Unbeatable Theatre: U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials Start Now

Courtesy: Charles Hartley

Everybody listen to me right now. Nothing is as important – not Caitlin Clark, not the Joker, not Wake Forest football, not anything anywhere in America or the other six continents – as what’s going to be firing off today at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

It all begins, the most inspiring, exciting and pressure-packed event in all of sports: the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials.

I was excited when I got married and my kids were born, but never as emotionally elevated as I am right now to lather up to watch all the greatest swimmers in America distill their entire lives down to one or a few events, a few frantic dives into the pool after the gun goes off, to see if sacrificing their childhoods pursuing an Olympic dream can come true.

The odds against that happening are enormous, and each of these swimmers will know this harsh truth when the time comes for them to step up on the blocks and swim. Only the first and second-place finishers in each event qualify for the Olympics. Everyone else there – dozens upon dozens who compete in Indy and hundreds and hundreds more who didn’t qualify but practiced their entire lives, will be left wondering if waking up for 5 am swimming practices, staring at a line, was worth all that time, missing all those high school parties and innumerable chances to do other things besides swim.

Only two.

The rest go home.

Recently it was said the hardest team to make is the women’s U.S. Olympics basketball team to which I ask: “how can that be”? Twelve people make that team. Two is a lower number than 12. Plus those hoopers haven’t had their heads underwater and suffered through two practices a day since they were 12 years old as these swimmers have.

A life focused on one thing, making the U.S. Olympics team, that is virtually impossible, which makes me automatically more in awe of these swimmers than any other athletes. Plus I swam as a kid and still remember practices and races being more painful than anything I did in any other sports.


There is nothing that gets me more fired up.

There is, of course, one story that tugs at my heart the most. You remember Caeleb Dressel, maybe, who won five Gold Medals during the 2021 Olympics but suffered as so many swimmers did, and all of us did, enduring the pandemic.

That whole grinding odyssey of uncertainty took a toll on Dressel and he admitted as much. Mentally drained and burdened, he took eight months off from swimming a few years ago because he had had enough but doing this is a huge risk if you want to swim in the next Olympics because great American swimmers keep on racing and don’t take eight months off.

Dressel has a shot to make the team again in the 100-meter freestyle and butterfly and could be on the men’s freestyle relay team. We will learn if the time off cost him another Olympics experience which would be a loss because he’s charismatic, likeable, honest, willing to be vulnerable, and therefore cool. But the most important thing I wish is for him to feel good about himself and his preparation and know that he already gave us hope we could accomplish our dreams by realizing his in 2021.

Interestingly enough, one of his main competitors in the 100-meter freestyle will be Jack Alexy who my daughter coached on our local town swim team when he was seven. She would come home from practices and tell me “Dad, there’s this kid on my team who is unbelievably fast,” which turned my head because I watched her and countless other wicked fast swimmers in New Jersey. Jack also went to the same high school, Delbarton, as my son.

Swimming is a small world that way.

Another intriguing story is, of course, will Katie Ledecky haul in a bunch of other Golds further cementing her as the greatest woman swimmer of all time? She’s less of a lock for this to happen than the past two Olympics games because of a woman from Canada with the coolest name of any swimmer, Summer McIntosh, since America’s Summer Sanders. Summer Mac may best Katie in the 400 free – if Katie makes the U.S. team.

The third story is this: Can a guy no one really knew before the last Olympics continue surprising people with his greatness by qualifying during the U.S. trials in the 1500-meter freestyle endurance torture chamber?

I am referring to Bobby Finke who in the last Olympics blew the minds of the swimming experts by grabbing  Golds in the 1500-meter and 800-meter freestyle races. A guy who races the long distances, a guy people doubted, a guy you want to watch because he’s an American underdog fairytale turned non-fiction.

Rocky Balboa, in a way. He goes the distance.

Holy goodness, so much richness in personal pursuits of the impossible dream right before you. Witness this wonder and wonder why and how they’ve all done it, left so much out of their routines because swimming swallowed it all up.

Two per race. That’s all. The rest fly home and wonder if they want to swim non-stop for four more years or if they don’t have the heart to do it anymore.

About Charles Hartley

Charles Hartley is a freelance writer based in Bernardsville, New Jersey. He has a masters degree in journalism and a masters degree in business administration.

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