2016 Olympian Jacob Pebley Will Not Be Swimming at U.S. Olympic Trials

2016 Rio Olympian Jacob Pebley announced today on Instagram that he will not be competing at the USA Olympic Trials, which starts this week with Wave I and continues with Wave II from June 13th-20th.

Aggregated text of the posts:

I will not be swimming at Olympic Trials next week. My hope is that this message helps anyone feeling external pressure or anxiety to perform. Remember, you are doing this for you and anyone that cares about you will accept any result that follows!

Last December I decided to step away from swimming. I didn’t know if I was done swimming permanently; I just knew I was becoming someone I was no longer proud of. I hated myself for so long that even when I was around the people I cared about the most in this world I felt depressed and alone. I didn’t understand it. Eventually, I decided to seek out help and I’m so glad that I did.

Almost five years ago I made the Olympic Team in the 200 back. Unfortunately, after feeling that dream come true it became a five year burden to get back there and redeem for what I saw as a failure. I didn’t win medals at the Olympics. And every time I was asked about my experience, that was all I could think about. The history of American backstroke is incredible and I wanted so badly to contribute to that my whole life and I felt I had squandered an opportunity.

As the days, weeks, months, years following the games passed, my inner dialogue took its toll on me in the harshest of ways. It went from a fire of redemption into a desperation to achieve this goal. It went from something I dreamed about, to something I needed in order to be happy.

As I’m sure millions of people faced this year, the solitude of quarantine made these distressing thoughts even louder and more pervasive. I felt an enormous amount of doubt and fear sink in as those months went on and on without any normalcy to distract me.

Despite all of the incredible athletes who have spoken out about mental health, it is still a foreign and challenging experience for me. It was always something other people were dealing with and I was just fine. I had spoken with therapists and sports psychologists before, but it was always about how to be a better athlete, never how to actually understand and heal from emotional baggage I had been carrying with me for my entire life and actually understand who I was as a person. Even today, the experience of seeing a therapist is so emotionally charged that I struggle setting consistent appointments. It is not easy work, but it is so rewarding when I am able to uncover all the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My hope is that someone reading this finds some normalcy in their experience because you are not alone. I felt alone for so long and still often do, but there is always someone to talk to. I’m so thankful to USA Swimming for connecting me with people to get me help, for my support circle for understanding why I’m not swimming at Trials and knowing there is always more to life, and most importantly for my wife Nikki for staying by my side as she has absolutely seen me at my best and my worst.

After about four months away from the pool, I decided I didn’t want that version of myself to have the last swim. I came back to swimming in April to swim for myself. To enjoy it again. I’m on a new journey that is only up to me to decide how it goes. And I hope that everyone competing at Trials and the Games will feel the same way. I’m not going to lie, it will be difficult for me to watch Trials and the Games, but I look forward to seeing everyone compete and EJOY the experience. Until next time.

In his announcement, Pebley stops short of using the word ‘retirement,’ and he is registered in the draft pool for season 3 of the International Swimming League in the fall. He competed for the DC Triden in the 2020 ISL season and the New York Breakers in the 2019 ISL season.

Pebley had a solid career as a Cal Bear, helping the team to a national championship in 2014, before making the transition to pro in 2016. At the 2016 Olympic Trials, he finished 2nd in the 200 back behind Cal teammate Ryan Murphy to make the USA Olympic Team. In Rio, Pebley made the final in the 200 back, then finished 5th overall.

Pebley and Murphy would continue to represent the United States at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. Pebley took 3rd in 2017, his highest finish in a major international meet, and also made the final in 2019.

Prior to becoming an Olympian, Pebley won at the 200 back at the 2015 World University Games.

Pebley is the 4th-ranked American in the 200 backstroke during the Olympic Trials qualifying period.

Top 5 Americans, men’s 200 meter backstroke, Olympic Trials qualifying period:

  1. Ryan Murphy – 1:54.12
  2. Austin Katz – 1:55.57
  3. Shaine Casas – 1:55.79
  4. Jacob Pebley – 1:56.35
  5. Clark Beach – 1:57.14

He is one of a number of major U.S. swimmers who have announced that they will either retire or not compete at the U.S. Trials in the last few months. That includes Lia Neal, Pebley’s former Team Elite training partner; Ella Eastin, Margo Geer, and Ian Finnerty.

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Eagleswim
1 month ago

Congrats to Jacob on an amazing career and having the courage to make this decision

Hswimmer
1 month ago

Interesting take

Kitajima Fan
Reply to  Hswimmer
1 month ago

Miss

SCCOACH
Reply to  Hswimmer
1 month ago

Weren’t you accusing someone of having a troll account the other day?

Hswimmer
Reply to  SCCOACH
1 month ago

Just said interesting take lol

Sunday Morning Grind
Reply to  SCCOACH
1 month ago

Not a troll. Just slow. Bragging about his 50.0 and 22 in college to some commit who he though didn’t deserve an article.

Coach Macgyver
Reply to  Hswimmer
1 month ago

The human soul weighs 2.5 lbs. I know this because that’s how much I lost reading your response.

Cate
Reply to  Coach Macgyver
1 month ago

Couldn’t have said it better. What I would have said would have gotten a “waiting for moderation” from whoever does it on this feed.

Anonymoose
Reply to  Coach Macgyver
1 month ago

in the words of dave chapelle..

“thats a brittle spirit!”

Coach Macgyver
Reply to  Anonymoose
1 month ago

In the words of your girlfriend “boooooooo!”

John Bender
Reply to  Hswimmer
1 month ago

Perhaps he did not want to miss Summer League Champs, so he made up this story ??

Hswimmer
Reply to  John Bender
1 month ago

😂

Anything he swims
1 month ago

Props. Swimming is mindless torture. Can’t imagine that plus the pressure. And almost no money for “pros”. Why keep going? Motivation is just not there unless you are at the very top and being paid well. Glad these swimmers are bailing out

Last edited 1 month ago by Anything he swims
Anonymoose
Reply to  Anything he swims
1 month ago

what???

Ex-Swimmer
Reply to  Anything he swims
1 month ago

That is a really stupid comment. The motivation is doing something you love, trying to be your best. Mindless torture is a sedentary 9-5 desk job. I swam, for quite a long time. I look back now and think I am truly blessed for having the opportunity to simply play the game. If you’re doing it expecting some kind of reward, I could imagine it can become mindless torture but I think by that point it’s probably best to move one.

Joel Lin
1 month ago

God bless you Jacob. Chin up, the horizon holds good things for you.

coach
1 month ago

His decision and his vulnerability show a ton of courage. Thank you, Jacob, and best wishes for a healthy future.

Sink or Swim
1 month ago

Wow. That is really heartfelt and candid. I commend him on his bravery and insight, and willingness to open up publicly in order to help others. IMO, that’s more in the Olympic spirit than getting a gold. Best of luck to him!

Marklewis
1 month ago

He’ll figure out a new way of looking at swimming and if he wants to keep training or become a Swammer.

He got all the way to the Olympic final and lost to three of the best backstrokers in history.

Part of that term sportsmanship is accepting that someone else was better that day. But you gave it your best shot, so you can be content with that.

Ghost
Reply to  Marklewis
1 month ago

I think Pebs had an excellent career and he should more than proud. I think it is the public that he is trying to live up to…it is never good enough. You medaled? Yes but a gold? Come on! That is unfair! To me what makes it worse is someone who gets 6th for a prelim relay swim can get a Gold but really is only 6th in USA!

PVSFree
Reply to  Ghost
1 month ago

We really screw over the 200 stroke/400 free and up swimmers in the US. If you can do a 100 of any stroke or throw down a good 200 free, you’re nearly guaranteed an Olympic medal through relays.

swimgeek
Reply to  PVSFree
1 month ago

Um. How does that mean “we screw them over”? Is it tougher to win a medal in those events b/c there are no relay options? Yes. Maybe blame FINA for now 800 medley relay? Or perhaps the competition is more fierce in the shorter races exactly b/c of that likelihood for a medal . . .

Cate
Reply to  Marklewis
1 month ago

I don’t think it has as much to do with sportsmanship or lack of it, as it does with depression. Glad he is seeking the help he needs.

Alex Dragovich
1 month ago

Wow…gut-wrenching and gutsy. Major props to him for sharing this side of his experience as a world-class athlete.