good enough for 3rd place, just .03 behind Dressel.
In his interview Held was quick to heap praise on his NC State crew. They were second this year at NCAAs. They are the program on the rise. They resemble Auburn a generation ago. In the early 90s, Auburn was just another SEC also-ran program. But then David Marsh arrived and he transformed the Tigers into a dynasty, leading the men’s team to seven NCAA team titles and the women’s team to five. That’s how head coach Braden Holloway’s Wolfpack is looking these days – like Auburn in the early 90s. A program about to explode into a powerhouse.
Held is helping to lead the way. His performance in Omaha is about to do wonders for Wolfpack recruiting.
The interview with the quartet was then handed off from Brendan Hansen to Kaitlin Sandeno, who’s in the midst of an impressive eight-day audition as a future network TV talent. Sandeno spoke to Nathan Adrian first. The man is the defending Olympic champion in the 100 free. He was considered a near lock to qualify, and yet Adrian has an aw-shucks knack for making every triumph seem like a pleasant surprise. He got the job done, as usual, in impressive fashion, posting the 2nd fastest time in the world this year, but when asked what he was most excited about he nodded to the three guys to his left and said, “stepping up on the relay with this group. We’re going to surprise a lot of people in Rio.”
They’ll have their hands full, particularly with the Aussies, but with Adrian at the helm I’m not betting against this group for gold.
Finally, Sandeno turned to Anthony Ervin. The look on her face said she knew she wouldn’t be guiding this one. No questions need be asked. It was Ervin’s turn to speak, and he duly took the mic in hand. At this point I’ll check out of all objectivity. Tony has been a friend and colleague for a lot of years now. He’s an ‘ambassador’ for Imagine Swimming, our New York City swim school, where he once taught. It’s where we like to think he rediscovered his mojo and transformed himself from lost soul former Olympic champ to three-time Olympian elder statesman and leader of Team USA.
He proceeded to give Imagine an incredible shout-out, which sparked pandemonium among our assembled group in section 122. It was hard to process the rest. When he finished he handed the mic back to Sandeno and this overjoyed relay foursome walked off together.
The rest of us walked off stunned and inspired.