July 13, 2012
Sophomore Jon Lierley did something many only dream about - competing in their first-ever U.S. Olympic Team Trials. A native of Mount Pleasant, S. C., Lierley blogged about his unforgettable experience at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. last week. Below are some of his thoughts as both a participant and a spectator at the event.
Saturday June 23:
11 a.m.: I landed at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Neb. I have to wait an hour for my parents, who are on a flight out of Charlotte (to arrive).
3 p.m.: I arrived at the CenturyLink Center to get in the pool for the first time. I walked into the registration room to receive my credentials and my gifts and thought my credential was the most professional tag I have ever seen. It had my club information and my picture on it (security is a big thing)! The gifts were in a draw string bag that contained a license plate frame, a swatch (a swim watch) and a water bottle. I then proceeded to the athlete entrance and was checked in by the U.S. Army Reserve. Next, I walked through the doors and was greeted by a large, elevated eight lane 50-meter pool! It was the most incredible warm-up/warm down pool I've seen in my life. I had to take a ramp to get on the pool deck.
There were several swimmers and coaches walking around the facility at this time. I continued to take in the scenery when I saw stairs that lead to the event pool on my right. I flashed my badge to the guardsman and swiftly walked up the stairs. I was stunned by what I saw. There was a huge pool in the middle of a 13,000-seat arena! I quickly put my bag down and went to the locker room to change. I then grabbed my goggles and stood at the end of a pool lane. Wow, I was reallly looking forward to swimming in the arena.
I jumped in and let the chilly water embrace me. The pool felt fast and I immediately got excited about swimming the 200 butterfly on Wednesday. It was weird while I was swimming to see tons of seats surrounding me. I tried to imagine them filled with 13,000 screaming fans.
Sunday June 24:
11 a.m.: It's time for another warm-up swim. I am still in shock of the facility. There are more swimmers and coaches walking around. I started to understand how big of a meet the U.S. Olympic Team Trials were.
Monday June 25:
8 a.m.: It's the first day of competition. I am not competing today, but I was excited to see how the meet was going to run. I was also interested in seeing how fast the swimmers were going to go. I wasn't disappointed, because the prelims were electric. I could only imagine what the finals were going to be like!
I watched my younger brother Zach swim the 400 IM. He did really well! It was cool because he swam in the same exact lane that Michael Phelps competed in one heat later! I stayed to watch Phelps and Ryan Lochte cruise to easy morning swims.
7 p.m.: This was the moment I was waiting for! Finals! We were in our seats when the lights went off. The pool was glowing from the light that was shining down from the ceiling. The national anthem was sung and then flames shot off from the side of the pool! I could feel the heat from the other end of the pool. The most anticipated swim of the night was the first event: Phelps vs. Lochte. Their race came down to the last meter resulting in a Lochte win by eight tenths of a second!
Tuesday June 26:
8 a.m.: I headed to the pool to warm-up the day before my race.
7 p.m.: The finals were once again spectacular. The crowd was amazing.
Wednesday June 27:
8 a.m.: Wednesday was finally here. It was my day to swim the 200 fly. This is what I had been training for all summer. I warmed up in the main pool and remained focused. Afterwards, I dried off and went to the locker room to put on my skin tight swim suit. I hopped back in the warm-up pool one last time.
In the `last call' room there were four rows of 10 seats. I checked in for my race and then sat in the third row while thinking about my race. They called my row and I led the group as we walked up the steps together. As we stood behind the blocks, I couldn't help but think about how excited I was to swim on such a big stage. The meet referee whistled for us to step up on the blocks. Then I heard "take your mark, BEEP!"
We were off! I felt great the first 50 of my race. Then I started to fade. I could feel my competitors starting to pull away. When I finished, I looked up at the board. 2:04.70 was not a very good time for me, but I was happy I had an opportunity to be at trials.
7 p.m.: At finals, Phelps and Lochte finished first and second, respectively, in the 200 free and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team on Wednesday night. Phelps won by five hundreths of a second! The crowd was going crazy. Later, Lochte was presented with the gold medal for winning the 400 IM. He was lifted in the air by an elevator contraption when he received it!
Thursday June 28:
8 a.m.: Since I am done competing, I headed over to the CenturyLink Center to watch my Pitt teammate Luke Nosbisch swim in the prelims of the 200 breast. It was cool to have a fellow Panthers swimming at the meet with me. I wouldn't be able to see Austin Caldwell swim on Saturday, but I was cheering for him as well. Luke turned in a great swim. After his event, I left to go back to my hotel.
7 p.m.: Phelps was the favorite to win the men's 200 butterfly Thursday night. He did so in commanding fashion!
Friday June 29:
8 a.m.: My family attended the prelims on Friday to watch my brother compete in two events. Zach had a great showing, placing in the top 40 in each of his three events. I also witnessed Lochte swim the prelims of the 200 back and the 200 IM. He destroyed the competition in both events.
7 p.m.: I have never seen the Olympic live, but the finals on Friday night had to rival the feeling one would have while in the crowd during the Olympics. Omaha put on a great show. The men's 100 free final was great! Nathan Adrian was a monster winning the race, while Cullen Jones snuck in for second.
Saturday June 30
7 p.m.: My family and I decided to sleep in and just go to finals on our last day in Omaha. Our trip ended with a bang! Lochte took home first in the 200 backstroke and Phelps outreached Lochte for the 200 IM crown.
Overall, participating at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials was an unbelievable experience. I had an amazing time and look forward to qualifying for the 2016 event!