By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, February 24, 2017
Heading into the 2016 Olympic Trials, Sean Lehane knew his events were going to be extremely competitive.
After all, the United States has an unparalleled international history in the backstroke events – boasting the deepest, fastest corps in the world for decades.But Lehane – the 2015 Pan American Games gold medalist in the 200 back – arrived in Omaha undeterred.
He saw himself as an underdog, and was determined to do whatever he needed to be a player in the U.S. Olympic equation.
And even though he came close – finishing fourth in the 200 back – Lehane said he left Trials excited and more determined than ever to come back stronger and faster than before.
“I made minor mistakes on my turns and stroke (at Trials), which I believe had a big impact (on his race outcomes),” Lehane said. “I also did not swim my own race. I took out my 200m backstroke to keep up with the field and paid for it at the end.
“Trials was definitely a learning experience for me. It exposed my weaknesses under pressure and taught me how to handle the pressure of making the team. Backstroke in the United States is among the best in the world, so it was great to see my fellow US competitors do so well in Rio.”
No matter the outcome, Lehane said he went to Trials with a much different mindset and attitude last summer than he did at his first Trials four years earlier.
Having had such a great meet at Pan Ams (he set a new Games record in the 200 back during prelims) as well as finishing his collegiate career at the University of Tennessee earlier in the spring, Lehane was brimming with confidence and believed that he would be a factor in Omaha.
And it definitely made a difference in his swims. He improved from 26th to fourth in the 200 back and also made the final (seventh) in the 100 back despite feeling he had much more to prove this time than he did in 2012.
“I had more confidence going into the 2016 Trials, but also felt that I had put more pressure on myself to make the team,” he said. “In 2012, I was just happy to have made the meet for the experience. In 2016, my goal was to make the Olympic Team, and I believed I had a great shot.”
Since Trials, Lehane has made a few changes in his life – moving back to his hometown of Chicago to work with his club coach at the Academy Bullets in Naperville.
Living and swimming as a professional has had its pluses and minuses thus far for Lehane.
While having more free time absent of classes and dual meets as a Volunteer has given him opportunity to focus on training, the financial uncertainty of swimming as a professional can be daunting.
“Life as a professional is great overall, but sometimes difficult, since I am more on my own and competing for myself, rather than competing for points on a team,” he said. “Continual improvement is the driving force for me. As long as I am showing improvement with the sport of swimming, I will continue to strive for excellence in the water.”
While he came close to making the team and realizing his Olympic dream, Lehane said he didn’t leave Omaha without some disappointment. Being a competitive swimmer for more than 15 years now, he said he’s dreamt of becoming an Olympian since he won his first race.
That dream has been in the back of his mind every day since he started swimming, but it wasn’t until he hit college that he really started to believe it was a possibility.
Part of the reason for this was the growth spurt that he experienced – first in high school and finally in college – to grow from a scrawny 5-foot-6 to his current height of 6-foot-4.
During the growth process, he learned to swim “into his body,” and now that’s he’s come so close to making an Olympic team, he is more eager than ever to take his career to the next level.
“I felt like my times at the Olympic Trials did not reflect how hard I have been training, nor what I am truly capable of,” Lehane said. “I trained for about three more weeks after Trials, changed up my race strategy, and competed in the 200m back at a sectional meet in Wisconsin.
“I ended up dropping almost a full second from Trials, which reassured me that I had a lot more potential left in the sport. Enjoying the sport and continuing to improve are my overarching goals moving forward with swimming.”
Coming up this spring and summer outside of a few Arena Pro Swim Series meets are Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, which will decide the U.S. contingent competing later this year at FINA World Championships.
On a broader scale, Lehane’s ultimate goal remains to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2020, and he said he will be sure to set himself up to have the best shot of achieving his dream.
“I am looking forward to reaching my highest potential as an athlete, as well as a person, as I take on the challenge of competing as a post-grad professional swimmer,” said Lehane, who has no ending date in mind for his swimming right now but knows he wants to pursue a career in sales and trading once he’s finished competing.
“Now that I am more serious about the sport, I find excitement in succeeding and seeing my hard work pay off, as well as my friends who are still competing.”