By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Don’t look now, but Kara Lynn Joyce is in the books as making the Olympic team three Games in a row as a sprinter. The Georgia alum had a rough lead-up, joining Missy Franklin’s team before switching to David Marsh at SwimMAC just before London. The ultimate gamer, Joyce made another team. The four-time Olympic medalist talks about the start of a New Year, and what’s new in her own life, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday. Happy 2013 EVERYONE!
1. Pretty impressive as a U.S. 50 freestylist to make three straight Games – has that set in?
Kara: The 50 free in three Olympics…it hadn’t dawned on me until my brother brought it up. Actually, it was very bittersweet coming home from the Olympics empty-handed. I know it was a personal sort of miracle just to make the team. But the coolest part coming home with a medal is being able to share it with everybody – it means so much more to other people than it does to me. It means so much to little kids and to parents. That’s my little piece of the experience I can hand out to people. I can sit down, though and share my story for an hour; I was an underdog and I made the team. The four months before the Olympics were very challenging leading up to Trials. I never guessed I would be all over the place. I overcame a lot and I am proud of that – that I was able to make the Olympic team.
2. What stands out from the 2004 Games?
Kara: You know, people ask, “What were your favorite Olympics? Which one means the most to you?” They come at different stages of your life, 18 to 26, so who I was, was so different, for each experience. Athens was my first big international experience. Athens was definitely the beginning of it. Jenny Thompson was also on that team, and she’s a legend. I don’t think in making the Athens team I even knew (laughs) what I was getting into. It was my first big meet and I was there with legends, Gary Hall won a medal, and of course Jenny was there. It is just so great to look back at the journey it took to get there.
3. What was unique, besides the obvious, of 2008?
Kara: Even in Beijing – heading into it, I had such high hopes (for the second Games in a row, Joyce won two silver medals). I am so grateful to the sport for teaching me about myself. I am so much stronger than I was. As far as the 2008 Games specifically, it was such a different kind of team – every team is different, from who the rookies and veterans are, and how they develop into their roles. The 2008 team was very serious. I look back at Michael’s performance, and he was a machine. I was so happy go lucky to be on that team. It was so cool.
4. How did that change in 2012 in London?
Kara: In regard to Michael, I saw him become this amazing human being in 2012, and all the appreciation he has for the sport and his teammates. Personally, 2012 were the first Games where I ever walked in Opening Ceremonies. It was my first time walking in them because I usually swam on the first day. My whole family was there, and I got to see everybody. That night, I was so overcome with emotion, from the struggles and triumphs, and everything came together in my mind and my heart in that moment. “Wow, here I am at the Olympics – so many people got me here!” It truly was a village that got me there...so many people I was thankful for, something I will never forget. But to go back to what each Games mean, I think every Olympics is special, and you share a life bond with everyone on each team.
5. London was also a unique experience in the pool, wasn’t it?
Kara: I think that was my first time ever doing a swim-off. I didn’t even look at the other two heats with me. I was standing in the Team USA area, and I hadn’t had a good race, so I was thinking, “I am done. Bummer.” But then Gregg Troy came running out, and said, “You have a swim-off.” I had no idea who I had tied, and then I go out for the swim-off and people are going nuts, because it’s a British girl. I took one breath in that race, and I could hear how loud the crowd was – and it was not (laughs) for me! But give her credit, she did her best time, and she did well in the final.
6. You moved to Denver to be a teammate with Missy after things collapsed at FAST, and then to SwimMAC – how did you get through that?
Kara: I think the core group around me kept me believing in myself. It was hard to let yourself get discouraged being so close to Olympic Trials. Things were getting worse and worse, and at meets, I couldn’t final in my best event. It’s extremely discouraging to go from top to bottom. Loren Landow, Missy and my trainer, who is the best trainer in the world, really helped me. He was at Trials and warmed me up on the mat before my race. He had me believing I could do it; he knows me, and knew I was a fighter. The coaches from SwimMAC kept telling me I could do it. And at some point, I said, “You are right, I can do this.” I had gotten to a point where I was at peace with everyone – all the stuff that had happened went away when I was in the ready room before finals. My life had been turned upside down four months out from Trials. It was time to go, time to make the Olympic team. I was in such a good place mentally that I knew whatever happened would be okay because I was ready to give it my best effort; that being said, I was more surprised than anybody to finish the race and see the number “2” by my name.
7. Still, to make three teams, isn’t that amazing?
Kara: Well, I didn’t always make the team at Trials – I got bumped onto the team in 2008. So, I have been pretty lucky as far as Olympics go.
8. You really had to refocus close to Trials, didn’t you?
Kara: I really did. I was giving it my best for that year-plus I was in Colorado, but the results were not there. I was doubting myself, my ability, and I wasn’t believing in myself. I started swimming for David Marsh, and I had someone right away who believed in me, and he would remind me of what I had done, and what I was capable of doing. So it all came together at the right moment in time.
9. How perfect to end up with David Marsh in the 11th hour – at the end of the day, if you were going to pick a coach for a final push, he’s among the best in the world, isn’t he?
Kara: He really is. I have had an interesting relationship with David. I met him more than 10 years ago when I was getting recruited out of high school (when Marsh was at Auburn). I was probably pretty much a thorn in his side in college (at the University of Georgia) on the other side (laughs) of the pool deck. I have grown to respect him so much. I am so proud to be one of his swimmers, and that he was able to put all the pieces back together for me.
10. What was it like, in that moment of realization that you had to call him and make a change so close to Trials?
Kara: I called him up from Colorado and said, “I would like to come swim with you for the next 10 weeks. I think I am better than what I am doing.” He asked me, “What is your goal, to finish out the summer?” I said, “No David, to make the Olympic team; I need to be on that team.” He said, “That’s what I needed to hear.” He wasn’t there to babysit me; he wanted to see what I was in it for. Even if he would have said no, I would have understood that – not wanting to bring someone into a close-knit team.
11. But SwimMAC was awesome, correct?
Kara: It really was. Everyone at SwimMAC was so good to me from Day one. They were like, “Welcome aboard, you are a member of our family now.” He is a very methodical man, and he is such a genius. Being able to coach that many personalities, he has so many things going on at once, but he is able to pull it all together. He should write a book about that. We need more like him in our sport; rather than trying to turn a 50 swimmer in to a 200 freestylist, he said, “Let’s make this work,” and he was just amazing.
12. So you did a loop around the country, what was the best place to shop?
Kara: Of course it’s going to be Newport (California). There is something about being able to shop outside that makes me a little happier. I like the vibe in California; everything’s outside, warm and sunny.
13. Best place to go for outdoor recreation?
Kara: The best place for that is Colorado, hands down. I have really gotten into skiing the last few weeks and it is awesome. Robert and Beth Margalais and my boyfriend and me went skiing together. I’ve gone down my first black diamond (high difficulty) slope already. It’s so fun. It’s challenging, but it’s not something I cannot do. I used to always joke, I am a swimmer, not an athlete – not a land creature. But hey, it’s (laughs) just frozen water. And it is more of a social sport. I love the atmosphere – the view and how picturesque every moment is.
14. Wait, Robert Margalis is a skier? I had no idea!
Kara: Actually, he just started. Robert was on the green slopes the first day, just blazing down the mountain, poles flying everywhere and just loving it. He was brave, and every time he fell, he got back up – and he probably feel down a dozen times. We’d see a big puff a snow, and he’d get up laughing, “Well, okay, he’s good to go.” He would shoot by me, and I was like, “That guy must be good” – and Beth or my boyfriend would say, “No, that’s Robo.” We had to slow him down (laughs) a little bit. He and Beth are just such tremendous people.
15. You and Missy in the Call Me Maybe video – what did that video mean to you?
Kara: It’s a great souvenir from the trip. I love the “Call me Maybe” video. At all the clinics, the first question I used to get was, “Do you know Michael Phelps,” and now it’s “Were you in the ‘Call me Maybe’ video?” It’s great for the kids, but it’s also important for kids to see that, because you have the best swim team in the world one week out from competition, yet we’re having a great time. Yes, there is a time and place to take care of business, and we made sure we took care of that. But there’s also a time to have fun, even at the highest level of the sport. That video shows what the Olympics are all about: Swimming fast, and coming together.
16. The video, Missy, Michael, Ryan, Rebecca, London – even you making this team – how incredible was the 2012 journey?
Kara: Seriously, you look back, and it seems impossible that things would work out for me the way they did. That was the hardest team to qualify for, no doubt – in part because of the mental challenge I was facing, and the physical challenge as well. I learned more about myself than I ever thought was possible. But then I look back, and I realize, “I had the opportunity to swim for David Marsh,” and I even got to know that incredible man. We had this moment after the swim-off in London – I had maybe 12 family members there – and I had not made the finals. David comes up to me, “Kara, I am so glad I had the opportunity to work with you. I had no idea of the kind of person you are. I am so glad to know you now.” A lot of great things came from this experience, things that I will have the rest of my life. It shaped me more as a person in a lot of great ways, and those experiences will make me better for the rest of my life.
17. What was fun about having Great Britain host the Games – and didn’t they do a fantastic job?
Kara: London really did put on a great Games. The most fun about London… well, we can start with the fact that London is awesome as a city, and so are the people. It was the coolest place to have the Olympics. The food was great, the venues were great, and it helped us because everyone spoke English – that just made it easier to navigate everything and enjoy the experience. Everyone was just so friendly. Not to take anything away from Athens or Beijing, but London was just awesome.
18. Your Georgia football team is getting closer to the National Championship picture – speaking of getting close but feeling good about the journey, you must like what the ‘Dawgs did this year?
Kara: There is so much history at Georgia with athletics. I am proud of our boys this year. They played a pretty incredible game (against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game). They did us proud. I love that we hold our sports to such a high standards.
19. You swam so many different events for so many years – was that important in your development?
Kara: You know, I think when you are younger, there’s no need to specialize. I loved to swim a 500 free or 200 IM. As I got older, I could not expect to do those events at the level I needed to be competitive – that’s why people like Michael and Ryan, or Natalie, are so amazing. But I do believe in staying well-rounded like that when you are a younger swimmer, and it helps you have fun – you enjoy it more.
20. You were part of a team that included a couple of people who just barely missed making it in 2008 – Dana Vollmer, and your former Georgia teammate Amanda Weir – how much did that add to the experience for you in London?
Kara: I have goose bumps just thinking about it. All the women on that team were incredible, and they all have a lot of amazing accomplishments – and they will have even more in the future. Amanda and Dana, though, to see them after not making it in 2008, and getting through that low point, to come back the way they did and be there for it, just meant so much. I walked away from Trials in ’08 with my Arms around Amanda, thinking I had not made it either, and coming into that meet, Dana had been on top of the world. I just think they are both such amazing people. But look at any of the others; Jessica Hardy, I have the utmost respect for what she was able to do. I read Lia Neal’s 20 Question Tuesday a few weeks ago, and how great is it to see someone that talented and articulate building the future of the sport along with Missy and the other tremendous young talents? Missy will be at Cal, and Lia will be at Stanford – how can anyone not be excited about that? It’s just so cool to have met all these people along the way who I have so much respect for, especially this last team. I look forward to following all of them in the future, because even though what they have already done is amazing, their best is yet to come. That’s exciting for swimming’s future.