Wondering just who will make the coveted, precious few spots on the 2012 Olympic Team? Alex Meyer doesn’t need to worry. He’s the one person who has secured a spot based on his fourth-place finish at the 2011 Open Water World Championships in Shanghai. He talks about being the sole qualifier at this point, and claims that, in reality, he isn’t going alone, by any means.
1. Where are you, and what are you doing?
Alex: I just drove back to Boston because I haven’t been here for the past two months with the camps and Shanghai (for Worlds). I went home to Ithaca, and then I went to London (for open water). I was in Boston for a couple of days. I just got back from a week-long backpacking trip in Wyoming at the Wind River Range.
2. How did Hurricane Irene affect your trip?
Alex: That was a good trip. I was supposed to fly back to Boston, but I couldn’t get any flights close because of the weather. I ended up flying into Pittsburgh and rented a car, drove to Ithaca, got a U-Haul, got some stuff for my new apartment, and drove home to Boston. I floored it the whole way and went (laughs) about 70.
3. Nice to have secured your spot on the 2012 Olympic Team. You must be one of the few in the world who has that coveted position, right?
Alex: It is pretty awesome. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders. Now I can just focus on the next year. I can tailor my training and racing to having my best race at the Olympics. I am glad I don’t have to worry about qualifying.
4. What’s it like being back training at Harvard, and seeing all the articles and coverage they are doing about you?
Alex: It is cool, because obviously my varsity experience here meant a lot to me. It’s cool that they still consider me a part of their family and still write these articles, updates and even interviews. I am still training at Harvard with my college coach, and I stay in touch with people in the athletic department.
5. Kind of a home away from home for you at Harvard?
Alex: It really is. I am glad they still feel I am a part of them. I feel I am part of that community, and to have that reciprocated means a lot.
6. You couldn’t get Eva Fabian to pick Harvard over Yale?
Alex: I don’t (laughs) know…I think it’s actually a really good situation for her at Yale. I thought it would be really cool if she went to Harvard. But the most important thing is her development as a person, and I wanted what is best for her.
7. So you did talk to her about it when she was choosing schools?
Alex: She looked to me for a lot of info. Yale is a very good place for her. She and (Olympian) Cristina Teuscher (Yale coach) get along really well. The women’s team there trains with the guys, and I think for her that’s a good thing for Eva, because that’s how she grew up, swimming with boys on the team.
8. A degree from Harvard opens a lot of doors. Will you go to grad school, or do you have a career you are looking at for the future?
Alex: I don’t know at this point. And really, it’s one of those things where I am perfectly comfortable not really knowing and not really thinking about that now. Swimming is the most important thing to me right now. I’ll cross the next bridge when I come to it.
9. There were some distractions with the water temperature over in Shanghai, the 25K not being swum by the U.S. How did you fight through all that for your race?
Alex: Obviously, there was a lot going on besides just me trying to qualify. I was trying to focus. I got the job done.
10. Now that you are an Olympian, has that sunk in?
Alex: No, it hasn’t at all. It’s kind of hard for it to really settle in because it is a year away. But I feel like this is something that I have dreamed about since I was just a young kid. But that was a dream in the literal sense, just a dream that wasn’t really reality. To have it come true is surreal.
11. You are, on the one hand, one of the top four or five in the world. On the other hand, it seems like you still have room to improve. Is that accurate?
Alex: That’s one of the things that gives me the greatest confidence, that I am being compared to the guys on the elite level, but I am much less experienced than they are. I learn something every race that makes me a better athlete. That’s why I am optimistic about the future.
12. So you are a work in progress?
Alex: Definitely. I have a lot more experience to gain. And just by age, I am a lot younger. I am really looking forward to improving a lot over years.
13. What did you learn from the open water competitions in London after Worlds?
Alex: It wasn’t any particular thing. It was just a matter of seeing what we’re going to be doing in a year. We do a lot of visualization, and this will help with that. I can think of the place I will be racing at the Olympics. I wanted to see the indoor pool, but I didn’t have a chance to that.
14. Did you eat anything good in Shanghai?
Alex: You know, it’s the kind of city where you can find cool places to eat. There’s a lot of Indian and Thai food, which I really like.
15. We are coming up on the one-year mark of Fran Crippen’s death. You were there of course.I guess what sticks out to me is how much he affected you, is that accurate?
Alex: He affected me as a swimmer, and I think even more so it is as a person. A lot of people have said to me, “Wow, it’s crazy how much you rubbed off on each other.” Or I will say something and I will think, “That’s just like something Fran would have said or done.” But I definitely thought about him a lot when I was racing.
16 .What did you learn from him, in terms of racing?
Alex: I learned a lot from him racing. Fran was really tough. There was just something about Fran, even though he didn’t win every time, that everyone knew he was the best. He had this aura about him. He was someone they didn’t mess with during a race, or you’d end up on the bad side of that fight.
17. Is it a free-for-all in the water on race day?
Alex: I wouldn’t say that. It is a rough sport, but there’s also a lot of etiquette involved. Fran was a classy swimmer. I could put it that way. He didn’t do cheap shots, unless you did it to him, in which case you’d get it back, which is just how it works. He was a respectful swimmer. And he was a great finisher. He was so hard to sprint ahead of in the last few hundred meters of a race.
18. We talked about the competition in London briefly, what was that like after Worlds?
Alex: I struggled! I hadn’t been in training that much before the London race, and was just doing pretty much just singles.
19. That was a big change from Shanghai, especially in terms of weather and water temp, wasn’t it?
Alex: It was. I had spent a lot of time acclimating to warm weather. I had to turn around two weeks later and, somewhat out of shape and do a 10K. It was pretty (laughs) rough. The important part though is that we saw the course and swam on it. It was a valuable learning experience.
20. Glad to see you make the team, but sad that the men didn’t get a second spot for the London Olympics. Is that going to be tough, going alone?
Alex: You know, I don’t view it that way…(pause) Here’s what I think… (pause)…obviously, I like (U.S. teammate) Sean Ryan a lot, and I was hoping he would make the team with me. He’s such a great swimmer and a great person. But then after some time passed, I realized that spot had to be unfilled, because that is Fran Crippen’s spot. That is something Fran and I talked about a lot. We dreamed of it together, being Olympic teammates in London. So no offense to Sean or anyone else, but I’m not going to London alone. Fran’s going with me, and we’re going to represent our country, our schools, our family and friends, and we are going to give it our best.