By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Jimmy Feigen has had quite a run, and he’s just getting started. After swimming for perennial power Texas, he burst through last year and made the Olympic Team, bringing home a medal. At Worlds in Barcelona, he was caught on the final leg of a relay and got a silver, but turned around and claimed silver in the 100 free. Both were learning experiences, as the likeable Feigen explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. A lot of talk about the relay. Take us back to it.
Jimmy: I don't really know what happened. I had a rookie moment. I got myself into a position in the lane I was not comfortable with, and that was my own fault. I brought along some big people in the water, and that was a rookie mistake. It was rough. I thought I had gone fast, and that the guy next to me had gone faster. I saw the time, and it was a complete and utter embarrassment. I thought I had let everyone down. But everyone was so supportive, and I will never forget that, just as I will never forget what it felt like to let them down, either.
2. Hard to call a moment after the Olympics a breakthrough, but wasn’t that silver in the 100 free in Barcelona something like that?
Jimmy: It felt like a breakthrough moment. I have read the message boards. A lot of people felt like I was on the cusp, a pretty good swimmer making National Teams, but not stepping into the spotlight. The 100 free moment was for my friends, coaches, parents and teammates who all believed in me, even after the relay, and got me believing in myself again.
3. So what was the feeling when you claimed individual silver? Was it, as some have written, a vindication?
Jimmy: It was a total and utter surprise really. I didn't see it coming. It was not like a vindication moment for me, really. I was just happy I was able to make that time for the good of Team USA and contribute to the medal count other than the relay. I wasn’t expecting to final so well. That was a very pleasant surprise.
4. What was it like to have Nathan Adrian, the defending Olympic gold medalist, on your side?
Jimmy: He's been honestly such a great competitor and a real good friend. He talks to me and helps me out a whole lot. Just to have his experience and overwhelming wealth of knowledge shows what good shape the sprints are in for USA Swimming right now. He is the fastest man in the world, and he is even more impressive as a person. How do you describe someone like that? Nathan is incredible.
5. I guess my take was a little different on the relay. We’re going through a phase where new people are finding their spots. Jason Lezak didn’t get to where he was overnight, if people remember. So some might reason that taking second, or even had the relay gotten bronze, it would have allowed for more honest criticism and learning, which would lead to better development, no?
Jimmy: You know, what an awesome point that is. Going into that meet, many did not even expect us to medal in that event, and I saw a lot of print about how we were not going to be strong in several relays. That is such a hard race, so it’s funny in a way to see people upset that we got a silver medal when many had us fourth, or even fifth. We are not down and out. We have tremendous talent, and as we come together more and more, there will be some eyes opened.
6. Guys like Matt Grevers and Anthony Ervin and Ricky Berens and Nathan Adrian – they are different from what people see on TV, aren’t they?
Jimmy: Definitely, people expect them to be stone cold, but they are super friendly and never mean to a single soul. If people knew them only personally, they could never imagine the competitors they are in the water, because outside of it they are respectful, and handle the limelight with such dignity and poise. I know I am repeating myself here, but this is something everyone should know: These are some of the best people you could ever hope to meet in your life.
7. I like that you mentioned Anthony Ervin earlier when we started talking. What’s it like to learn from him?
Jimmy: I think Anthony is such a great guy, really a great personality and just a really pleasant, thoughtful demeanor. Even though he’s a veteran, his perspective is wise even beyond those years, just a real thinker who is aware of everything around him. A guy who can pick up a team by how he carries himself.
8. He was famous and then gone before you hit the scene. Were you aware of him back in his first heyday?
Jimmy: I totally knew who he was! Hey, 2000 was an awesome time to be around swimming. I was young and impressionable at that age, and to see him tie with Gary Hall Jr. for gold at the Olympics was just awesome. That inspired a lot of us in the U.S. to become sprinters. That made me think about who I was and what I wanted to do in the sport, and who I wanted to be in life. As far as confidence and direction, that race was a big stepping stone even just to watch. The relays were also exciting that year, and that got me excited for what I would experience at Texas.
9. Did you feel like you were a surprise to make the 2012 Olympic Team?
Jimmy: That was actually crazy, making the team. Here we are a year later and I still can’t find words for it. Now I can say, “Having been an Olympian...” (laughs), wow! People don’t realize that was the first team I ever really made. So yeah, a year later, with the Olympics and Worlds, and the medals, it’s just incredible. You know, back to that relay for a minute, we have such great coaches at USA Swimming, and one of them is definitely Jack Roach. He told me that being in that position on a relay is something you have to develop into, especially when you are new to it, and that all the experience you get from that means more than you ever realize. He was exactly right: I learned a lot about swimming, but I also learned a lot about myself.
10. Jack Roach is the Chuck Norris of sprints isn’t he?
Jimmy: He honestly is. Actually, Jack Roach is the Chuck Norris of swimming in general. He knows so much about it, and the mentality of what it takes to be a successful swimmer, not just in sprints, but all the way up to any distance event, any stroke. The man is a tremendous asset to the entire team, even though I talk about him a lot because he helped me so much.
11. All the swimmers you have mentioned – and we’ll get to the incredible women’s team in a moment – are such great people. How much did the coaches last year and this year play in the development of such great team chemistry?
Jimmy: It really is a family. We brushed up on that during the camps. The coaches made mention of that, that this team is family – and that hasn’t always been the case, anyone from past teams could comment better on that, but from what people have told me, the emphasis on chemistry has been huge last year and this year, promoting it but also just giving it room to develop. They made us understand that we were all one team, one family, and while we spend the months and years competing against each other, we were now part of a common goal, and important history. That has been something that has really helped us in both London and Barcelona.
12. So get a Teri McKeever and Jack Bauerle and Bob Bowman and Gregg Troy and a few other great coaches together, and something special can happen?
Jimmy: They are just such incredible people, and I think what you really notice in addition to how they treat us and what they ask of us, is how they treat each other. It is just amazing because no one steps on each other’s feet. Jack Roach said it best, “Some of the best coaches in the world know how to act as consultants.” They know they have a short amount of time to work with us, but they also know we have come from having the best coaches in the world, and they respect that. Give USA Swimming a lot of credit for their wise choices on coaching staffs, because they get it right every dang time. That’s certainly atop the reasons why we are the best swimming nation. The coaches and support we have lend itself to creating some awesome swimmers.
13. Are you aware of the history, and do you think your teammates are as well?
Jimmy: That's absolutely a fact. That's just how you get the mentality of USA Swimming, that we want to be the best. And when we are not the best – even just second best – we’re going to respect the winners, but we’re going to use the lesson to make us better. Hey, being second best is a pretty exciting thing, and that silver medal is nice, but it’s not the mark of a true champion. You have to want to win every time. (Olympic and Texas Coach) Eddie Reese said, “It’s not that champions love to win as much as they hate to lose.” Getting second at worlds – awesome. What’s more awesome? Getting gold. So we are happy, but not satisfied.
14. Okay, let’s talk about two champions – the Fort Knox of Worlds, Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky. What are they like?
Jimmy: You know, they have such fantastic personalities that it’s easy to forget you are talking to the best swimmers in the world. Man, they sure made the United States look awesome. They are so well spoken and they have that great team mentality. They outdid us in the medal count, and really inspired us to want to be even better. That keeps our program so competitive when you have both the men and women putting up those kind of performances.
15. They were great in interviews too weren’t they?
Jimmy: That’s the thing, for their age, how in the world did they get so mature? The way they handle themselves is just something to watch and appreciate. I know I was not (laughs) that mature at that age. Just such a positive sign of who they are, where they came from, and what kind of parents, coaches and teachers they have had in their lives. I would also add they probably have had some pretty great teammates, because they themselves are such good teammates. They get out there and shine in their performances, and then they are great people representing us proudly. Just great to see.
16. The U.S. is also developing some new leaders on the men’s team. Is that different?
Jimmy: It was pretty different this time because we had a lot fewer veterans – no Eric Shanteau or Brendan Hansen, and Jason Lezak wasn’t there, either. But we did have the other veterans, guys like Ricky Berens, Nathan, Matt and Anthony included in that group, who are just great leaders. All of our veterans stepped up and kept us together. We had a few hits and misses, but being the true leaders that they are, they kept us going.
17. Spain doesn’t get enough pub for how great a country it is, especially in regards to hosting world-class sporting events, does it?
Jimmy: The mood at the stadium was incredible. It was jam-packed for swimming. It was a huge venue. You can tell Barcelona has done this before, and done it well, because Barcelona really made this successful. You have to clap your hands and tip your hat to the people of Spain for putting on such a good event.
18. I know rumors are swirling on his status, but was it odd not having Michael Phelps on the team?
Jimmy: It was weird not having Michael there. He did show up with his foot in a boot that he broke playing golf or something. But having him show up was great, and you could tell he still had our back and was pulling for us and was completely into it mentality. He was still thinking about us, and just having his presence there was special for our team, and the whole world.
19. So it’s onward and upward from here for the U.S. men?
Jimmy: You know, we did well as a team at the World Championships, but you can never be satisfied in this sport. We won’t be satisfied until we win all 46 gold medals, or however many there are, and even then we would look to see what we could do better rather than rest on our laurels. Look at the kind of talent we have up and coming, and mix in the veterans. It’s hard to see an end in sight for all the excitement surrounding USA Swimming.
20. What has this past year or so taught you about yourself?
Jimmy: Honestly, I have learned so much about myself in the last 14 or 15 months, and so much in the past three weeks. Eddie has his hands full at Texas, so at this point in my career, I had to take a more proactive role, and I really had to teach myself to trust myself. Having a great coach like Eddie Reese makes a lot of things possible, and I am very thankful for that. I have been in the sport since I was 5, and competitive since I was 8, so with about 17 years really investing everything I have in this, it’s incredible to think that it has turned out this way. You have to have the confidence and be prepared to put the work in to get what you want out of it, and I plan to have a lot more memories in front of me.