By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, June 8, 2018
Like most young swimmers, Zane Grothe grew up envisioning a future that involved the Olympics.
Not medals. Just the pride of being able to have “Olympian” in his bio and associated with his name and career.
But he relinquished that dream following the 2016 Olympic Trials when he missed making the team in any of his events.
From that point forward, he decided he simply wanted to do his best each time he swims – knowing he did his best whatever the outcome.
But he still wouldn’t mind having the special designation beside his name.
“Missing (making) the 2016 team was crushing, and it was then that I realized I needed a healthier relationship with the sport,” said Grothe, who finished 4th in the 400 and 8th in the 1500 freestyle events at Trials. He also placed 16th in the 200 free. “My biggest pursuit since has been to just be the best that I can be regardless of the teams I make.”
While his commitment and resolve have remained unchanged over the past two years, Grothe said he decided to focus on each season rather than look too far ahead.
But at this point, he said he’s having fun with his perpetual improvement and is fully committed to making it to 2020.
“Ideally, I can continue to develop my relationship with the sport and find satisfaction still racing after 2020,” he said. “My commitment has been the same for quite a long time. The fact of that has probably been one of my biggest strengths over the years.
“I have a good ability to make changes to my stroke that have a larger payoff in the long run. I've been developing my techniques for years and finally have the strength to see those changes come to fruition.”
That strength and dedication started paying off at the end of 2016 when he competed at FINA Short Course World Championships in Canada – winning silver as a member of the 800 freestyle relay. He also swam the 400 free (7th) and 200 free (13th).
Last summer at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, he earned a spot on his first World Championship team by winning the 400 freestyle – beating Olympians Clark Smith and Townley Haas in the process. He also finished second in the 800 freestyle and earned a spot on the team as a member of the 800 free relay team.
At Worlds, he made the final of the 800 freestyle – finishing 8th – and won bronze as a member of the 800 freestyle relay, getting the honor of swimming in the event finals.
“Budapest was my first summer international team, and swimming at that level was definitely nerve wracking,” he said. “I've raced those guys before but never when everyone was tapered.
“It was great experience being in that environment. Even though I came up short, I saw the times it took to medal, and that fired me up for my next chance.”
He concluded his stellar 2017 season at the Winter National Championships by setting new championship, U.S. Open and American records in winning both the 500 and 1650 freestyle events. He eclipsed Smith’s records in both – setting himself up as one of the United States’ fastest and most consistent distance freestyle swimmers.
So far in 2018, he’s continued that success, winning at least two events at each of the four TYR Pro Swim Series meets prior to this weekend. He started the year in Austin with three wins (200, 400 and 800 freestyles) and followed with two in Atlanta (400, 800) and Mesa (800, 1500) before adding three more in Indianapolis (400, 800, 1500).
This weekend at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Santa Clara, he opened the meet with a victory in the 1500 free, and is scheduled to swim his other usual races.
In his view, all of this meet preparation and racing is setting him up to be a top contender this summer at Phillips 66 Nationals – where the 2018 Pan Pacific and 2019 World Championship teams will be selected prior to 2020 Olympic Trials.
“Short term preparations for this summer's Nationals will be no different than any other year's end of the season,” he said. “I've been working for almost a year now on increasing my endurance ability for the 800 and 1500. From this point on, I'll be working on speed for my sprint races (200/400).
“I see each race as a chance to learn something – whether it's fast or not. I tried to rest a bit for Indy, but I got sick the week before. I felt pretty neutralized because of that. Regardless, I swam two best times without a taper and had good opportunities to continue testing my technique and race strategies.”
And he says he’s not aware there are any extra expectations attached to him despite his recent success, Grothe said he is only concerned with what his coach is looking for from him – even though he is cool with the extra notoriety that’s come as a result.
He just knew, despite the disappointment he experienced at 2016 Trials, the longer he kept swimming, the better shot he had at being successful.
“I considered quitting in the spring of 2015 because I had had two years of minimal to no improvement and felt like I was regressing instead of progressing,” said Grothe, who said he wants to work for a privatized space exploration company when he’s done competing. “At that point, I moved to Indiana and things started taking off.
“After 2016 Trials I knew I wanted to keep going, but I knew I needed a new outlook. I needed to be okay with ending a season without hitting my goals. I'm enjoying the process more now and am improving my sustainability more than ever before. Whether I make future teams or not, I can't control how fast everyone else swims. I have goal times I want to hit, and that's all I'm looking forward to.”