By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Nathan Adrian was golden again in Rio. Need a relay gold? If Adrian is there, he’s good to go. The Cal Bear also picked up two more individual medals, running his Olympic medal total to eight -- 5 gold, 2 silver, and 1 bronze, from his Games in 2008, ‘12 and ‘16. And he’s still going -- and looking forward to Phillips 66 National Championships -- as he explains in this Part 1 of a a two-part 20 Question Tuesday.
The Phillips 66 National Championships and World Championship Trials will be held June 27-July 1 at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis. Buy tickets online now.
1. This year’s Phillips 66 Nationals, coming after an Olympic year, and so many key veterans caught between continuing or not, and maybe one of the more up-and-coming groups in recent memory arriving -- how big does that make these Nats?
Nathan: I think this is one of the most interesting Nationals I can remember because there are so many people treating it so many different ways. If you had a successful summer and then eased off it, or if you fell short of your goals and have a lot of motivation -- and depending where everyone is in the training cycle -- it all just makes this year’s Nationals that much better. We’re going to come to Indy and it will be the great equalizer for all the different groups. That’s the beauty of swimming; that it is such a great equalizer. I think you can expect some great racing.
2. You, Ben Wildman-Tobriner and Matt Grevers, along with Cullen Jones (the only of the group to swim in the final) had one of the greatest prelim relay swims in Beijing, but it never got a lot of attention of course because of what Phelps and Co. did in the final -- is that first Olympic medal of yours still a great memory?
Nathan: That was (laughs) not a bad race for us, was it? At the time, we set the world record. I don’t think any prelim had done that -- I don’t know if it has been done since, I’d have to look at the stats. But certainly it sticks out in my mind. That was an important moment for me. To be on the blocks with those guys who I looked up to so much, guys I had followed through their college careers, and to be a part of that was a key part of my development.
3. That relay swim was your only event, but you were part of history and got to see what Michael Phelps did in Beijing, what was that like?
Nathan: That was awesome. I have always said I got one of the coolest and most unique opportunities to see what Michael did. I started watching from the outside like everyone else, then was immersed in it myself when I made that team. And was able to watch that history.
4. That 2008 team had a great group of unique personalities and accomplished superstars, didn’t it?
Nathan: Nothing was missing from that experience. It wasn’t just Michael who was an influence on me during impressionable years. Natalie (Coughlin) was doing something special. So was Dara (Torres), and Jason Lezak. Those four had the most impact through the Games as far as what I specifically took back and tried to figure out what they did that was so right, and how I could learn from that to be successful.
5. Natalie’s six medals in Beijing drew such little attention comparatively -- yet in all the times I’ve spoken with her sense, she has such grace and dignity and said Michael deserved it all -- how amazing is that?
Nathan: Isn’t that the craziest thing, really? How great she was, but also how great she handled it. Those stories never unfold perfectly -- she had such incredible races in such different events, and each time she was able to come through. That’s the beauty of those incredible feats, like with Michael, they never unfold perfect -- his best story in terms of that was winning with water in his goggles in the 200 fly. Natalie also rolled with the punches and got it done.
6. And for you to be around Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen, Jason, Matt Grevers, the list goes on -- how could that have been any better?
Nathan: I wonder that all the time. Those are the all-time greats in my head. Those guys were winning when I was going through high school and paying attention to what was going on. They are guys I still look up to today as far as how well the ones who retired have transitioned to “real life.” I really have to pay my respects to the guys on that team, it’s quite a path and example they set for us.
7. The sprinting field was so crowded then -- maybe depth is the way to look at it -- where there were at least six of you who could win.
Nathan: I guess if you put it that way (laughs), it was pretty good! There is no reason we can’t get back to that point and sustain it. There are a lot of young names out there who have potential that is just through the roof, who are still dropping time every time they swim.
8. That group from Rio with guys like Caeleb Dressel and Ryan Held, that’s a deep group moving forward too, isn’t it?
Nathan: And don’t forget Blake (Pieroni) too, he had an amazing year. And after the last collegiate year he’s primed and ready. There are some similarities with some of the guys who will go like I did, from prelim swimmer to finals swimmer. It’ll be fun to watch.
9. I still think you winning the 100 free in London at the 2012 Olympics is one of the great rise-to-the-moment swims I have ever seen, what does that swim mean to you?
Nathan: I think that’s great you take it that way, and I hope other people can hopefully take that as a great lesson: There’s a reason we swim the race. A reason we play the games, as the saying goes. You can feel you are out of it, but if you still feel you have it; some of the best swimmers in the world have this almost silly sense of optimism that their next swim will be their best one, no matter what happens. That swim also helped me progress through the years that followed.
10. And a logical progression, prelim relay in ‘08 to relay finals and 100 free individual gold in 2012, right?
Nathan: Certainly, that was kind of the way I hoped it would flow. I was set up to do the prelim swim and just try to get a little bit better each and every year, whether it was in practice, or how to recover from practice, or moving forward trying to find that balance with life in swimming. Just try to progress. So it’s different for everybody, but that’s just how it came to me -- relay swimmer, making individual events, medaling in them. I had a little blip in 2011 and made the transition to being a professional swimmer where things hadn’t gone as well.
11. So 2011 was a learning experience?
Nathan: Well, I certainly didn’t win (laughs) everything I swam at 2011 Worlds! But maybe that was for the best, because it did help me moving forward. At the time though, of course it was hard to go through, but figuring it out after that was an important part of my journey.
12. Your success in Manchester and in London, you must feel incredible emotion for the people from the attacks?
Nathan: Absolutely. Those are incredible people, incredible spirits. It is so tragic. It’s hard looking at the news somedays. But they are absolutely in our thoughts and we know the character and resolve of our friends over there.
13. Being at Cal, we would sometimes talk about the issue of the day, who was marching for what outside the pool or handing out leaflets -- isn’t that kind of cool, that whether you agree with whichever side, you are plugged in?
Nathan: I think it’s great. You are part of discussions that inform you. Having people around you who want to learn the best information and get a wide set of perspectives makes you a better person. And we know how much we are shaped by our peers. So for me, personally, even when it comes to looking at the news, I look at the left and the right, and in the middle, so I can decide on my own -- not have someone else tell me how to think.
14. I was watching the tonight show when you came out, shirt off, wearing your medal, and the crowd went nuts -- I can’t even remember who the host was, but I remember you smiling at the reaction -- do you hear about that still?
Nathan: No, I don’t hear (laughs) about that much. Probably not many remember. I do remember a lot about that part of the entire timeline, the fall and winter of 2012. That’s the great part about the Olympics and everything associated with it: You can’t predict what is going to happen. You set goals, but you don’t know what they will lead to. Like (gymnast) McKayla Maroney making that face that everyone remembers -- it’s just crazy the stories that unfold from the Olympics. I took that entire period of my life as a rollercoaster that I didn’t know where it was headed. I was living my life on (laughs) a bunch of one-way tickets and it was a fun, eye-opening experience.
15. You have thrived in your role as a relay anchor. Where does that come from?
Nathan: That is something I do take pride in, trying to step up and perform well and be trusted with that anchor spot on relays is important. That’s not an easy thing to do, but I certainly like it -- being there toward the end. We tried it with me going first for a while and it didn’t work out as well (laughs), but so far, so good.
16. On the medley relay in Rio, Ryan Murphy said you told him on the blocks that it was time for him to set a record, that it was a good last chance to do it. I thought what pressure, but he said no, not at all, coming from you, it was perfect -- why did you do that?
Nathan: I knew Ryan was certainly capable of it and had his eyes on it. Those are just small positive words of encouragement. It is interesting because there are certain people I wouldn’t say that too, guys who don’t deal with the stress as well as Ryan. But Murph can take that stress on his shoulders, and he thrives on it. I was so proud of him.
17. You were getting ready to swim the anchor leg in Phelps’ final race when you saw he had set it, what in that moment, as you are prepping to deliver history and more gold, goes through your mind?
Nathan: Oh, it is a huge boost. Watching those around you have that kind of success is such a unique thing, because on paper at least, swimming is such an individualized sport. But you watch those guys train as hard as they do in the pool and in the weight room, and how hard they work outside the pool in taking care of school and their lives the right way. So you see them with incredible success, and it’s so refreshing. And you benefit from being in that environment. Swimming has such different people but you ultimately mesh so well because you are all so driven to perform your best.
18. Congrats on the engagement -- thought you did it classy on social media -- any trepidation sharing it on social media or just one of those things you wanted to share with fans around the world?
Nathan: Yes. It is a big moment in my life. There’s always that balance with what you want to share, what you want to keep quiet. Too good a news not to share though.
19. Olympic and Cal Coach Dave Durden -- I know what he means to you, how much pride are you taking in his success?
Nathan: What he’s done is incredible. Dave is one of those people who you are talking about when you say that’s someone who deserves everything they have gotten.
20. What is something in particular Coach Durden does exceedingly well?
Nathan: What’s impressive about Dave for us as athletes is the level of consistency he has from day to day. There is not a day where Dave has a bad day or we’re like, “He rushed us and X, Y or Z was bad.” Just doesn’t happen. We know what we’re getting with Dave. He’s going to be there with a cup of coffee in his hands and be on it no matter what time it is. That energy gets reflected back to him. And you appreciate that about him, because it’s not an easy thing to do.