By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Clark Burckle has figured a lot of things out in the past few years. The former University of Florida standout went to the Arizona post-grad program, and finaled at the Olympics in the 200 breaststroke. He talks about that, and the amazing opportunity in front of him this fall, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Where are you and what are you doing?
Clark: I am out in Tucson still. I am swimming. The goal right now is World Champ Trials. I’ll get through this summer and see how I feel.
2. You ended up in the finals at the Olympics – pretty happy with that?
Clark: I thought it went well. I was able to go three best times, so I could not have asked for more – maybe to be a little faster in the finals! But it was a big step forward for me.
3. You and your sister Caroline joined Klete and Kalyn Keller as brother/sister to make the Olympic team – making that elite club with your sister, what’s that like?
Clark: It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty important, and it’s obviously very special because it’s extremely rare. And for us to be close in age and be close friends makes it mean more too. Caroline set a standard and showed me there are no limits, even being from an area (Kentucky) perhaps not as well known as a swimming state. We were able to go to a top Division I school, do the whole international thing with swimming, so that all makes it special for us, and our family.
4. I haven’t been to the Derby in a decade, yet there you and Caroline were last weekend – how cool was that?
Clark: It was fun. This was the first year I have been since high school – maybe I went one time in college. My Dad got a couple of box seats. Even though it was raining we had a good time. Frank Busch and his family were also there, so that was fun. (Girlfriend and Olympic medalist) Alyssa (Anderson) even came, too.
5. You leave and head to Arizona, how hard was that decision?
Clark: I think it was just more kind of sticking with my gut – your intuition is a little better than you think it is. Change is pretty scary. I didn’t think about it at first until I made the change. I just had to deal with it. It was uncomfortable at first – these were uncharted waters for me. But I made this decision and I had to make it work. It was just time to make a change and Tucson seemed a good fit; you don’t always stick around in a situation just for the sake of staying there, and when that is the case you have to have the fortitude to make a change. For me, how it turned out certainly has given me more confidence to trust myself.
6. Being in your sister’s life has been such a pleasure for me, and you know as well as anyone, her goal in life is to help people, isn’t it?
Clark: I think that’s always been her focus. She’s always been incredibly caring and more concerned with other people’s feelings, and that they are happy and fulfilled with what they are doing. Swimming came second to her; she’s very talented and worked hard but it was never her only focus as a person. Her goal has always been to be complete as a person and have it be part of who she is as a person. She became fulfilled with what she’s doing, and she wants people to have to that same feeling.
7. A lot of depth in your event even at the University of Arizona where you train, how odd is that?
Clark: I mean, it’s pretty crazy. It’s shaped up to be quite an interesting place. If you are in the 200 breaststroke and you don’t consider training here, you are just foolish. The guy who holds the American record could not even hold the lane today in practice. It’s a crazy setup we have here for competing, in terms of this event especially. It’s something I can also take a lot of pride in, because we’re helping develop these guys now.
8. That’s part of the big goal, isn’t it, making the U.S. a force in this event again?
Clark: Some places the 200 breaststroke takes a backseat because no one is really focused on it. But we were able to finish 5th and 6th (in London) even though we didn’t win a medal. But we have to build that up and be in the final every time and improve upon that. This is one of those events that is getting faster again, and we have to be out front with developing swimmers in it.
9. Yet this was not your focus even three, four years ago, was it?
Clark: I was not a breaststroker when I got here; I didn’t start my breaststroke career until after college, really. I was mostly an IMer, and that’s where I got my breaststroke work. But I took some time in 2010 and figured some things out, and made some big improvements.
10. Part of that was simply related to your development, right?
Clark: I also matured really late and I was really hard headed so I had a lot to figure out. I peaked in other strokes and I needed to focus on developing something else. Part of the breaststroke is staying fresh, balancing the work with rest and relaxation, and keeping it interesting; you can’t just train it like freestyle to build endurance. There has to be a happy medium there, and that involves trying new things and incorporating different ideas into your training. Here, the people go so fast in practice that you never really get a break in terms of racing, which really helps.
11. You seem more “coachable” than ever, is that accurate?
Clark: Yes and no – like I said, I had some growing up to do and had to answer some hard questions that I had to ask of myself, and that did help me move forward – the additional maturity and perspective. But I think my outlook on coaches at this level is that they are someone to bounce stuff off of; you should not, as a veteran post-grad, needed someone to yell at you or tell you what to do all the time. At this point, if you need someone in your face all the time, you probably should be doing something else. You are developing a lot as a person outside of the pool, developing what you will do the rest of your life, and you should take more ownership in what you are doing as a swimmer – it is all connected.
12. Frank left U of A to direct the National Team, and you had to adapt to new coaches just after making the switch to Tucson – what was that like?
Clark: I did go through five or six coaching changes. But that can be a great thing if you approach it right – you have the opportunity to get the best from six different, established coaches and learn from them. And you have to remember that the coaches are not on the blocks with you – you have to take it and make it your own. So I kicked it into gear, consulted with my coaches, but understood that the swims were on my shoulders, and whatever happened – good or bad – was because of my attitude and approach, and the work I did. For a long time, I lashed out at my coaches and did a lot of immature things that were not helping me – or anyone. Getting past that and growing up really helped me develop, and that is a big part of my improvement; I attribute a big part of any success I have had to finally growing up and being proud now with how I carry myself. And as with anything, there is still (laughs) plenty of room for improvement there as well.
13. You might even have more speed in the breaststroke in front of you than behind you – do you realize that?
Clark: I am trying to figure that out, actually; it’s ironic because some people get good when they are 15, some when they are 32 – it’s all so individual and depends on so many different things.
14. So when I was at the Derby, I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like to ride in it – any thoughts of that?
Clark: I think I might be (laughs) way too big to be a jockey, but yes, I think it’d be pretty sweet. I think horses, especially thoroughbreds, are such interesting animals, just so graceful and absolutely solid muscle. They go all out for two minutes, and then do nothing for weeks but jogs. Any animal in competition – horses, greyhounds – you can learn so much from watching, and thinking about it.
15. So since I’m assuming it’s okay to ask about one of my favorite people in the world – Alyssa Anderson – tell me what it’s like to date a swimmer for the last few years?
Clark: It’s hard in some ways because a lot of times it’s kind of like dating someone from work, and that puts more stress on you and the relationship. At the same time, swimming is so unique, and you have so much in common with the other person, that it can help you through a lot.
16. I thought about Alyssa and Caroline, and how similar their careers were – Caroline missing in 2004 and making it on the relay in 2008, and Alyssa doing the exact same thing; how odd?
Clark: That was crazy, almost exactly the same. Now, of course, I remember it (laughs) as it relates to what I was feeling, because I had the exact same setup in 2008 and 2012, except this time it was my girlfriend and not my sister I was rooting for. I am there in Omaha getting ready to race, and I am watching Alyssa on the monitor hoping she makes it – just like Caroline in 2008, so much so that it was hard for me to handle all of that in one night! Alyssa had a couple of rough performances at NCAAs where she wasn’t completely satisfied with how she went out, but she came back and really broke through, and I was so proud of her. It was funny because I had to go find her and congratulate her, but I also had to swim, so it was quite a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. But I also have to keep in mind how fortunate I am even to be in this situation, and to have been able to be so close to two amazing women who I care so much for – to see them up close making the Olympic team and realizing their own dreams.
17. I always worried about your younger brother Collin, and what shoes he would have to follow through – even though he seems perfectly happy as the proud younger brother – and then I see him become such a good golfer, how cool is that for you?
Clark: I know, and that that is his absolute dream, to be as successful, or more successful in golf than me and Caroline have been in swimming. He knows all about the best golfers, from the techniques to the clubs they use, even the brand of clothes they wear. It’s pretty cool to see him so focused. They are putting golf in the Olympics, so it would be neat to see him there. Another cool part for us (Caroline and Clark) is the whole family thing; our family is such a big part of all this. My Dad has no time and doesn’t allow himself to do much, but for the Olympics and everything, he and my Mom have been able to go to some really cool places, and having them there has always made it mean so much more to both my sister and I.
18. Even though you were thrilled for your sister making the team in 2008, how disappointed were you to just miss making the team?
Clark: I just wasn’t ready and I just didn’t deserve it. I felt like I should be given things at that point in my life, and I didn’t earn it yet, so not making it was for the better. It made this most recent leg of the journey mean much more to me. I learned lessons applicable to life, not just swimming lessons, but stuff that can actually teach me something and make me a better person moving forward.
19. So I bury my lead – I actually tracked you down through your sister because I heard you are starting an MBA at Stanford this fall – holy cow! How excited are you for that?
Clark: It’s an opportunity I can’t pass up, that’s for sure; I am so lucky to get into the program. Being a passionate person, it puts me in a position to study among some of the brightest minds in the world and learn from the most respected business professors on the planet. So this fits in well with to trying to better myself not just in the pool, but in all aspects of life. Even though I just made the Olympics, this whole path made me realize that swimming, while a huge part of my life, has to be about…it has to be about more than swimming. And that is why this sport is so great, because if you have the right mindset and surround yourself with the right people – and you are able to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself about who you are and what you have to do to get better in and out of the pool – you can achieve goals you’d never think are possible. So I will head to Stanford humbly and learn all I can from the amazing students and faculty there at that amazing university.
20. What a challenge – sort of a business version of the Olympics, because there is some competition in higher education, especially at a top school – but you are ready for that, right?
Clark: I try to be the best at what I want to do. I want to set that high standard for myself because I don’t want to ever accept mediocrity. Before last year and the run-up to Trials, I had always been missing that one piece, just something that was holding me back, and I figured it out – It was me. I would not learn from bad experiences. I would blame other people, harp on it, and let it hold me back. Even with good experiences, you can’t rest on that. This is all just a matter of taking all these experiences, and using them to grow as a person, and develop as a thinker. I still have an incredible amount to learn, and I am doing my best to figure it out every single day.