By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Following his performance at the 2012 Olympic Trials – when he came within a spot (third in the 400 freestyle) and seconds of making his first Olympic Team – Michael Klueh nearly called it quits.
It was his second Trials and his strongest yet, but once again, he left Omaha without a boarding pass to London.
It took some time and a long hard look at what he still wanted to accomplish, but when it was all said and done, Klueh knew if he left the sport, he’d go with lingering regret and doubt of what he could still accomplish.
“I’ve made peace with it all by now, and I’m more motivated than ever,” Klueh said. “The past year has taught me that I made the right decision. I feel that I’m really hitting my stride right now and getting to the prime of my career. I still love the sport and I have faith that I can still be better than before. “
No doubt Klueh is swimming some of the best times of his long career and the results are proving it.
Last year alone, he not only made the long course and short course World Championship teams, but he helped the United States to relay (800 freestyle) gold at both.
He said he partially attributes his results to a change in location – having moved from California and working with Jon Urbanchek at FAST to Club Wolverine and Mike Bottom in An Arbor, Mich., just over a year ago.
One of the best distance coaches in the sport, Klueh said working Bottom and assistant coach Josh White at Club Wolverine has made a significant difference. Bottom’s reputation and history of placing distance swimmers on the Olympic team was a huge draw.
But overall, he said what he’s doing in the water now is really more than a change in coach and venue.
“I really believe this is a cumulative effect of all the training I’ve done throughout my career,” said Klueh, who competed for the University of Texas and graduated in 2010. “I know I wouldn’t’ be here now without Eddie (Reese) and the other coaches in my life.”
Klueh admitted his change in location to Club Wolverine was about more than just great distance training.
During the 2008 Trials, he met Michigan swimmer Emily Brunemann, and despite their distance, they kept in touch.
Eventually, their friendship evolved into a relationship, and when they both moved to California to train at FAST, they started dating. This September, the two will be married following the Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships.
Also experiencing her most successful year of open water swimming last year, the two are forging ahead with the 2016 Trials and subsequent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in their sites.
“We became engaged last summer, just before Barcelona (World Championships),” Klueh said. “With Emily doing open water events and me doing pool competitions never in the same location, we rarely travel together, so we make the most of our time in Ann Arbor together.”
Klueh said sharing in Brunemann’s success coupled with his own has awakened his desire to train and push himself to see how much further he can take his swimming career.
“I definitely have a new hunger for swimming competition,” Klueh said. “I’m really excited for the journey to the next Trials and hopefully my first Olympics.
“There have been certain levels of disappointment in my career in the past, but my desire is strong – maybe stronger than it’s ever been. “
Still, Klueh, who has been a member of past Pan Pacific Championship and World University Games teams, said he knows whatever happens in 2016, he’ll be ready to hang up his gear and call it a successful career.
“Emily and I will both be ready to end our careers in 2016, whether or not we get to swim in Rio,” Klueh said. “I’m applying to medical schools shortly before 2016, and Emily is going back to school to get her masters in social work, so we’ll be ready for the next phase of our lives.
“I know I can leave the sport in 2016 no matter what happens. I wasn’t ready in 2012, but my life is very full, and I’m excited for what’s coming next.”