By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Despite the 2012 Olympic Trials being one of the most disappointing meets of his life, Bobby Bollier left Omaha last summer having realized he learned something he could use in the future.
Now back in the Palo Alto, Calif., area and training at his alma mater, he believes he is swimming faster and better than ever – and attributes those lessons he learned at Olympic Trials last year when he failed to make his first Olympic Team.
“I’m feeling pretty bad (physically) right now, but that’s the name of the game,” said Bollier, who graduated from Stanford last June. “My training has been intense but great, and I’m swimming as fast as I ever have. I’m excited to see what I can do when I start racing in competition.”
One reason Bollier – who made the finals of the 200 butterfly at Trials last summer but missed making the team – is feeling so inspired and excited about his swimming prospects this year is the recent change he’s made to his training.
He has started training with a group of college grads at Stanford that swim separately from the varsity team.
“Ted (Knapp) and Scott (Armstrong), the Stanford coaches, are coaching us some of the time (especially Scott, who really expressed interest in the group when he took the assistant coaching job), and then Tony from Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics (PASA) acts as a sort of "’head coach,’” Bollier said. “I'm feeling good about my training right now. I'm finding ways to swim faster than I ever have in practice, even when I can barely swim another 100. And training in a group of seven really makes the environment close-knit and enjoyable.
“We’re doing a lot of sprint training, which has been fantastic, but we’re also doing a good aerobic workout every once in a while – usually nothing more than around 7,000 meters.”
Bollier’s road to current swimming satisfaction took a short detour following his performance at Trials last June. He had the fastest time heading into the night’s finals and was poised to make his first Olympic Team. As expected, Michael Phelps secured one spot, leaving the second position open to the fastest remaining swimmer.
Bollier held the lead for that spot heading into the wall but was out touched by Tyler Clary – settling for third place and not a spot on the team.
Suffice it to say that the next few months – especially during the London Olympics – were tough for the Mission Hills, Kan., native.
“Trials were a huge mix of ups and downs,” Bollier said. “Short-term, I'd say it was definitely a negative simply because I didn't make the Olympic Team, but long-term, it's just something else that happened in the past. I learned a lot about what's important to me, what defines a swimming career, and what makes the whole swimming experience so enjoyable.
“A big part of that was the fact that I had a big support group up in the stands the night of the 200 fly final. We got a nice family photo at the end of the evening, and then I signed autographs for kids for 15 minutes. So while it was a huge disappointment personally that I didn't make it, I had a good amount of perspective sitting in front of me right there and then. At the same time, it was not a huge motivator to have missed the team. It took me all the way until the end of September to start getting that feeling of ‘this is worth it’ again.”
Part of what motivated Bollier to keep training and competing despite his disappointment at Trials was a pact he made with himself earlier in the year to continue at least through 2013.
Along with working toward getting his freestyle up to a world-class level this year, he said he’s changed his technique over the past six months – and he’s starting to see results that continue to motivate him.
He’s also looking forward to a year where there’s an open playing field in the butterfly events, especially the 200, now that Phelps has called it a career.
“On one hand, yes, it's a big relief that that No. 2 spot has opened up, but on the other hand, now there's pressure to fill in that No. 1 spot that Phelps is leaving,” Bollier said.
Bollier intends to challenge for one of those two spots this summer at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – where the 2013 World Championship team will be decided.
Even with Phelps out of the picture, he said he knows the competition will be strong but he’s looking forward to the competition. He wants to use Arena Grand Prix events at Mesa (Ariz.) presented by VisitMesa.com, Santa Clara, Calif., and possibly the Arena Grand Prix at Charlotte presented by UltraSwim to gauge his performance levels.
He’s been working part-time as an assistant coach at a local high school, and he said his interaction with the younger swimmers has given him a new perspective about swimming – and coaching.
“This is the first time in my life when I've had swimming without school, and I'm figuring out how to stay engaged and motivated both in the pool and in other (previously neglected) spheres of my life,” said Bollier, who still has the 2016 Olympics on his radar depending on how this year goes. “It’s very difficult to manage so many people and get around to every single swimmer in a workout.
“The swimming perspective is interesting as well, since I still train two afternoons a week with high school swimmers at PASA. So it's interesting how young and old I can feel with them. My experiences have definitely given me a renewed attitude about the sport, and I’m excited for the rest of 2013 and beyond.”