What a difference four years makes: At this time pre-2008 Olympic Trials, Eric Shanteau was fighting to make the Olympic team, a fight he would win. And then he would fight cancer, another fight in which he came out victorious. Now, the Auburn alum, who trained at Texas for the 2008 run-up, is training with USC’s post-grad program. He lost his amazing father, Rick, to cancer, and has gotten married to his long-time love Jeri Moss. The breaststroker gets us up to date in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How’s swimming going?
Eric: Swimming is going really well. It’s extremely difficult right now. We’re in a very heavy phase of training and picking up with all the preparation meets this summer. You don’t just want to get through it, you want to find ways to get better.
2. Are you an IMer now too?
Eric: You know, I wouldn’t call myself an IMer. I will always have roots in IM. That’s part of the reason I have been able to be successful in breaststroke, from the way I train for the 400 IM. But I will say that a 200 breaststroke never hurt (laughs) as much as a 400 IM!
3. While the contention last time was domestic with you, Brendan, Scott Spann, it seems like there’s been more attention on the international breaststrokers than in the U.S. – is that a concern?
Eric: When you look at the breaststroke events, both in the U.S. and around the world, there are so many people swimming so fast. It leaves a lot of open spaces for people. I think it’s going to be fun to watch to see who takes them, whether it’s at Olympic Trials or at the Games themselves. I don’t think anyone has had a real strangle hold on the international breaststroke events like in the past.
4. There are some great ones, aren’t there?
Eric: Daniel Gyurta, the Hungarian, has won the past two world titles so there is some consistency there, but no one has been dominating like those guys – Brendan (Hansen) and Kousuke (Kitajima) have done.
5. How different is this run up from 2008, considering what you went through with cancer the last time?
Eric: It is a world of difference and it’s a very easy question for me to answer. I don’t have to tell people to “Keep their fingers crossed.” To not have something like that, related so seriously to your health…it makes it easier to walk around the pool deck. I can’t tell you how relaxing it is.
6. So Lance Armstrong’s a triathlete now – what are the chances, now that you cycle more, that you beat him soon?
Eric: Not a chance (laughs) at all! I think I have as much a chance of beating Lance on a bike as he does beating me in a breaststroke race. It’s funny, being an elite level athlete, in good shape and everything else, and having a good aerobic base, yet the one time I had a chance to be close to Lance on a Livestrong ride, to see how fast he goes. It was my first Century Ride (100 miles) and I knew I had to pace myself; I wanted to stay with Lance as long as I could without killing myself! They started picking it up and I was dying. They were just having this conversation like nothing was going on, and I said, “Okay, you guys just go, I’ll see you in a few hours!” I have watched the Tour (De France) a few times on TV, and you really cannot appreciate how insane it is, how scary it is to go that fast for that long on such tiny roads. Now that I have gotten into cycling, I have a much greater respect for how tactical the sport is. Not just plain difficult – which it is – but also how much guts you have to have to do it.
7. You married one of the coolest women I have ever talked to – Jeri Moss – what’s marriage been like?
Eric: I mean, it’s been great. It is nice to be married and to enjoy being married. At first, it’s all about the big day, planning it and watching it take on a life of its own, but afterward you get to enjoy being married and relax. I think we did a great job preparing for married life, and that made for a smooth transition. The only difference, we joke, from not being married to being married was we got a bank account together.
8. You do realize she was a 20 Question Tuesday interviewee before you?
Eric: (laughs) Yeah, absolutely! And you were right to do that, because she made world champs before I did. She won three NCAA titles at Auburn. The great part for me is that she understands the lifestyle I have and what I am going through. Nice to have someone who can relate who I love so much, and who loves me so much.
9. Have you stepped back and looked at how amazing this young man’s career from Georgia, to Auburn and Texas, through Beijing, cancer, and now this, has been? It’s truly one of the great stories in all of sports, isn’t it?
Eric: In regard to whether I have stepped back or thought about it, I think that’s a question you can ask me better in five or 10 years when I have had time to get out of the sport and look back on what I think about my career. Absolutely, I can say looking back now that it’s all been worth it. I love to swim and the person it has helped make me into is something I would not take for granted. I would not be the person I am today without swimming. Being a pro athlete has been such a gift to me.
10. As a competitor, what did you take from Beijing?
Eric: More than anything else, it is the experience. That was the eye-opening thing for me, that when you get there, it is just another meet. The more international meets you do, the better feel you get for them. The Olympic Games aren’t anything to freak out about. Personally, I think there is way more pressure at Trials. I think most of my National Team teammates would agree with me. Once you get past Trials, you get to the Olympics, you can think, “I can relax now.” It is different, but not any harder than Trials. I will also say that the great preparation for that kind of pressure is competing at NCAAs – there’s no greater pressure than that, and it helps you grow and develop.
11. I interviewed for a job out there recently and am from LA County – how has the move out there worked for you?
Eric: You know, the move to LA has worked out really well. It was a tough and big decision. It wasn’t just about my swimming and my training. A lot of it was about how it was going to affect her (Jeri’s) career and coming home to be by her family. The move affected so much other stuff. We didn’t know how it would affect us until we did it. A year ago (last) Saturday we got out here. Looking back, everything has turned out great. We have really made some good adjustments.
12. Looking back, how well did things turn out training at the University of Texas with Eddie Reese?
Eric: It was way more than I could ever have hoped it was going to be. I had no idea how much I would fall in love with that place. It is still difficult to think I moved away from a place I loved so much. I can’t say enough great things about Austin. People hear that I lived in Austin and tell me, “I’ve heard great things about Austin and I want to go.” I think, “You have no idea how great that place is.”
13. And even getting diagnosed there – all the resources and everything?
Eric: Yeah, absolutely, I joke about it (laughs) all the time, “If you are going to get cancer, that’s a pretty good city to do it in.”
14. What a group you trained with in Austin – Crocker, Peirsol, Walker, Hansen – the list goes on and on. Did you all have any idea how special that crew was?
Eric: The only unfortunate thing about that was that I don’t think we understood what we had at that time, until it was gone after the Olympics when most of the guys retired. So it wasn’t until later on that fall and early that spring in 2009, we all thought, “Wow, the past year and half or two years, we will never experience that again in this sport.” Having the number of people that we have in one area, all going on to make the U.S. Olympic team, was just something that was very unique. That’s another thing we will cherish even more as time goes on.
15. So Auburn football – your school – no repeat this year?
Eric: It doesn’t matter, we won it last year!
16. I saw the modeling photos from your last shoot – what’s that like?
Eric: It’s hysterical. Part of being a professional swimmer is being a swimsuit model. It’s so funny because these incredibly talented photographers and crews are used to working with people who model for a living, and they get us – and we don’t know (laughs) what we are doing! I don’t know how to (laughs) “express anger from within” and do all these emotions. But you know what? It’s fun, and it’s an honor. We pick on each other a lot about those shoots, but it’s a great part of the gig, and we have fun with it. Let me tell you, we have so much respect for the people and companies who put those together, because the finished product is always so impressive.
17. So many people retired, so many are toward the end, and the new guard is coming – this is a big period of change in swimming, isn’t it?
Eric: I completely agree with you. After the Olympics in Beijing, you could see a changing of the guard, and after this one, the face of the National Team will change even more dramatically. It will be very fun and interesting to see how it plays out, see who steps up and takes advantage of the opportunity.
18. Your career has really progressed through the years, hasn’t it?
Eric: That’s what’s crazy, to think I started, just like anyone else, and swam for my county team, and took it one step at a time. It just started to grow. I won county, state, regional, national and international meets. It’s funny to go back and think of all the meets I have been to, all the people I have been able to become friends with, and what an amazing ride this has been.
19. You like swimming for USC coach Dave Salo, don’t know?
Eric: That’s what unique about this situation: Dave’s training style works for us. He enjoys making us go fast in workout. That’s his style. You can say it’s quality over quantity or however you want to say it, but the bottom line is, you go fast every workout. You are racing the person next to you, and those people in these lanes out here are the best in the world. So every day you go to workout, it’s like being at a big meet.
20. This entire battle with cancer, and how classy and gracious you are discussing that – where does that come from?
Eric: I think a lot of that comes from my parents. When my father went through cancer, seeing how he kept perspective in life and focusing on what was important – it’s instrumental to gain those kind of qualities so that you are as ready as you can be to face that situation. When I first went through my experience with cancer, I took compete ownership of it. I will talk about it with anyone who wants to know anything. In fact, I’d prefer they ask me rather than ask someone else about my experience, because I can give them an accurate and thorough answer. It’s part of who I am now, and it is something that shaped me as a person. It’s not going to slow me down.