By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Tyler McGill finished second in the 100 butterfly Sunday night – and one space ahead of Ryan Lochte – to punch his ticket to the Olympics in London. The Auburn grad and native of Illinois has a growing following, from his powerful (and much needed glasses) to his well-spoken, articulate demeanor, and the fact that “I HEART Tyler McGill” shirts became a common sight this week in Omaha. He talks about that, and a lot of other things, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. So, how do you feel?
Tyler: Right now, I feel tired! I am just excited, more than anything else. It all came together the way I envisioned it. I am just happy
2. How much does your wife Julianne, a great swimmer in her own right, help in this process?
Tyler: Obviously, just having her here just makes things easier. When your mind starts to wander to places – not necessarily negativity – but when you overthink things and stress out about what the results might be, you have to have that person like her you can talk to, and set your mind at ease. Finding her after the (100 Fly final) and giving her a hug and a kiss was important to me – as well as having here there for it all.
3. Where do I get one of those “I HEART Tyler McGill” shirts?
Tyler: A lot of those fans with “I Heart” shirts and signs were friends and family (laughs) from back home. Again, along the same lines, those people are so important to me; when you feel the support and encouragement, you get all that really good energy from people who are cheering for you – that just makes being able to focus on what you are trying to do that much easier. All that energy and positive thoughts coming my way were things I could put toward my swim.
4. How are you not overwhelmed right now?
Tyler: There was definitely a time in my career, maybe three or four years ago, where I would have looked at this situation and been overwhelmed by it. I owe credit for getting over that to (Auburn coach) Brett Hawke, and him helping me stay focused on what I wanted to do. There are going to be big names and people who have won Olympic medals in this event. But what they do every day in the water, and out of the water, has a minimal effect on me. I have to stay focused on my goal, execute – and let my body take over.
5. You finished Sunday night in a sandwich between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte – not to mention several others who were very close to Olympic times and have been on National teams – what’s that like?
Tyler: It’s just one of those things you have to deal with. You swim for competition, you swim to win, and it doesn’t matter who is in the race. You swim and you compete. You go into every single race with the expectation that you are going to win, and you put in an effort that you believe is good enough to win. When I am up there on the blocks, I am up there with a goal; to win, to make a team. I want to be the best I can be, no matter who I am going up against.
6. How come your reaction was stunted at first – did you not know you made the team?
Tyler: I didn’t have my glasses on, so I thought it was a “three” at first! It took me a while to realize it wasn’t a three, that it was a two. For me, I was so determined and I was so in the moment, on what I was going to do – Bret and I made the decision that morning I was going to London – that there would be no other way, because nothing was going to stop me from doing it. My reaction wasn’t anger, just excitement that I had the mindset to do what I planned to do, and thought of doing.
7. I saw that on the TV interview – what do you mean, “Brett and I decided this morning I was going to London”?
Tyler: The only way for me to describe it is what Brett told me. Let me switch hands here, because I have the paper (Hawke gave him) right here. “Today is not a hope or a dream or even an option; today is a decision.” That was my whole mindset all day, that I was deciding that my performance would be the best performance, and nothing would get in the way of it. “Today was not a hope or a dream” – that means that there was no doubt, that I had decided what to do.
8. Brett hasn’t gotten a lot of credit as of late but he’s a great coach isn’t he?
Tyler: Absolutely. I’ve really just put my faith in him, and at the same time taken ownership of my swimming, because I know what I need to do to go fast. I have really put a lot of trust in everything Brett has planned for me. On the mental side of things, there’s not a better person to get you in the right frame of mind to accomplish your goals than him.
9. Were you happy with your swim? After all, it did get you to London, right?
Tyler: Yeah, I mean … it was a good swim. I was telling my grandpa earlier today that I had a rough night of sleep because at one point I woke up thinking of my swim: “That was a good job, but you went faster last year at Worlds” (he thought to himself). So I started looking forward to London. What’s it going to take between now and London to go faster?
10. So you expect to go faster?
Tyler: I didn't put all my training in to do something less than my best time, and that was keeping me from sleeping even though I had just made the Olympic team. So I decided to enjoy the moment, get some sleep, and then start thinking of the next step when I woke up in the morning. – what they said on TV about (Phelps and McGill) being among the best times in the world – but it was just a stepping stone. It might look like it means a lot, but what it has done has put me in a position to reach some goals in London. But it’s just a step. The ultimate goal is to be standing on the podium in London. I know I have to swim faster for that to happen, so over the next four weeks we will find ways to go faster.
11. It just seems so hard to fathom that you swam with Phelps and Lochte and made the team not going a best time! Does that make sense?
Tyler: At (2011) Worlds, I went out 23.9, and last night it was 24.2, so there are a few tenths right there. I need to go out faster and come back the same, or go out faster and come back faster. I continue to want more from myself. Though this is a huge accomplishment and I am immensely proud of it, this is not the end of the book, just another chapter to my story – but absolutely an important part of my story.
12. How amazing of an event did Omaha put on this year?
Tyler: They did a great job in 2008 and have done an even better job this year. Just putting on an event and putting on a show that can entertain people for hours, and keep fans enthused and entertained, really keeps them into the sport. You just have to commend them on that and thank them for putting on such a great event.
13. So tell me, did you ever get to the point where the fire booming up didn’t startle you?
Tyler: Honestly, it (laughs) catches you off guard every single time. But it’s exciting, and part of an amazing show.
14. You are so articulate in interviews, where does that come from?
Tyler: You know, that’s just who I am. That will never change. If I do that well, it’s because of how I was brought up – my parents, my friends and relatives and teachers and coaches, the entire community – everyone who helped shape me into who I am today.
15. People really seem to identify and get excited about your story – why is that?
Tyler: I don’t know. Part of what I have said to people is that this is my job, and just like anyone else who has a job, I love to do mine. You commit to being the best at what it is you do. Part of me feels like even though I am an athlete and a swimmer, I just really love spending time with my family. I like to be myself. Obviously, I have to get into a certain mindset to compete – almost a different person – but once I get away from that, I am just me again. There isn’t a whole lot (laughs) of special things about me – and I don’t mean that as a fault by any means – but people look at professional athletes as having such special talents, and being so gifted and blessed…but while I am blessed to swim, what’s benefitted me is the people around me who have always been so kind and thoughtful. Maybe people can relate to that, because I really am just an honest person who certainly isn’t trying to show off or anything.
16. What did Michael Phelps say to you when he leaned over to you after the race?
Tyler: It’s more just a “congratulations” and “good swim,” never anything really more than that after a race. You are happy for the person who won and happy as the person who got second because you are going to the Olympics and you are going to experience something special together. We are on the same team representing this great country – representing something so much bigger than ourselves and our own individual goals. So nothing more really needs to be said other than, “Good job.”
17. Has it hit you that you are a 2012 Olympian?
Tyler: It’s setting in. I was on a radio show with someone in Champaign (Illinois, his hometown) this morning, and the guy said this is like someone getting their doctorate, they are Dr. So and So for life, and that I was always going to be Tyler McGill, Olympian. That’s the first time it set in with me, and it’s still (laugh) working its way there!
18. Maybe you’ll look at it later on, once it has had time, post-London, to sink in?
Tyler: Much farther down the line, I will look back and have a much greater sense of everything that’s gone on in the last four years.
19. Hey, why the butterfly – that’s such a hard stroke, isn’t it?
Tyler: I think, first and foremost, it’s naturally what I do well. It’s the stroke that fits me the best. You can’t explain it. There’s nothing that can explain why I am better at the butterfly than I am at anything else. It’s almost like it picked me, not the other way around. You will hear that with distance swimmers, and swimmers of other events: You don’t have the decision in your own hands, you just do what you are best at, and get better at it.
20. The men’s and women’s U.S. team is one for the ages this time around – for a lot of reasons – do you have an idea of how special this group is going to be?
Tyler: Absolutely, yes. These are great people, first and foremost, and really wonderful, smart and talented individuals that make up the United States swim team. Just to be a part of that group, and be with them every day for the next month or so, is going to be a special time that I will always cherish.