By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Whether he’s playing the piano and singing a song that gets 40,000-plus views online, or winning a medal for the U.S., Stanford alum Eugene Godsoe is having the time of his life. But as he explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday, nothing he does well came without a lot of hard work, and a lot of hard thought.
1. So you are kind of “new” on the scene, yet you have been here all along sort of, right?
Eugene: Well, after graduating in 2010, I thought I had a pretty realistic shot of making the Olympic team in 2012. I think I learned a lot in the two years leading up to that, but it wasn’t the performance I was hoping for.
2. What was the thought process after not making it to London?
Eugene: I made the decision to come back to Stanford. I help coaching, and I am doing more music. I think that helped me get to a new level in 2013.
3. Having that interest, skill and passion for music – how important is that to have balance in your life so one thing does not consume you?
Eugene: I enjoy it because of the balance but I see a lot of balance between my music and swimming career. When I came back out here to Stanford I refocused my approach to swimming; what needed to be done, what it would take to get it done perfectly, and not waste a lot of time.
4. That makes me think of seeing the Eagles and REO Speedwagon, playing these songs hundreds of times a year for decades, yet musically and vocally they never have sounded better – is that something you can relate to swimming?
Eugene: Music is the same thing in a lot of ways; you can bang out music for two hours, or you can focus on a specific part of a song and take it to the next level. Yeah, the Eagles and REO, as you say, are playing a lot, but they are playing the right things the right way, so they stay good and get better. That part, yes, translates 100 percent to swimming.
5. And yet perfection is such a hard quest?
Eugene: Yes, it’s hugely frustrating. Just like in 2012 I knew I could be so much better than I was. A lot of people may think I am really good but I think there are a lot of people better than I am. So it’s that process of trying to get better, trying to get to their level, and doing things so well that the improvement continues.
6. Your performance of Passenger’s “Let her go” on YouTube is getting a lot of rave reviews, and a few comments – it’s the same song, but you sing it in such a unique way, do you wonder if that’s why it’s been so well received?
Eugene: One of the things I like about music is that everyone has their own style, so even when you record someone else’s song, you are creating your own thing in a way, and that is something you get to own – your version of their song, and what you bring to it.
7. Back to 2012 for a minute, how did you overcome that?
Eugene: It was definitely a setback. I had some good swims, but I knew 100 percent with confidence, that was not the best I could do – not even close to the best I could do. I had a tough decision, being four years out (form 2016), and already in my mid-20s: I have a great degree, and could do a lot of cool things. I talked to Kevin Thorton, my club coach at Greenville (North Carolina, where Godsoe is from), and I realized how much I love being in the sport. It wasn’t so much that I had more to accomplish as it was that I loved what I was doing, and what I can give back to the sport. So that started a new vision for my career, and I started coaching.
8. So all you have to do to make a World or Olympic team is beat the best in the world on American soil to even get the opportunity to go – is that frustrating?
Eugene: No, I think it’s great. If I can make a World Championship or Olympic team in the event I am competing at, I know I can win a World or Olympic medal. The process of getting to Worlds or the Olympics is tough, but that is what makes swimming for the U.S. so rewarding – you are given no spot. That’s what I want to be, the guy earning that spot to the next level.
9. You looked so peaceful and content on the medal stand in Barcelona, strikingly so – not nervous or emotional, what was going on?
Eugene: Yes, it’s funny you bring that up because that was totally a new experience for me but it felt right to me. I had spent a lot of time learning how to reflect on the good things that happen. I was in a good place for that moment.
10. Did you feel differently at Olympic Trials?
Eugene: I was actually at the 2008 Olympic Trials, and I regret that I don’t remember walking out, the crowd, the race – I came back from Olympic Trials, and people would ask, “Was that really cool?” And I didn’t remember it. I learned from 2012 that once you do – or don’t do – something, you need to appreciate it and think back on it, and be able to embrace and enjoy it. Remember that moment, because how many like it will you get in life?
11. While you are of course in great shape, do you feel like you can add some muscle, or does being 6-2 and 170-ish give you added leverage or speed?
Eugene: I’ve traditionally been pretty bad (laughs) athletically. Growing up, I was never very good athletically. My strength in swimming was the racing aspect. But I am working on improving in the weight room, getting strong, and developing muscle. At 26 now, I don’t want (laughs) to be a floppy, non-athletic swimmer – I want to look the part!
12. Do you reflect a lot on the medal from 2013 Worlds?
Eugene: It’s a cool thing, it is common to appreciate all that went into that. But as an elite athlete, you realize once you get something, you focus on what is next – you don’t really think about how cool the medal is at that point, though I certainly am very proud and appreciate it.
13. So after Worlds you looked toward 2016?
Eugene: My thoughts after Barcelona were, “How do we take it to the next level? What’s next?” As much as I enjoyed what Worlds was, I am looking for what is next in the upcoming two or three years.
14. What did you think of Barcelona and all its history – the Olympics there in 1992 were certainly incredible, right?
Eugene: I was aware of it, and I took note of it more after the meet was over, focusing on competing well during the meet itself. But I was there for an extra week, and got to see a lot of historical sites in the city, the markets and the churches. I’ll remember this was an incredible city where I was supposed to have my “breakout meet,” and did.
15. You had a less publicized trip to Pan Ams in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011, and won a lot of silver (four, 100 fly, 100 back, 4 x 100 free relay, 4 x 100 medley relay) – as you did at Worlds (silver in the 50 fly) – what did that Mexico trip do for you?
Eugene: It’s funny because a lot of people turn down that meet. I instantly snatched it up, and was proud to represent America at the Pan Am Games. I don’t know if four silvers there locked me into (laughs) being the silver medal guy, I hope not! My swims were not spectacular, but I raced at a high level, and wore the American flag when I competed; it had been a few years since I had been able to do that, and that gave me the right mindset moving forward.
16. All those medals in different events – are you a flyer or backstroker foremost, or even a freestyler – what’s up with that?
Eugene: I can tell you (laughs) that I’m not a breaststroker, I can definitively say that! I knew that when I was 8 years old. I don’t know what the future holds in that regard, and that’s why the sport is so exciting for me. I bounce back and forth on the fly and backstroke almost daily, but that’s nice for me, especially in training, and not having my eggs all in one basket. It also keeps me fresh, not focusing on that one event, so I can switch back and forth.
17. You ended up at Stanford at a time when they needed a backstroker, or is that just way off?
Eugene: I don’t know if you’re way off, but a lot of it is just luck of a draw: You go to college, Coach says, “These are your events – we need you in these.” It’s a good thing I do both, and I believe both events make each other better. Some would say it’s much better to just focus on one, but doing both works for me.
18. Maybe you will include the 200 back?
Eugene: Oh, I’ve given up on the 200 backstroke! I can do 200 backstroke short course, but I don’t think I can compete on the world international level in the 200 backstroke, and if I tried, it’d take away too much from my sprinting. I like the mentality of sprinting. I mean, if I am at an (Arena Grand Prix) meet, and there is money on the line, I might (laughs) do the 200!
19. That road to Stanford and that first year there were certainly a challenging part of your journey, weren’t they?
Eugene: I battled a lot of hardships coming out of high school. By talent and luck alone, I was successful at the 3A level – Ricky Berens was among those in the bigger 4A class. But I was able to kind of walk (the competition) over at the 3A level, which gave me confidence. Then I had surgery my freshman year of college, here I had been hyped up to be the best backstroke recruit for them (Stanford), and I didn’t score at NCAAs. I had a torn labrum in my shoulder, and cyst growing in there blocking a nerve, so I was out of the water for several months and lost all the muscle in my shoulder. But then I came back, and I was not superfast my freshman year, but as I healed and got stronger again I clawed up a little more. That upward trend continues. That gives me some confidence, that history of moving forward, because after I have a bad year, I know I can come back and continue to get better.
20. Did it scare you, to have that shoulder injury just as you are starting college, all the way across the country, from home?
Eugene: I don’t think I was ever shaken by it; what I was most scared of was that my shoulder would never be a 100 percent again. But I had such a big support group in college. I have never been a guy who thought, “What if this bad thing happens?” or “What if bad things continue to happen?” That’s not me. I always have goals, and think of what I can do to make a process to get that goal, and then the next one. The negative thinking takes away from the opportunity to do well. So as poor as my freshman year was, I thought the next year would be just fine – and it was. That mentality is what drives me day to day.