By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
The Nic Fink who dropped significant time at this year’s World Championship Trials is a new and improved version of the one who competed at Olympic Trials last year.
More time in the gym, big-meet experience and another year under the esteemed tutelage of Jack Bauerle at the University of Georgia resulted in Fink swimming to a spot on his first U.S. World Championship team.
In the process, he dropped more than a second from his best time in the 100 breaststroke and more than 3 seconds in the 200 breast – proving that hard work and time can make a huge difference in the pool.
“After (Olympic) Trials, I dedicated my energy and focus toward getting faster and stronger because I knew what I wanted to accomplish,” said Fink, a junior in Athens who hails from Morristown, N.J.
“I set down with Jack and we put together a comprehensive plan to get me from where I was to where I wanted to be. Georgia is a great place to improve, and I still have work to do. I’m definitely headed in the right direction.”
Just how much of a difference has the past year meant to Fink and his swimming? At the 2012 Olympic Trials, he failed to reach the finals of either of his events, finishing 11th in the 100 breaststroke and 17th in the 200 breast.
Fast-forward to this summer’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – where the 2013 World Championship team was selected – and it was virtually night-and-day. He finaled in both events, finishing second to Kevin Cordes in the 100, and thus earning a spot on the World Team headed to Barcelona. He also finished a close third in the 200 breast.
At Worlds, he swam the fastest time of his career in the semis of the 100 breast and broke the 1-minute mark for the first time (59.84) to earn a spot in the final, where he finished eighth.
For Fink, breaking the minute mark was a personal milestone, and despite not medaling, he said he left Barcelona a smarter, better competitor and swimmer.
“Every meet is a learning experience regardless of the outcome – that’s how I always look at it,” Fink said.
“Although I didn’t do as well as I wanted in the final standings, I swam a best time and had a great time with my teammates. It has made me excited and hungry for more. I don’t want to stop at the final. I’m motivated to see how I can continue to improve and swim faster.”
“Just being in that environment made me a better competitor. You have to experience it once to really learn how it all works, how to focus despite a much bigger crowd than you’re used to and everything else.”
It was the spectacle of the 2012 Trials that Fink said caught him by surprise. He had never competed in front of a crowd as large as the one in Omaha, and it took him a little while to soak everything in and adjust to the much-different environment.
Fink parlayed that experience into a fourth-place finish in the 100 breast at the 2013 NCAA Championships, and rode that wave of confidence into this summer.
Considering both of the U.S. representatives in the breaststroke events at the Olympics last year – Clark Burckle and Scott Weltz – finished outside of the top 2, Fink said he realizes the competition level in the United States is strong.
He knows when he comes to a meet like Nationals or Trials he will also need to bring his “A” game.
“You always have to be in top performance mode because there are always people coming up fighting for spots,” said Fink, an electrical engineering major who started swimming with his neighborhood friends at age 8. “Even after Worlds, I took a little break but got right back into training because I know it’s important and tough to keep that edge.”
With the summer behind him, Fink is looking forward to his junior year and season at Georgia.
Having Worlds teammate Chase Kalisz and a strong nucleus returning on the team roster this year, he said he is excited to swim fast and help the Bulldogs improve on their top 10 finish at NCAAs earlier this year.
With 2016 Trials less than three years away – and having had so much success this year – Fink is trying to focus right now on the upcoming NCAA season. Later this year, he’ll also swim both breaststroke events for the United States at the 2013 Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool in Scotland against a select European All-Star team.
He knows as the next Olympic Trials get closer, he’ll put more thought into it – but he’s dedicated to the task at hand.
“There is so much going on here and now that I need to focus on. When the time comes for Trials, I will have goals and a game plan to make sure I’m ready,” Fink said. “Right now, I’m thinking about this weekend’s dual with Wisconsin and having a successful season. Beyond that, the rest will take care of itself.”