By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Even though he qualified for one final and made the semifinals of another event at his first Olympic Trials this summer, Jacob Pebley has deemed the event a disappointment of sorts.
It wasn’t that he went to Omaha necessarily expecting to make the Olympic Team. He said he isn’t that naïve or presumptuous.
But he did go into the meet expecting to swim much faster times than he did, and despite the majesty of the event and the lessons he learned, he left unfulfilled and motivated for more.
“I got sick a week and a half (before Trials), missing four days of swimming one week before the 100 backstroke,” said Pebley, who hails from Corvallis, Ore. “I almost didn’t want to go, but I knew the experience of Trials would be worth it no matter how I performed. It was the most amazing sporting event I’ve ever been to and knowing that I was participating in it made it that much cooler.”
After finishing seventh in the 200 backstroke, Pebley said he left Omaha on a mission to redeem himself. He got back into training, and just over a month later, he swam some of the fastest times of his career in Indianapolis at the 2012 U.S. Open – winning the 200 back and finishing second in the 100 back.
“Honestly, I was very angry with my times at Trials because that was my first-ever taper meet with zero best times,” Pebley said. “That motivated me to work hard for the U.S. Open and make sure I didn’t have that problem again. I was more relaxed at the U.S. Open and felt more like the big shot since all the Olympians were in London. That’s something I’ll need to work on for this summer.”
Less than a month after the U.S. Open, he learned his performances earned him a spot on next summer’s World University Games team – his first senior-level international team. And while he’s extremely excited about making the team, prior to that meet he hopes to swim fast enough at the 2013 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships to earn a spot on the 2013 World Championship team instead.
Either way, he knows meets like WUGs are stepping stones to bigger and better things in the pool.
“Luckily, this summer we will be allowed to compete at World trials (U.S. Nationals) and give the world champs team a run,” said Pebley, among a handful of young swimmers who are expected to be the future of USA Swimming teams. “So my mindset for this summer is currently focused on Barcelona (Worlds) and doing everything I need to make that possible.
“It’s nice to have WUGs as a backup plan, and if I do end up going to Russia (for WUGs), I expect to challenge for the gold in both backs and the 400 medley relay. I love swimming for the U.S.A., so whatever meet it is, gold is the only goal.”
Pebley came up through the swimming ranks as a member of Corvallis Aquatic Team under coach Rick
Guenther and is now swimming at the University of California-Berkeley. As a freshman on the University of California-Berkeley’s vaunted men’s swim team this year, Pebley’s focus right now is on continuing to acclimate to college life and learn from his Bear teammates.
Pebley said getting the opportunity to train alongside NCAA Champion and All-American Tom Shields has given him a new perspective on and approach to the sport – even though they’ve only been teammates for a little over a month.
“Tom is the master of underwaters, and he’s one of the reasons I chose Cal,” said Pebley, who started swimming at 5 years old and loved it right away. “Just watching him and asking him for advice on small technical things is so helpful. He is truly a champion, and you can tell when he trains. I try every day to train as hard as him, and if I can, try to train harder. It’s an incredible atmosphere.”
And while he’s keeping his personal goals for his first season as a Bear between him and Coach Dave Durden, Pebley, one of several highly touted newcomers to this year’s team, is expecting big things from himself and his teammates after losing eight members of last year’s NCAA Champion team to graduation.
“We have some new faces in (assistant coach) Yuri (Suguiyama) and all of us freshmen, but one thing Dave and the team does really well is they are very inclusive and will do anything to help us new guys out,” Pebley said. “We don’t view it as losing seniors, but that we have a new team identity, and we are going to spend this season finding it and perfecting it for March.
“I chose Cal because I felt that it was the program that could get me to the 2016 Olympics, strengthen my weaknesses the best (my underwaters primarily), and where I felt the most at home and comfortable living for the next four-plus years.”
While Pebley is well aware his Trials and U.S. Open performances have cast new expectations on him to continue to improve and make future U.S. National teams, he chooses to embrace any pressure associated with those expectations – knowing they will help him grow in the sport and make him an even better swimmer and competitor.
Losing his mother to cancer six years ago forced Pebley to grow up a little earlier than his age and that has translated into a maturity in life that has translated to the pool.
“She was a huge part of my life, especially with swimming,” Pebley said. “My mom showed incredible strength in battling cancer, and every day, I try to show at least 10 percent of that strength. It’s been a huge motivator in swimming, and I’m always swimming for her.
“As far as staying focused and energized, that’s purely goal-based and just a love for the sport. I have high goals, and I know I need to work for them. I love coming to practice every day with my Bears and getting the most work done possible.”