By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, January 5, 2018
Like all swimmers, Nic Fink has an ongoing need that continues to motivate him in the pool.
The need for speed.
Prior to the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships this past summer, he hadn’t enjoyed a drop in his times in more than 2 years.
But when he did go a best time to earn a spot on the 2017 FINA World Championship team (his third) in the 200 breaststroke, Fink said he knew he had made the right decision to keep pushing forward despite a disappointing 2016 Olympic Trials.
“For me, Nationals got the monkey off my back,” said Fink, who continues to live in and train in Athens, Ga., with his University of Georgia post-graduate training group. “I went best times for the first time since 2015 and was able to qualify for the World Championship Team.
“I was happy and honored to once again be representing the USA in international competition. Nationals gave me the confidence I needed to be competitive in Budapest and for the year to come.”
Coming into Trials in 2016, Fink was swimming fast and well and said he felt he had a strong shot at making his first Olympic Team. The previous summer, he had earned a spot on the World Championship team and was a legitimate team contender for Rio.
But during the meet in Omaha, he didn’t swim up to his expectations, finishing seventh in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke events and missed his opportunity.
Following the meet, he said he considered all of his options, but ultimately realized he still loved the sport and had more he wanted to accomplish and prove to himself.
“Some part of me never wanted to jump in a pool again, but with the support of my family, coaches, friends and teammates, I was able to find my love for swimming again,” he said. “I would have been so disappointed to end my career on such an underwhelming note. I knew that I could be faster, and last year, I proved that I still have some more time drops in the tank.
“For me, 2016 wasn't just about getting a spot on the team. If I had had good races but still missed the team because everyone else was so fast, I could have walked away with my head held high. I was disappointed because I had missed my goals. That being said, it was fun watching all my teammates succeeding, making the Olympic Team, and being a part of one of the most successful USA Swimming team trips of all time.”
With his love for swimming renewed, Fink said his training has been going well the past year, and now that the long course season has started, he has been putting in some good work and getting ready for the TYR Pro Swim Series in Austin, Texas, next weekend and the other TYR Pro Swim Series meets leading up to what will be a busy and very important summer.
But Fink said his performance at Winter Nationals at the end of November – concluding the short course season – has continued to give him more confidence for what’s to come in 2018.
“Winter Nationals was a lot of fun,” said Fink, who took top honors in the 100 (yards) breaststroke in Columbus, Ohio. “The breaststroke events were arguably the deepest events at the meet, and racing a group of fast swimmers makes the meet more exciting.
“Despite the fact I swam yards growing up, I love swimming meters. In the yards pool, by the time you find your rhythm and get settled into your stroke, it’s time to turn. In the big pool, it’s easier to get comfortable in a race without those pesky pullouts.”
Now a strength on the U.S. roster, the men’s breaststroke went through a rough patch in the early 2010s where U.S. swimmers weren’t contending at the top international meets.
But now, there is a deep pool of competitors that Fink said get along well and push one another in the pool to strive for more – something that he sees as very important when developing a strong roster.
“The depth of competition in the United States is what makes the USA Swimming National Team one of the most dominant teams in history,” he said. “Because there is so much talent, I feel like I have to work as hard as I can just to make a spot on the travel squad. There is no room for complacency or error when racing the other breaststrokers, so the competition brings out the best swimmer in me.
“Our relationship is great. Except for maybe the 2 minutes before and after races where the competitiveness takes over, we are all good friends. I've been on training trips with Kevin (Cordes), Cody (Miller), and Josh (Prenot), and I've raced Andrew (Wilson) and Will (Licon) several times in college and in the big pool. I am starting to get to know the younger breaststrokers too. It's a good group of guys and I think we all have a healthy, competitive relationship.”
With the 2018 Pan Pacific Championship and 2019 World Championship teams being selected based on results at this summer’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, and the next Olympic Trials just over two years away, Fink, now 24, said he is more excited than ever about swimming and wants to make the most of every opportunity he has moving forward.
And when he decides to walk away from the competitive pool, he’ll do it on his own terms and in his own time.
“My official mindset is to take it year by year,” he said. “I think it's a healthier approach to the sport and prevents me from planning and looking too far ahead. That being said, I can't see myself retiring if I am healthy, continue to improve and continue to make teams.
“I know more about the sport and my body every year. I learn about more exercises and sets that could make me faster. I am also fortunate enough to know more people in the swimming world, who can help me get to the next level. If you're a young swimmer, don't be afraid to ask the older generation questions about anything and everything because knowledge is power.”