While trying to qualify for the 2014 Speedo Junior National Championships, nine Aiken-Augusta Swim League (ASL) members rubbed elbows with some of the sport’s biggest stars.
What was once a local meet became a national event when Olympic champs Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary participated in the Athens Bulldog Grand Slam Swim Meet at the University of Georgia from July 10-13.
“It was a great atmosphere because all of the top names were swimming there and it was such a great experience to race all of them and swim in the same heats as them,” said Greenbrier junior Brennan Day, who qualified in the 400-meter individual medley and the 1500 freestyle for the Junior Nationals in Irvine, Calif., July 30-Aug. 3. “It was a pretty cool meet.”
Day, who was third in the 1500 freestyle (16:09.72) and fourth in the 800 free (8:30.75), raced against Clary in the 400 IM. Clary, the gold medal winner in the 200 backstoke in the 2012 Summer Olympics, took first with Day finishing sixth (4:33.75).
“After my race it was just like someone my age, my speed, we said good job to each other and shook hands and it was pretty cool,” Day said of Clary.
Nathan Rogers had a similar experience with Clary in the 200 breast. “It was fun to swim next to him, but then again you’re like,‘I’m getting destroyed,’” Rogers said. “He kind of toyed with me, out-touched me. He out-touched me by like a tenth in prelims but then he got a lot faster in the finals.”
Clary would finish 10th in the 200 breast, with ASL swimmers Thomas Hang in 12th, Rogers in 13th and Evans’ senior Mitchell Petras in 15th.
Petras, who competed in three events, was able to take away ideas for the future, paying attention to what the Olympians were doing.
“There’s just technique changes, the kind of stuff you can never catch on TV that you have to be in person to actually notice,” Petras said.
ASL program director/head coach Neil Harper called the Georgia coaches and had slots allocated for his swimmers before the big-name swimmers indicated they were coming.
“I think they had 13 Olympians at the meet – about 38 medals between them – and then the frenzy started and then all kind of other teams wanted to get in on the meet and I know that a lot of good teams got turned away,” Harper said.
Lakeside junior Katy Older swam in six events and liked the feeling of being in the same meet with those who have accomplished so much. Having 11-time medalist Lochte and his team sit next to them was just a bonus.
“It just makes me feel really fast because to think if I’m competing with Olympians like these, I can do anything,” Older said. “It’s really awesome to know you’re fast enough to be with these people, so you can do anything you want to achieve.”
Harper said some were overcome by nerves in the beginning but recovered by the end and liked what they were all able to achieve.
“All eight of them recorded at least one lifetime best, personal best time in one of the events over the weekend and most of them were best timing in every event they swam,” said Harper of his swimmers, who also included Evan Freed, Jackie Jeschke and Lindsay Wallace. “Our goal was to go best times and see how close we could get to qualifying for the junior nationals.”