By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Photos courtesy Tim Binning
Five years ago, serious practice and dedication to swimming weren’t on Michael Weiss’ personal agenda.
Missing time cuts for the 2008 Olympic Trials and swimming in relative anonymity were just fine with him. His priorities at the time didn’t involve envisioning a future in competitive swimming. Swimming was a means to an end – a scholarship for a college education.
Then, everything changed.
A coaching switch following his sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin brought a clean slate Weiss’ way in 2011 -- igniting his natural ability and desire to achieve more than what was once expected of him.
It didn’t take long for him to begin thinking seriously about swimming as a career and not just a hobby.
“I was a little overwhelmed with college my freshman year and that impacted my swimming negatively, and I feel like when the coaching change took place, my outlook also changed,” Weiss said. “No one on the new staff saw me as the old Michael.
“I also realized at that point that I needed to commit everything to swimming or move on to something else. I knew this is what I wanted and made the necessary changes in attitude and approach to become more dedicated to the sport.”
Weiss quickly learned how much of a difference dedication can make when he not only qualified for NCAA Championships his junior year but finished third in his specialty 400 yard individual medley. The previous year, he didn’t even qualify for the meet.
The subsequent summer at the 2012 Olympic Trials, he not only made the finals of the 400 IM but he finished fifth – just three spots and a few seconds out of the top two and a trip to London. Four years earlier, he was “many seconds too slow” to even qualify for Trials.
While disappointed he came so close and failed to make the Olympic Team last summer, the experience was invaluable for Weiss. It proved to him that he not only belonged among swimming’s elite but that he had time and opportunity to improve moving forward.
He went on to win the 400 IM at the 2012 U.S. Open – earning a spot on the 2013 U.S World University Games team – and also swam last December at the AT&T Short Course National Championships. Weiss not only won gold in the 400 IM at WUGs this summer, but he also set a new championship record in the process.
His pursuits and results over the last year earned him a spot on his first U.S. National team – a feat the young man from Reno, Nev., couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago.
He had arrived – and if he had anything to say about it, he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“It’s amazing how much change you can cause when you really want something,” said Weiss, who will graduate in December with his bachelor’s degree in consumer science with an emphasis in marketing. “Having coaches and teammates who believe in you and you learning to believe in yourself can really make a difference.”
Weiss received the ultimate compliment earlier this fall when he was invited to step in for teammate Ryan Lochte at the upcoming Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool next month in Glasgow, Scotland. Lochte, a five-time Olympic champion, has to sit out the meet after sustaining a knee injury.
While he is ecstatic to be asked, Weiss, who finished third behind Chase Kalisz and Tyler Clary in the 400 IM at the Philips 66 USA Swimming National Championships this summer, knows he has some big goggles to fill.
This year’s Duel, which started in 2003 as a meet between Australia and the United States but has evolved into a U.S. versus Europe meet, will be the first not to feature Michael Phelps or Lochte – and Weiss knows that brings extra pressure in its own right. The United States has never lost the Duel.
“I had resigned myself to not being asked to be on the team, and then when Ryan couldn’t compete, I gladly accepted,” said Weiss, who learned to swim around age 3 after nearly drowning in a hot tub. Considering both of his parents are swim coaches, he admits he most likely would have swum anyway.
“I know there’s a good bit of pressure on us – especially without Michael and Ryan – but we have some great swimmers on this team, and we have very good depth. I know, personally, I’m up for the challenge. I’m excited to gain experience in another international meet (his third) and become an even stronger competitor moving toward Trials in 2016.”