By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Andrew Gemmell learned to swim by default.
Having a dad who is a former University of Michigan swimmer and current club coach, he was in the water at 3 years old, swimming summer league by 5 and intensely competitive at 13.
And even though he said his dad, Bruce, didn’t push him to swim, Gemmell’s future in the sport was almost inevitable. Now a member of the U.S. National Team and a 2012 Olympian (as well as top Open Water contender), Gemmell knows his decision as a teenager to focus on swimming was the right one.
“I never had what you might call an ‘a-ha’ moment in swimming; it’s really been more of a progression over time for me to get where I am today,” said Gemmell, who gave up soccer and baseball to focus on swimming in high school.
“I’ve always loved the sport, but it’s largely been the people who make up the sport that keep me involved. I was never sure I’d be in this position, but every day, I’m excited to see how far I can push myself.”
Gemmell’s journey to London this summer actually began in 2010 when he took the 2010-11 NCAA season off from the University of Georgia to focus on training and competing for a spot on the U.S. Open Water Olympic Team.
He moved to California in January 2011 to work with Jon Urbanchek – who also coached Bruce his first year as head coach at Michigan – and left in June with a renewed approach to and excitement about swimming.
When he finished third at the Olympic qualifying meet in May 2011 and didn’t make the team, he decided to focus his attention back on the distance events in the pool.
“Working with Jon was a fantastic experience and being out in California training with the other amazing athletes at FAST (Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team) and living with a host family for six months was great,” said Gemmell, the 2009 USA Swimming Male Open Water Swimmer of the Year after winning the silver medal in the 10K and placing fifth in the 5K events at 2009 Open Water World Championships.
“I put in some great training and work and built some confidence up. I learned a lot about myself as a person, swimmer and competitor during that time in California, and I came back to Athens with a whole new outlook about my potential and future in swimming.”
His sophomore year at Georgia proved all that hard work paid off when he finished fifth in the 1,650 freestyle at 2012 NCAAs – establishing himself as a top contender a few months later at Olympic Trials.
Having competed at 2008 Trials while still in high school, Gemmell said his goals this time around in Omaha were much different than they were four years earlier – once he got past his initial jitters.
“In 2008, my goal was just to make finals in my events, but this year, I came in wanting to make the Olympic team and I really believed I had a strong shot,” said Gemmell, a member of the 2009-2010 U.S. National Team.
“I was so incredibly nervous before the prelims of the 1500 that I remember sitting on the deck of the warm-up pool shaking uncontrollably. That’s how much I wanted it. Once I made it past prelims into the finals, I was much calmer, and really enjoyed the experience of being there. Winning the event and making the team were a dream come true.”
And while his Olympic adventure didn’t end as he’d hoped – he finished ninth in morning prelims and missed making the evening finals, so he cheered on friend and teammate Connor Jaeger, who finished sixth – Gemmell said the experience has definitely sparked a desire for more in the water as he finished out his career at Georgia and prepares for 2016 Trials.
He also plans to continue competing in Open Water competitions – saying the training for Open Water and distance pool events is pretty much the same – and would love the opportunity to compete in both in Rio de Janeiro in less than four years.
“It’s still a ways away, but I’ve already started thinking about what I want to accomplish over the next few years to make sure I’m in an even better position for the 2016 Olympic Trials,” said Gemmell, who will graduate from Georgia in 2014 and then focus on training for the next Trials.
“The Olympics are such a different meet than I’ve ever experienced before, and waiting the entire meet before getting the chance to swim was tough, but I left with a much better understanding and appreciation for what it will take for me to make it back in 2016. I’m more motivated than ever and excited to see how much I can accomplish and improve over the next few years.”