Olympic trials ahead for three swimmers

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Every Tuesday morning last fall, before the rest of the campus even thought about waking up, three men were on their way to sneak in two hours of laps before classes in a nearby Seekonk pool.

Because the swimming team did not have a home pool, Brian Kelly ’08, Dan Ricketts ’09 and Rich Alexander ’09 had to do workouts in a short amount of time with precision – developing an overall team focus that never left.

That focus is now paying off, as four members of the team have qualified for the national Olympic trials. After qualifying for the Olympic trials at a meet in College Park, Md. on March 15 and 16, Kelly, Ricketts and Peter Volosin ’08 are headed to the United States Olympic Trials at the Quest Center in Omaha, Neb., June 29 to July 6. If they qualify, they’ll have the opportunity to represent Brown and their country in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Kelly will compete in the in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, Ricketts in the 100-meter butterfly and the 100-meter free and Volosin in the 400-meter free at the trials.

Alexander already swam in the Canadian trials during the first week of April, finishing 13th in the 100 fly and 20th in the 200 fly. He had made the final the previous three times at the Canadian National Championships.

“All of these guys are competing at the highest level in their sport,” said Head Coach Peter Brown. “They deserve it. It’s a function of the hard work and commitment – training and competing at a high level. A lot of swimmers have the talent and not the commitment. These guys should be recognized for the dedication to the sport.”

Volosin said that when he was a “little kid,” he dreamed of competing at the Olympic trials – and he did everything in his power to get there. Volosin spent this past summer training at an elite University of Florida program where he said the other swimmers pushed him to achieve his dream. But the Gators weren’t the only ones pushing Volosin; he credits his teammates and their positive attitudes throughout the season as major factors as well.

“It’s an Olympic year, and I think everyone has upped their game,” Volosin said. “We’ve been training hard all year long and my group (of distance swimmers) has been pushing me the whole time. We have a better focus than ever before.”

Ricketts came to Brown as a nonrecruited freshman but walked on to the team to become, in Alexander’s words, “the best swimmer on the team.” Unlike the other swimmers who qualified, Ricketts said the Olympic trials were not a long-standing goal. He said he enjoys the college swimming season more because it is more team-oriented.

“If my teammates weren’t coming with me, it wouldn’t be as fun,” Ricketts said. “If they didn’t want to try to qualify (in Maryland), then I wouldn’t have gone either. I did think about it a little in high school, but I was just joking around with my friends.”

Kelly, on the other hand, had two goals at the beginning of the season: make the NCAA Swimming Championships and the Olympic trials. Though none of these elite swimmers made the cut for the NCAA championships – a meet Kelly says is faster than the Olympic trials because of international influence – they are representing Brown at the Olympic trials. Only two swimmers from each event at the national trials will make it to the Olympics.

Without a single 50-meter pool in the area to swim in – let alone such a pool on campus – the men’s swimming team planned to have a different kind of season. Prior to qualifying, Kelly and several others had not competed in a 50-meter pool this year.

“The week before the meet, I was talking to my coaches for techniques” specific to 50-meter pools, Kelly said. “Every little thing counts, from the entry to the first stroke.”

During the Tuesday morning practices, “we had the place to ourselves,” Alexander said. “We had the space to push each other without people being in the way and slowing us down in our individual workouts.”

Ricketts said he enjoyed the morning workouts because they drew the teammates together. “It was fun, those practices – I would not have made it through half of them without my teammates.”

The U.S. Olympic trials will likely yield some of the fastest times in the world from some of the best swimmers. Of an average of 100 swimmers in each event, only two will go on to the Olympics. Kelly said his goal is to make the top 16, where he would probably swim in the same heat with Michael Phelps, winner of six gold medals at the 2004 Olympics. Kelly said he’s excited to be on the pool deck seeing swimming greats compete, but he also hopes to do well.

“If Michael Phelps is right next to me, I would be psyched up, not psyched out,” Kelly said.

Ricketts could be swimming against Phelps as well. When asked about the potential of the matchup, he said, “Michael Phelps should be excited to be swimming with me. I don’t like to think about how good the swimmers I’m swimming against are. I’m there too – I’m just as good.”

Each swimmer is competing outside the collegiate realm and will consequently have to pay for his own trips and competitions. Although they are technically competing as individuals, they are still wearing their Brown swim caps and sporting their Brown gear. Assistant Coach Craig Nisgor recruited at the Canadian Trials, so he was also able to watch and support Alexander through the process.

“Whenever you have Brown attire on, it helps out (the recruiting),” Nigsor said. Alexander said he hopes recruiting in Canada improves over the next couple of years for the program.

This year’s team is one of the most nationally competitive in the history of the Brown program. The program has grown from 13 swimmers in 2004, according to Volosin, to 21 this year, 15 of whom competed in Maryland for a spot at the Olympic trials.

Kelly said he found motivation in an unlikely source over the summer – while running on a treadmill.

“While I ran, I watched some television,” Kelly said. “A frequent advertisement of the 2008 Beijing Olympics with Michael Phelps kept me going. It was plastered on my mind for the rest of the summer and on into training with my teammates.”

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