By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Saturday, April 15, 2017
Even though he didn’t make the 2016 Olympic team, Pace Clark has had the distinct – and unique – pleasure of swimming with Olympians every day in practice for the past season.
As far as he’s concerned, all that experience is rubbing off, and it’s great timing with this year’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – where the 2017 FINA World Championship team will be selected – just a couple of months away,
Pace said he knows that training and racing every day in the pool will pay great dividends when the takes the blocks this summer.
There’s nothing quite like a little help from your friends – and teammates – Chase Kalisz, Jay Litherland and Gunnar Bentz.
“There aren’t many teams where you can train every day with three Olympians,” said Clark, an All-American senior at the University of Georgia who will graduate next spring (2018). “I loved every minute of training with such a special group of guys. I absolutely improved because of that.
“Whatever it is, when you’re on a college team with a bunch of guys, everyone is going at it all the time. That is why I love the college atmosphere. Everyone is constantly pushing you in everything.”
That training with champions is already paying off for the U.S. National Team member.
Last December, he took a short break from collegiate action to swim for the United States in Canada at the FINA World Championships (25m).
He left with a silver medal as a member of the 800 freestyle relay team. He also finished seventh in his signature 200 butterfly event – just a few months removed from his sixth-place finish in the 200 fly at Olympic Trials in Omaha.
While he admits he went into the meet “letting whatever happens happen,” Clark did say that he recognized the opportunity that was before him to realize his Olympic dream – one he’s held since he started swimming at age 5 at his family’s country club in Memphis, Tenn.
“I had a great opportunity to make the team, but it wasn’t what I was focused on,” he said. “I just wanted to give myself the chance to race for the team which I did even though I didn’t make it. It taught me a lot about what I can accomplish in the sport.”
Heading into his senior campaign last fall, Clark said his performance at Trials gave him a tremendous amount of confidence.
Getting the opportunity to compete in event finals in the lane next to Michael Phelps in Phelps’ final Olympic Trials is a memory he said he’ll never forget.
Combined with his swims at Short Course Worlds, Clark said he approached his final season at Georgia with a strong belief in himself – one that he will take with him moving forward as he prepares for this summer’s big meet in Indianapolis.
Between now and then, he said he is scheduled to compete at both the Atlanta (May 4-7) and Santa Clara (June 1-4) Arena Pro Swim Series meets.
He’s also excited to get in some altitude training with Bob Bowman at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs – something he said he truly enjoys and from which he benefits.
“I love going to a meet coming out of altitude training,” Clark said. “I love being in that atmosphere because is so much fun. Training at altitude allows you to take in a lot more oxygen and build a strong aerobic base when you get back to normal altitude. It’s great preparation.”
A business management major with a strong interest in working in the sports world when he’s done with competitive swimming, Clark still has a full year of classes left before he graduates.
He said he will continue to train with other post-grads (including Kalisz and Bentz) in Athens while they work toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
To supplement his U.S. National team stipend (contingent on being named to the team again next year), Clark said he plans to swim the Arena Pro Swim Series and gain more international experience.
And while he is looking toward 2020 right now, he said he knows things can change quickly, so he wants to get through this summer and see what opportunities he has before he commits to three more years toward Tokyo.
“Granted, the word ‘love’ has taken on many different definitions over the years, but I do still love swimming and want to continue pushing myself to see what I can accomplish,” said Clark, whose first name is his mother’s maiden name. “There was for sure times I hated it (swimming), but I feel every swimmer goes through that.
“But that feeling at a meet of going a best time or beating out someone has always kept me going back to train harder and harder.”
It also fuels Clark’s dream of one day – if he continues training and swimming into 2020 – adding Olympian to his growing swimming resume.
“I would love the opportunity to represent the United States in the Olympics,” he said. “Just to be able to be there and know that I’m only 1 of 2 swimmers in that event getting the opportunity to race in front of the world would be amazing.”