Aaron Shackell On Making Olympics In Front Of Home Crowd: ‘It’s Everything To Me’

Aaron Shackell knew he was going to win the men’s 400 freestyle as soon as he flipped at the 350-meter mark in first place.

It didn’t matter that Shackell was a 19-year-old relatively inexperienced with big meets, swimming side-by-side alongside decorated athletes like 2021 Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Kieran Smith. It also didn’t matter that he had already been leading for the majority of the race, which for some, could lead to fading on the homestretch. But Shackell was confident in what he could do.

“[During the] last 50, everything in my body just turned off and I couldn’t really hear anything,” Shackell said. “With the training that I do…if I have the lead with 50 meters left, I’m not going to lose.”

Shackell ended up touching the wall first, setting a best time of 3:45.46. With that result, he officially became the first pool swimmer to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympic games. After the race, he slammed the water, got out of the pool, and threw his hands up to a crowd of 20,689 that was roaring over what he just accomplished. Later, he got up on the podium besides the pool and waved to that same crowd, this time beaming with a first-place medal around his neck.

For Shackell, getting celebrated like this in a big stadium like Lucas Oil was what he always wanted.

“A lot people get nervous when they look at 20,000 people or a big stadium — for me, it makes me swim faster,” Shackell said. “I’ve always dreamed of performing in front of a basketball or a football stadium, at least when I was a kid. And in swimming, you don’t always have the opportunity. So getting an opportunity to put on a show in front of 20,000 fans, it’s everything to me.”

Evidently enough, making the Olympics in front of a massive crowd is a huge deal. But it just meant a little more when that crowd was in Indianapolis, Indiana, which is just a 30 minute drive from the town of Carmel, where Shackell is from. Not only is Carmel Shackell’s hometown, but it also contains the swimming community that built Shackell into who he is today.

Carmel High School boys’ swimming, which has won the last ten Indiana high school state championships, has a rich history of producing Olympians — most recently Jake Mitchell, who qualified for the 400 free at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The same type of legacy is present at Carmel Swim Club, where head coach Chris Plumb has developed age groupers into some of the best American swimmers in the nation.

In fact, Shackell trusted Carmel Swim Club so much to the point where he trained there after transferring out of Cal-Berkeley this winter, midway through his freshman season. He thought he hadn’t been swimming great there, and wanted to stick with a familiar environment in arguably the most important training cycle of his swimming career.

“I didn’t want to risk wasting an opportunity,” Shackell said. “My improvement rate was unbelievable prior to leaving for Cal — I trusted Chris [Plumb] and I knew if I came back, I would improve in some way.”

The Carmel connection was also a family one for Shackell. His younger sister Alex, a member of the 2023 World Championships team and a contender to join her brother on the Paris squad, was the first person to congratulate him on qualifying — which he said was one of the best moments of his life. He’s not the first one in his family to make an Olympic Games though, as his father Nick was on Great Britain’s Olympic swimming team at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

In the fall, Shackell will move on from Carmel, transferring to swim for Texas. But before that, he’ll likely be one of the youngest members of the U.S. Olympic swim team, where he’ll face the rest of the world in an event that the American men have been weak in this Olympic cycle. However, given his improvement trajectory and how he’s already the best in the nation as a teenager, the future is bright.

Regardless of where Shackell ends up next though, he’ll forever be an Olympian that came through the Carmel system. And that will be remembered, whether in the context of those who came before him like Mitchell, or through the young Carmel kids watching him in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“The legacy of Carmel High School and Carmel Swim Club is unmatched,” Shackell said. “We inspire each other and pass down the legacy from swimmer to swimmer, to the next generation.”

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1 month ago

Yanyan going triple plat this week on the articles great work.

Petra Schneider
1 month ago

Can’t see an American on the podium in this event. Maybe not even the final.

Post grad swimmer
1 month ago

Cal takes an L on this one

1 month ago

Chris Plumb is one of the few coaches in this country to understand the 400m FS. Collegiate coaches do not. They have no systemic reason to care about it. Congratulations to Aaron.

Post grad swimmer
Reply to  Chas
1 month ago

Cal coaches*

ACC fan
1 month ago

Great article! I LOVED his post win celebrations. As Katie Ledecky pointed out in her book, there’s a double standard and if a woman responded this way it would not be seen favorably. Ask yourself, why is this? I would love to see Gretchen Walsh celebrating like this after she goes another world record in the hundred fly tonight. Or see any woman for that matter. Celebrate like this.

Reply to  ACC fan
1 month ago

Agree. The double standard annoys me. .

1 month ago

Good for Aaron! What guts and smarts is was for him to leave Cal and go back home to Carmel! Remember his mom and dad were both swimmers at Auburn and coached by Marsh and Durden. His sister and brother are going to Cal. He just realized it wasn’t a good fit for him!
Similar story to fellow Carmel swimmer, Jake Mitchell. He leaves Michigan and goes back to Carmel and makes team in same event. Then 3 years at UF, he not in the ballpark!
That is why I question why some people go to college their frosh year/olympic year.

Reply to  Diehard
1 month ago

Cal fans will viciously downvote you but I fully agree

Leaving Cal was quite possibly the best decision he could’ve made

Reply to  Diehard
1 month ago

Most people don’t want to delay their lives (or can’t) for a small shot at the Olympics

1 month ago

Excellently written as usual, Yanyan. Looking forward to more of your words this week–you will be busy!

1 month ago

Great article!!

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

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