June 24, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The University of South Carolina will send 11 current and former Gamecock swimmers to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, which run June 26 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬” July 3, 2016 at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. The 11 Gamecocks will join nearly 1,800 of the nation’s finest swimmers in the quest to represent the United States of America at the Summer Olympics this August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Current South Carolina student-athletes Emma Barksdale, Cody Bekemeyer, Jeremiah Bohon, Jonathan Boland, Kersten Dirrane, Paige Maynard, Jack Smith, Meredith Vay and Taylor Worrell will compete at U.S. Olympic Trials, as will Gamecock assistant coach Kevin Swander and alumnus Michael Flach. This will be Swander’s fourth appearance at Olympic Trials and Flach’s second, but all current Gamecocks are making their first trip to Omaha.
Quoting Head Coach McGee Moody
“There’s a lot of prep that goes into it, and there’s a lot of emotional work prior to leaving to go to Omaha that’s just as important as the physical work. I want (our athletes) to walk out with the satisfaction of being better than they’ve ever been before. We’re going to shoot for as high as we can. When we walked in the door in 2012, the goal was to be better than we ever had before with Michael (Flach) and the others that were there. This time around, we’re going to approach it the same way.”
Rising sophomores Barksdale, Bekemeyer and Maynard and Gamecocks alumnus Flach lead the South Carolina contingent with three events each in Omaha. Dirrane will swim in two races, while the remaining Gamecocks will compete in one event each.
The fastest 16 swimmers from the preliminaries in each event 200 meters and shorter will qualify for the semifinals, with the top eight from semifinals moving on to finals. In events longer than 200 meters, the top eight swimmers from prelims advance directly to finals. In all events, the top two finishers in finals will represent Team USA at the Rio Olympics in August.
Prelims begin at 11 a.m. ET each day, with finals starting at 7:45 p.m. ET. Live webcasts of each race at US Olympic Trials are available through NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports Live Extra app. NBCSN will televise a tape-delayed, edited version of prelims each day, and NBC has live television coverage of finals each night at 8 p.m. ET. All 15 sessions of the eight-day event at the 17,560-seat CenturyLink Center are sold out.
Barksdale will be one of the busiest Gamecocks in Omaha, swimming the 400m IM on June 26, the 200m IM on June 28 and the 200m breaststroke on June 30. The rising sophomore obtained her Trials cuts in 2015 before officially joining the Gamecocks and improved on all three of her times at Arena Pro Swim Series Charlotte in May. Following a collegiate season that saw her win 10 different races and qualify for the NCAA Championships in three events, Barksdale’s best chance to advance at U.S. Olympic Trials comes in the 400m IM, where she is seeded 32nd with a time of 4:47.89.
“My events are spread out pretty nicely,” said Barksdale, whose preliminary swims come on three different days. “It panned out nicely that I have days in between. Definitely I have to focus on just one day at a time.”
Bekemeyer will have a hectic opening day in Omaha, as he is qualified to swim prelims in both the 400m IM and the 400m freestyle on June 26. Both finals will take place that evening, meaning no matter what, the rising sophomore will have plenty of rest before beginning the 1500m freestyle on July 2. Bekemeyer is seeded highest in the 400m IM, where his time of 4:23.57 ranks 33rd. The Lawrenceville, Ga., native swam his 1500m cut in June of 2015 and made his next two cuts a month later.
“All the hard work has finally paid off,” Bekemeyer said of his upcoming Trials journey. “It’s going to be an awesome experience to be able to witness (the event) and be one of the swimmers who’s down in the pool and can compete to be on the U.S. team.”
Bohon takes the pool in the 100m breaststroke on June 26; finals will be held one day later. He is seeded 146th after posting a Trials cut of 1:03.69 at the Georgia Tech Long Course Collegiate Invitational in March. The Summerville, S.C., native is coming off of a strong sophomore season with the Gamecocks, where he swam personal bests in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard IM at the SEC Championships.
Boland will take the pool in the 100m backstroke, with prelims running June 27 and finals scheduled for June 28. His Trials cut of 56.60 came at the Georgia Tech Long Course Collegiate Invitational in March and is seeded 89th. The rising senior and Columbia native set the Carolina record in the 100-yard backstroke at the 2016 SEC Championships, where he finished 11th.
“This is a meet that I’ve been dreaming about over the last 15 years of swimming,” Boland said. “Olympic Trials is one of my main goals that I wanted to accomplish and qualify for. It’s something that I’ve been working towards for a long time, and to finally qualify really means a lot. All of the hard work has come through, and I’ll be so excited to go out there.”
Dirrane begins her Trials experience June 27 with the 100m breaststroke and starts the 200m breaststroke on June 30. Finals for both of her events will be held one day after prelims. The rising junior earned both of her Trials cuts at Arena Pro Swim Series Charlotte in May. A Rumney, N.H., native, Dirrane’s highest seed comes in the 200m breaststroke, where her 2:32.98 is good for 70th entering the event.
Maynard will swim the 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m backstroke in Omaha, with prelims on June 26 and 30 and July 1. Her 100 fly qualifying time of 1:01.18, good for the 139th seed, came at the U.S. National Championships in August of 2015. The Vacaville, Calif., native finished 11th at the 2016 SEC Championships in the 200-yard butterfly, and she won four events in her freshman season.
Smith waited until the last possible moment to earn his Trials cut, swimming a 200m IM time of 2:04.92 at the Tennessee Aquatics Invitational on June 5. He is seeded 96th and will compete in prelims on June 30, with finals to be held the next day. A rising sophomore from Charlotte, Smith qualified for the SEC Championships finals in the 400-yard IM as a Gamecocks freshman, and he swam Carolina top-10 performances in both IM events last year.
Vay is the last of the Gamecocks to take the pool in Omaha, as prelims of the 50m freestyle will commence on July 2. Her qualifying time of 26.06, achieved in August of 2015 at the U.S. National Championships, is good for the 129th seed. Already one of the most accomplished sprint freestylers in Carolina history, Vay holds four school records and qualified for the NCAA Championships in 2015.
Worrell races in the 400m freestyle at Olympic Trials, with prelims and finals both set for June 27. She swam her cut time of 4:16.82 at Arena Pro Swim Series Charlotte in May and is the 76th seed in Omaha. The Westampton, N.J., native finished the 2016 collegiate season in the strongest form of her career, setting the South Carolina program record in the 500-yard freestyle and qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
“To be able to compete at this meet and at this level, with my teammates, is what I’ve been dreaming for my whole swimming career,” Worrell said. “Every time you dive in the pool, you’re going for a best time. Just improving on what (I have) already done (will be) a huge accomplishment.”
A 13-time All-American and five-time Big Ten champion from his collegiate career at Indiana, Swander is swimming competitively for the first time since the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. He’s a three-time Olympic Trials finalist and qualified for the 2016 Trials by swimming a 100m breaststroke time of 1:02.18 at the Carolina Aquatics May Breakout. He is seeded 38th.
“Kevin has stayed in the water from a recreational standpoint for the better part of two or three years now,” Moody said. “It goes to show you what an immense amount of talent he has, but also, being a coach has brought to light a lot of the things he didn’t have when he was an athlete. He’s much more able to identify his weaknesses as a swimmer, because he’s a coach now, and he’s able to fix those weaknesses. He’s done a great job. He’s a great ambassador for our program, and he does a great job coaching and recruiting. We’re very proud of him.”
Flach made Gamecock history at the 2012 Olympic Trials when he advanced to the finals of the 200m butterfly and finished eighth. This time around, the Annandale, Va., native is swimming out of Club Wolverine and will race three events: the 200m freestyle beginning June 27, the 200m butterfly beginning June 28, and the 100m butterfly, which starts July 1. His best chance of advancing in 2016 comes in the 200 fly, where his qualifying time of 1:59.32 is the 23rd seed.
“I spent a few minutes a couple of nights ago writing a letter to Michael and reflecting on four years ago when we were out in Omaha and the experience that was,” said Moody, who credits Flach’s 2012 performance as a turning point for the South Carolina program. “I really believe that was a week that really started to put our program on the map from a national perspective. We’d done a lot of stuff with SECs and NCAAs, but being able to put Michael in the final of the 200 butterfly in 2012, and put him in a position to make that Olympic team, took us to a level with our recruiting that we’d never been to before.”
Fans are encouraged to track GamecocksOnline.com and @GamecockSwim on Twitter for updates throughout the week from Omaha.
The 11 U.S. Olympic Trials participants hope to join fellow Gamecocks Akaram Mahmoud and Julia Vincent, who have already officially punched their tickets to the Rio Summer Olympics in August. Mahmoud will swim for Egypt, while Vincent will dive for South Africa.