By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
An accident on his bicycle was a huge setback to Alex Meyer as he trained for the 2012 Olympics after making the team, but he still finished top 10 in the world at the London Olympic Games. Meyer is bound for Barcelona this summer, after winning the 10K at Open Water Nationals last weekend and qualifying for this year’s World Championships. The Harvard alum talks about making up for some lost time, but never looking back, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday as he passed through security at the San Diego airport Tuesday morning and prepared to board a flight to Boston where he’ll resume training at Harvard.
1. What’s it feel like to claim first prize and be back on that podium and back on the National Team, headed to World Championships?
Alex: I feel good and relieved, obviously.
2. You seemed to put a lot of things back together at this race – is that fair?
Alex: I felt good because I swam a really smart race, and it unfolded perfectly – I could not have hoped for a better race.
3. Feel good to be back on that podium getting a medal?
Alex: Well, I mean, I was telling a few people this weekend that this is my first win since 2011. A year like that (2012), is kind of explained by the injury.
4. Tenth place in the World at the Olympics was impressive, but with two months with no shoulder mobility following the bike crash, it took away from everything obviously, right?
Alex: I didn’t have the race I wanted at the Olympics; I was not in the shape I wanted to be in, and that was really frustrating.
5. How did you feel coming back from London?
Alex: Things like that, you can either let them get you down or you can use them to motivate you and push you forward. We all have that choice. I chose to use it as motivation.
6. You looked pretty happy when you won – an obvious feeling, but what did it mean to you?
Alex: I was pumped to win, sure. I felt like while this was, well, maybe not the biggest race I swam in my life, but it was very important because there was a lot on the line, and especially at this point in my career. I had a couple of bad races in January. So this was the first time I had been on the up and up for a while.
7. You had some pressure this time, didn’t you?
Alex: This was the first time I took a step back, looked at myself, and realized I had to win or get second at Nationals to be on the (National) Team – I thought, “If I want to do this anymore and get that stipend, I have to get this done.” So there was a pressure for me, because I want to stay in the sport. I need that stipend to stay in it.
8. You would have stopped swimming?
Alex: I don’t know, but it would have been harder. Emily (Brunemann) made it work the past year without it, and there are ways to get creative. I am so glad she’s back on it. What a worker.
9. So now you are off to worlds?
Alex: I want to swim the 25k at World Championships and I haven’t been able to do that since 2010. So even though it was three years ago, I still see it as defending that title. There was a lot of pressure with that and everything else heading into last weekend, but I was feeling confident, and to come out of it like I did is very satisfying. It’s something to build upon and move forward with.
10. You are happy with where you are now, right?
Alex: Yes, I am comfortable with who I am, you know, and actually one thing that (Harvard coach) Tim (Murphy) said to me recently was, “You can’t let your past successes be a burden, or even your past failures.” That made sense to me. So in a way, I never have been comfortable in this No. 1 spot I have been in, and the way it happened that I ended up here – I was never able to make sense of it, and maybe I never will be. But I appreciate it now, and I understand where I am, so I am better off moving forward. Things happen – unexpected, improbably, almost impossible things – and you have to deal with it, learn from, and use it to develop as an athlete and as a human being.
11. You have two guys who inspired you, who had such incredible stories themselves, right?
Alex: I got into the sport through Fran and Chip, learning from them, wanting to be like them. And by some tragic and freak circumstances – Fran is not here and Chip has this disease that crushed his career, and it was awesome to see him back this year…but basically in a short period of time I went from being the third guy to being in this Number 1 spot. But I have been getting better at accepting it and just being the best that I can be, that I don’t have to live up to expectations or burdened by expectations from the past.
12. As touching as your story is, it’s so nonsensical and bizarre in some ways, isn’t it?
Alex: It really has been, and it’s just as bizarre with Chip’s deal, getting sick in 2007 in Rio and he hasn’t been right ever since. I was thinking about this before, when people are writing “All eyes are on Alex Meyer.” Well Chip and Andrew (Gemmell) are the only ones who have World Championship medals in the 10k – I got fourth. But really, what have I done? It shouldn’t be all eyes on me
13. That’s a tough deal, isn’t it?
Alex: I am sure Haley (Anderson) experienced the same thing; she didn’t have the exact race she wanted to in the 10k last weekend, and I know that people were probably watching her as the Olympic Silver medalist – but look at how much poise she showed and what a competitor she is, to come back and make World Championships (in the 5k) the next day – that’s how you deal with it.
14. Pretty awesome to see that picture with you and the President at the White House – and when I saw you pull out Fran’s picture, I just cried – was that the plan?
Alex: It’s kind of something I do from time to time; to be honest, I carry his picture around a lot, and I always look for a way to honor his memory. To be with the most powerful person in our country, the leader of the free world, I knew he should know who Fran Crippen is, and he does.
15. Did you get to talk to the President at all?
Alex: I wanted to talk to him about all the FINA stuff going on, tell him the situation –which I did, I told him about Fran, and I told him about the safety issues we struggle with and are trying to get rules in place – but I wanted to ask him for advice on how to bring about change in a highly international and political organization. I figured if anyone could give me advice on that, it would be the President of the United States.
16. So you didn’t see blue or red?
Alex: (laughs) It doesn’t matter what his politics are, he won it – twice – so he knows how to play that game. But I was nervous and there was a lot (laughs) going on, so I didn’t get to talk to him about it one on one or anything. But I did get the picture with Fran, and that was pretty cool.
17. You seem to really feel honored to be a pro swimmer, accurate?
Alex: I appreciate it more. I really do. The weather is getting nice. I had a couple of swims in Walden Pond, but it was really cold, it was hitting 60 degrees. Hopefully, it’ll be warmer.
18. Will you do some public speaking? Your story is just incredible.
Alex: I don’t get a whole lot of requests for that stuff but if it comes up, I will! I’m focusing on training between now and World Championships, but I am also wanting to do some local clinics.
19. What’s the “take away” from London?
Alex: That’s a hard question to answer. What happened shows you how important proper preparation is – I basically missed eight weeks of training. I still went as hard as I could to train in other ways, but it didn’t work out. The whole thing did give me more faith in my training and my coach. But it also helped me realize that everyone has bad races. It stinks that I had one at the biggest race in my life. When I’m 50 years old, I probably won’t dwell on that fact, I didn’t get the finish I want.
20. Specific things or just in general?
Alex: Both, actually. I came back with a list of all these things I did that day (of the race in London) that I did wrong, a bunch of little things. I couldn’t get food down in the morning. I didn’t decide what suit to wear until 10 minutes before the race. There were a few tactical things that I did wrong. My head was not in the right place. All you can do is learn from it. But you know what? I have those Olympic rings, and they are a part of me, and who I am. I have these great coaches, and these amazing teammates, with so many incredible memories. And none of that will ever go away.