Breeja Larson is looking to team up with one of the most accomplished coaches in swimming history as she makes one last charge at next summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials and potentially the Olympic Games.
Larson, 28, had transitioned from training with the Phoenix Swim Club (PSC) elite group over to USC and coach Dave Salo in October of 2019, planning to stay in California through the summer of 2020. But once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, like many, she was forced to readjust and is now aiming to join Bob Bowman‘s pro group at Arizona State University.
“Salo was leaving USC, and kind of retiring from college coaching, and so he didn’t really have a pool,” Larson told SwimSwam in a phone interview. “We didn’t know when the pandemic was going to end, and I was just kind of sitting in my apartment in California with no purpose to be there, really. So I packed up my bags and came back to Arizona.”
Having been back in her home state since mid-March, Larson has found various ways to train amidst the pandemic, including in someone’s backyard pool, with PSC and in some open lane swims, but the current objective is to join Bowman at ASU. Due to the pandemic, and various university restrictions regarding pool time, the 2012 Olympian hasn’t been able to join yet, but remains confident it will come through.
“Right now I’m just trying to see where things kind of lie with training with ASU,” she said. “I’m working with Bob right now (sending her workouts), but we’re going to have to wait and see how things kind of pan out. Because I think a lot of university systems are giving pro swimmers a hard time with water time, so we’re just waiting it out to see what happens. I’m kind of in limbo right now.”
A native of Mesa, Ariz., Larson has limited experience with Bowman, only being coached by him on big National Team trips, but has always thought highly of him, and when some ex-teammates shared how much they enjoyed training with him, she knew she had to try it out.
“I wanted to look at all of my options at the end of the summer of 2019,” she said. “I really wanted to train with Dave (Salo). He’s an extraordinary breaststroke coach and a really great person to be coached by. And I wanted to stay in Arizona but I wasn’t sure if Bob was taking in any more professionals. I had gone to USC and really enjoyed my time there. I just needed something a little bit more stable.
“So when my teammates started training with Bob, they said they really enjoyed the program and that they were doing really well there, and so it just seemed like a really incredible opportunity to try and work with Bob and kind of see how this last year would pan out.”
While the logistics get worked out, Bowman remains Larson’s “first priority” for training through until 2021.
“I know he’s doing his best on his end to figure things out, so it’s just trying to be patient,” she said. “I want to stick it through, especially out of respect for him. If he’s going to be giving his best effort to try and get me into ASU, then I’m going to try and stick with that. But there are always other options out there, but I would rather stay in Arizona right now. It’s where my boyfriend is, it’s where my family is.”
“I really enjoy training with them, we get along really well,” she said. “That was one of the main pulls. If they really love training there then I’d love to give it a try. Allison Schmitt is there right now and she’s always a ray of sunshine, she’s really fun to be around. Hali Flickinger is there. I was honestly really excited to train with more male breaststrokers as well.”
Leading into the now cancelled 2020 Olympic Trials, Larson was raring to go. After breaking through and qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games, winning a relay gold and placing sixth individually in the 100 breast, she had missed the 2016 team by two spots. She was on track to perform at her best in 2020 before the deferral.
“I was feeling very confident with Trials coming up, so it was a little heartbreaking,” she said. “I definitely went through a couple of weeks of the self-pity stage, just being really angry that I couldn’t really point a finger at anyone.”
Since the beginning of 2019, Larson has been the fourth-fastest American in the women’s 100 breast, just over seven-tenths shy of #2 ranked Annie Lazor.
U.S. Women 100 Breast Rankings
- Lilly King, 1:04.93
- Annie Lazor, 1:06.03
- Molly Hannis, 1:06.43
- Breeja Larson, 1:06.78
- Kaitlyn Dobler, 1:06.97
Not only was the three-time NCAA champion with Texas A&M ready to compete at her best this summer, but Larson was also anticipating concluding her career and moving onto the next phase of her life.
“I was extremely distraught,” she said regarding the Olympic postponement. “I was ready to be done. I wanted to kind of retire this summer. And it was really, really hard that it was taken away. It took me a while. I had a lot of really long discussions with coaches just trying to see what the benefits were to continue swimming.
“I wanted to give it one last shot, and it was very disheartening to think about doing it one more time. It’s not so much the work that I mind, I love the work and I love staying in shape and I love competing, but it’s more so being able to look at the next part of my life. Being able to travel when I want to, being able to eat what I want, being able to go to bed when I want, go to whatever weddings that come along and start focusing on the next part of my career.
“So it was really, really hard to make the decision to postpone because I was getting really excited. I’ve done a lot of mental work with the transition that I knew was coming, and so it’s frustrating that I don’t get to see that to fruition just yet.”