Tyler Clary: Reaching his Pinnacle


Tyler Clary (large)

By Mike Watkins//Correspondent

Sixteen years into his swimming career, Tyler Clary has already reached the pinnacle of the sport.

It happened in London last summer when he overcame years of playing bridesmaid to Ryan Lochte by beating his teammate, rival (and friend) to win gold in the 200 backstroke at the 2012 Olympics.

In the process, he vindicated himself and established a pattern that he hopes will continue as he looks forward to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. He also made good on the promise he showed four years earlier when he finished third behind Aaron Peirsol and Lochte at 2008 Olympic Trials and missed making the U.S. team.

Regardless of what happens in the future, however, he knows he will always be referred to as an Olympic Champion – something no one can ever take away.

“The outcome of that race (200 back) was a complete and total shock,” said Clary, the 2010 Golden Goggles Breakout Performer of the Year. “I knew that I was in the running for a medal, but if you had told me beforehand that I was going to win, I would have suggested you schedule a CT scan.”

His win – particularly against Lochte – was a long time coming. After coming in second to his teammate and rival at several international meets, including World Championships and Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships in addition to numerous Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships since 2009, Clary beat Lochte and fulfilled a destiny he’d imagined for many years.

But things didn’t start auspiciously for Clary in London. In his first event – the 200 meter butterfly – Clary placed fifth in 1:55.06, slower than his prelim and semifinal times.

In his only other individual event, Clary swam to gold in the 200 back in a time of 1:53.41, a personal best time that bettered Lochte's Olympic record of 1:53.94 he set four years earlier in Beijing. Going into the final, Clary posted the top time in the heats (1:56.24) and semifinals (1:54.71), but obviously was not considered the favorite.

In the final, Lochte led throughout the race before Clary made his move during the last 50 meters. He powered home with a split of 28.48, overtaking Lochte and winning gold.

“All I remember about that race is that I was gaining on Ryan in the last lap, and I knew it would be a close finish,” said Clary, who has already agreed to compete next month in Glasgow, Scotland, in the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool. “Then I looked at the result on the board and went absolutely crazy! A year later, it still hasn’t completely sunk in. It would be hard for anyone to grasp that they are an Olympic champion. It still feels strange for me to say that.”

While 2012 was a banner year for Clary, 2013 hasn’t been quite as successful.

He said he went through a “very real” post-Olympics depression that hit him hard, even though he never pegged himself as one who would be affected by something like that.

He went to the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships this summer not in the best training shape but still managed to make the U.S. World Championship team.

And while he didn’t win gold in Barcelona, he did leave with a bronze in the 200 back, repeating his performance from 2011. Similar to London, he started the meet with a seventh place finish in the 200 butterfly, and in his final event of the meet, just missed the podium with a fourth place finish in the 400 individual medley.

“This past year was a hard one,” Clary said. “My only goal for Worlds this past summer was to have fun, and enjoy what I was doing, where I was and who I was with. In that respect, I was successful, and it was a very enjoyable trip. Obviously, I was not as fit as I was the summer before, but performing as well as I did under the circumstances was encouraging.”

Moving forward, Clary said he is planning to continue training and preparing for the 2016 Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – the same city where he started his international swimming career.

Post-swimming, Clary said he already knows what he wants to do – professional race car driving. It’s been a passion of his for a very long time, and he said he feels privileged to have even a small opportunity to make a second dream come true.

After all, racing, either in the water or on the track, is in his blood.

“I am and always have been a racer at heart,” said Clary, who left the University of Michigan to go pro a couple of years before the 2012 Olympic Trials, so he could focus on making the Olympic team, but is back living in Ann Arbor and training with Club Wolverine.

“I owe so much of my career to the people I train with and the coaches that have helped me up to this point. The only way I can get through those hard weeks of practice is by racing the guys I train with and with the encouraging words from my coaches.”

“I am very lucky to be one of the few people that can swim professionally. I have to give huge thanks to Speedo for making this possible. I know that many struggle to be able to swim for a living, and their support is what has made the last three plus years possible.”