By Mike Watkins//Contribtuor | Friday, December 9, 2016
Nathan Adrian is no stranger to showing off his body. He does it every time he walks on deck.
He even experienced the dreaded wardrobe malfunction when his suit split down the back while standing on the blocks waiting for the starting gun.Earlier this year, however, Adrian took a different kind of plunge wearing much less than even a torn swimsuit.
Honored to be included in ESPN the Magazine’s annual Body Issue, he appeared in his birthday suit – standing, crouching on the blocks as well as pushing off the wall during a turn for the camera.
A modest person who is no stranger to photoshoots since he and his infectious, beaming smile made headlines by making the 2008 Olympic team as a relative unknown, Adrian said the experience was fun and totally out of his comfort zone – which is one of the reasons he did it.
“The photos turned out great and yes it is very different than wearing a Speedo!” he said. “Everybody at the shoot is extremely professional so it honestly just seemed like another shoot. And at every shoot the photographer has you do the same thing 100 times until they get it right and finally get the shot.
“I don't think I have what it takes to be a real professional model. My torso is way too long and I am too tall. Besides that it is a lot of sitting around at shoots, and I don't think I have that kind of patience.”
With this personal revelation, it appears Adrian will have to settle for being one of the fastest freestyle sprinters in the world.
He proved that once again this summer with bronze medals in both the 50 and 100 freestyle events. He also won gold in the 400 free and 400 medley relays – the latter Michael Phelps’ final event in Rio.
Adrian, who has been on three of Phelps’ five Olympic teams, said it was special to take part in that relay as well as compete against 35-year-old Anthony Ervin, who won gold in the 50 freestyle 16 years after he won gold in Sydney.
“I have always enjoyed being on relays with Michael,” said Adrian, who won his first gold medal as a member of the 400 freestyle relay with Phelps in 2008. “He brings an intangible element to the group that (as far as I know) is not replicable. His intensity is second to none and when he dives in you always know he is going to throw down a monster split.”
Adrian, who turned 28 earlier this week (Dec. 7) and celebrated by going out to dinner with friends and one of his sponsors, said each of his Olympic experiences has been unique largely because he’s been at a different stage of his life each time.
Among his highlights from this summer’s Olympics was the 400 freestyle relay because the United States has been chasing that gold medal for so long and, according to Adrian, wanted it so badly.
He said memories are accumulated through each major international competition whether you swim great or have the worst meet of your life.
Medals will be forgotten and great times now will be considered slow in 20 years, but the relationships and memories he makes with his teammates are what will last so he recommends that every swimmer does his or her best to separate positive experiences from great or poor performances.
“Each one (Olympics) has been a completely different experience because I experienced each as a different person and a different athlete,” he said. “In Beijing, I was just 19 and was basically watching the older swimmers and learning from what they had done. In 2012, I was very comfortable with who I was as an athlete and my role as a contributor to the medal count.
“This year was interesting because I hadn't given it any thought but by the time we made the team, I realized I was one of the older guys that I had watched and learned from in 2008. I think my goals and dreams kind of grew up with me. I was always just trying to get better and faster and that’s what still motivates me now.”
Throughout his illustrious career – one he never envisioned as a young swimmer ever being a three-time Olympian and multiple Olympic gold medalist – Adrian said he’s been striving to meet the challenge of continuously getting faster in the water.
And while it’s a definite challenge, it’s one of the things he continues to love most about the sport.
“It is tough!” he said about continuing to get faster. “But also that’s what is so fun about the entire process. Learning about the interaction of very specific types of training on your in season/taper meet performance is fun for me.
“I think that figuring out how to improve is just a mindset that you have to wrap your head around. Having an open mind when it comes to different training cycles or technique changes is really important. Just because something worked for you last year doesn't mean it will work for you this time around.”
Now a couple months removed from the Olympics, Adrian said he’s been traveling a lot lately – not being in the Bay area for more than 10 days straight since Rio – for business and pleasure.
When he’s back in the Bay, however, he hits all the practices he can in order to have a solid platform for when he begins training at the National Team’s Olympic Training Center trip in late December and early January.
As one of the team veterans, he said he is at the point now where he enjoys almost every aspect of swimming.
He loves everything he’s doing/trying in the weight room to figure out how to develop more overall athleticism, and he loves racing – something he’s anxious to resume in the new year.
So how much longer does Adrian think he’ll be swimming and competing?
While he admits to thinking about that topic all the time, he doesn’t have a great answer because he doesn’t know – even though he’ll be 31 come Olympic Trials and the Tokyo Games in 2020.
All of that is indefinitely on the table.
“I definitely don't feel that 31 is too old; I think Tony (Ervin) has proven that you can go fast well into your 30s,” said Adrian, the 2012 Olympic champion in the 100 freestyle. “As for me, I think as I get older I just get more and more strength which is awesome, but I also don't have quite the resilience to bounce back from back-to-back tough training sessions.
“I guess in my mind as long as I am enjoying the process and still think I can swim faster, I will continue to swim.”