By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
University of Texas product Jimmy Feigen achieved one dream in making the 2012 Olympic team, and now the Longhorn sprinter is focusing on the podium for London. He talks in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday about his journey to the top, what it’s like to get there, and just how much the setbacks along the way actually helped propel him to the lofty perch he occupies today.
1. What’s it mean to make the Olympic team?
Jimmy: I mean it’s the realization of a lifelong goal. I have been working at this goal since I was 5 years old; I am 22 now, so I’ve been working at this for 17 years – and it has finally happened.
2. How do you feel about London?
Jimmy: I’m real excited. I think the thing I am most excited about is that I know, by my times, that I will be fast in London. It’s great to see I am able to compete with Cullen (Jones), Jason Lezak, Ricky (Berens) and Nathan Adrian, among others. I am still kind of the young one in the group, so I plan to stay around a lot longer, and I am excited about that, though certainly there are a lot of others who plan to stick around, too.
3. You can still go faster, you said?
Jimmy: I feel that way, that I still have a lot left. In the finals of the 100 free, I made a silly mistake and didn’t really swim my race the way I should have, so I know I can swim faster than that. I’m fighting for a spot on that night relay, so hopefully swimming at night in a final is a dream that will come true. But going past that, I believe I still have at least four more years of swimming in me, so hopefully this will be a breakout year, but I’ll have faster times in years to come.
4. As you mentioned, a lot of people will be around, but still there are a few big names that will likely retire - a special time to be on this team, isn’t it?
Jimmy: We see time and again that these guys who are a little older know how to get it done. I can’t wait to learn all I can from these guys. I’m sure some will hang it up after this so America needs some sprinters to step it up, and I am one of those guys – and I plan to continue being one, too.
5. Carrying on that U.S. men’s relay is a big deal, isn’t it?
Jimmy: I know! And it’s exciting! I remember exactly where I was when I was watching that relay. It was an inspiring moment for me; that was the moment I knew I wanted to do whatever it takes to be an Olympian. That gave so many of us an opportunity to feel so connected to swimming, and to the environment, to competition itself. It made us proud to be Americans. It was just a great moment, and that feeling never leaves you.
6. That relay from 2008 is kind of to your generation what the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team was to my generation, isn’t it?
Jimmy: I think you’re right. My Mom talks to me a whole lot about Miracle, the movie based on the hockey team, where everyone got behind that team and those players. They were national heroes, pulling off a tremendous feat in face of adversity. That’s what the Olympics are all about: Anything is possible, and the world is just waiting for you to do something you never even thought you could do.
7. With the election, the wars, the economy – the Olympics are really coming along at a time when need them, aren’t they?
Jimmy: They really are. There are a lot of terrible things that happen in the world every day. I feel like the Olympics can be a break from all the harsh realities of life. There is so much bad news and the Olympics seem to always bring out such great stories of hope and perseverance. It’s just something the whole world can sit back and watch and relax to – except the athlete competing (laughs) in it! It does bring the country, and the whole world, together. I am so excited to be proud. I want to make the American people proud, and I want to inspire people around the world.
8. You went through some ups and downs through your career, even this year – how much did that affect you, or are you comfortable talking about it?
Jimmy: No, you are absolutely right, I did go through a lot of stuff that was hard to deal with. It’s tough to deal with stuff and you have to pick yourself up when you feel like the floor is shattered beneath you. But getting yourself back up and overcoming those things, and not letting things stand in your way, is what life is all about – and it’s also what being an Olympian is about. You have these life-changing moments in life, where you realize who you want to be as a person, and what you want to do. Hey, at no point did anyone – including me – consider me a shoo-in for the Olympics. I had to work for it, and believe in myself. Adversity strengthened me, and motivated me to be better than I had been in the past.
9. You are a sprinter but chose Texas, which has a ton of success no doubt in sprints, but is kind of known for specialization – was it a logical fit? Obviously, it worked out great though, right?
Jimmy: Yeah, well, a lot of people questioned it: “If you are a 100 free or 50 free guy, why are you going to a place not like that to swim?” I even questioned it myself, and I was so close to committing to Arizona and USC; in fact, on my recruiting trip to Arizona, I told Annie Chandler I was coming there! But what changed my mind was my Mom. She said, “I know mother’s intuition isn’t scientific or something concrete, but I honestly believe Texas is the best fit for you.” That influenced my decision a whole lot, and I really trusted her for this. And Texas has been a great place for me to grow. It opened up a whole new chapter in my life. It was hard, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to do the work Eddie (Reese) wanted me to do, but it was the best decision.
10. You are considered by some to be pretty sensitive at times – but you don’t see that label as negative whatsoever, do you?
Jimmy: There really isn’t a downside to that. I appreciate everything that I have been given, and to do that you have to take a step back and look around; a lot of people think things are all about them, and it really isn’t – it’s about your family and your friends. That’s what gives me so much strength in the pool. I know I have a whole lot of support. So yeah, some people call me sensitive, and I am to a degree, but I think that’s a good thing. And when I need to be, especially once I get in the pool, I can be tough.
11. Good timing, finishing at Texas and then right into the Olympics?
Jimmy: It’s funny you bring that up because people don’t really notice it. It worked out well. Winning the (NCAA) championship my sophomore year, and then winning multiple NCAA events after that and into this year catapulted me into Olympic Trials, where I was ultimately successful. I missed out on a couple of goals here and there, to be sure, but I will keep pushing to get better.
12. How cool is it when the tower lights up there in Austin?
Jimmy: I have a big, framed picture of it, with the tower and the whole team standing by it. That’s one of the proudest moments of my life along with making the Olympic team. There’s nothing in college like winning a team championship; one person being good, that’s cool, and you have to have confidence in yourself, but for the whole team to win, you have to have all that confidence in each other. It’s a feeling I wish everybody could experience.
13. All those years with Crocker, Hansen, Peirsol, and Walker preceded you, but it left a legacy, didn’t it?
Jimmy: It really did. I hear stories about how it was, back in the glory days when all of our intense pros were here in the program. All those guys were doing amazing things, and I wish I could have been part of that. But ultimately, they are still here – the tradition they built still remains. We don’t have that big of a pro program now, and people might say the glory days are over, but let me tell you we do have a great group of guys underneath us with more marquee athletes, and I hope I can be part of continuing that success that’s been built here.
14. What makes Eddie Reese so awesome?
Jimmy: He’s been around and he’s seen everything. He knows exactly what it takes to become a champion – he can tell anyone what they need to become a champion. It goes beyond that, this feeling he has of what needs to be done, and how it needs to be done. He has this aura of success about him where everyone wants to get involved. He’s a great person to have coach you. He puts the drive in you to succeed.
15. Eddie really does get you to look inside yourself and find what it takes to be a champion, doesn’t he?
Jimmy: I think that is something Texas does better than any other school; they show you the best things that you have inside of you. They help make those things flourish. They don’t want to change who you are. Eddie, in fact, believes he doesn’t need to change who you are; if you love the sport, work hard, believe in yourself and want to be part of the team, you will experience incredible success. You see the personalities who go through this program, from the guys we talked about to people like Garrett Weber-Gale, who is amazing, and you realize you have a bunch of winners here.
16. Based on UT’s relay tradition, you already had an idea of what it takes to be successful on a relay, didn’t you?
Jimmy: At Texas the relays were always the most important things. At the Olympics, people think the relays are the most important thing. Again, it’s because it is not about just one swimmer, but a representation of who that team is, and what that country is about. I am so shocked that I am one of the people who gets to represent a country of 300 million at the Olympics. It’s an honor.
17. Texas has that kind of tradition in all its sports, doesn’t it?
Jimmy: That’s right. You know, every Longhorn would give up his soul for his team every year, and we go teeth and bone to the core for our teammates at NCAAs each year. That’s what is so great about Texas: it is always about the team, and that’s why you get so many guys who are contenders on the relay for the U.S. Olympic team, because at Texas you are comfortable with the idea of putting your teammates on your back.
18. What did you do in other sports besides swimming?
Jimmy: I got really shy after I had signed up for basketball and never really played. I did play soccer though for probably eight years, and I only gave it up when I went into high school swimming. But soccer helped me a lot, building up great endurance. You hear a lot of swimmers nowadays talk about running, and soccer gives you a lot of that. Also, I personally believe that being in a team sport molded me into the right kind of athlete and gave me the right approach to swimming, because I came in motivated and I always like being part of a team.
19. What do you do outside the pool?
Jimmy: I’m all about having a great time. I’m a pretty chill guy. I’d rather not sit around talking about the things I have accomplished – I’m not super cocky out of the pool or anything. I’m off with my friends paddle boarding, or skydiving with my roommates – Eddie (laughs) doesn’t like that last one!
20. How pumped are you for London?
Jimmy: I’m so excited to just see London! This journey and the Olympic Trials – making the team… it’s been a life-changing moment. It hasn’t really dawned on me, all the crazy things ahead of me, because I am trying to concentrate on the here and now. Making the team is a great moment, but you know what would be better? Standing on the podium in London, hearing the National Anthem played.