By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, May 8, 2020
When the world went into its COVID-19 command, the Olympics and Olympic Trials were postponed until next year. Two months ago, Josh Prenot found himself torn.
On one hand, the year delay gave him extra time to train and prepare for 2021.
But on the other hand, he had been training really well for several weeks prior to the quarantine and felt confident that he was well on his way to swimming fast in Omaha this summer.
“I had been really struggling in training and racing for almost a full year, but right before all the pools shut down, I had hit a great eight-week block of training,” Prenot said, who failed to make the finals of the 200 breaststroke at 2019 World Championships just three years after winning silver at the Rio Games.
“It was definitely frustrating to have to stop training as soon as I finally produced training results that gave me some confidence, but the time out of the water gave me a chance to reevaluate my stroke technique. The extra time to prepare is an opportunity I wasn’t expecting, but I don’t plan to waste any of it.”
Prenot said he has spent this unplanned break from competition and training by appreciating the extra time to spend with his wife at home.
And even though he admits the shelter-in-place order can make life a little boring sometimes, he said it also provides opportunities to bake and cook some amazing food.
And his dog is loving the number of walks and play time she’s getting.
“Getting outside and hiking/biking has always been an important part of my lifestyle, so I’ve been doing that as much as I can, safely and distanced,” he said.
Prenot’s last race (prior to COVID) was in January due to some issues with his elbow, but he said even if he were in perfect health, he still wouldn’t have raced more than he did. For him, hitting a “long, quality block of training” was more important than competing.
Now that the summer block of competitions has been canceled or postponed, he doesn’t anticipate racing again for several months.
But when he does, he said he’s probably going to wait to race a lot so he can get used to the feeling again six-plus months after a long break.
“I was in a great spot before the lockdown, and I’m doing everything I can to get better during it,” Prenot said, who married wife, Tiffany, in March 2019. “I plan to work from there and progress once this is all over.”
He said the times he was putting down during great training earlier this year are substantially better than the 2:08.77 he swam in the 200 breast semifinals last summer at Worlds in South Korea.
He admitted that missing event finals is a terrible feeling, but because his motivation is internal, the real disappointment came from within, rather than from someone or something else.
“I was frustrated because I performed much worse than I’m capable of, not because I finished outside the top eight,” he said. “I really struggled to find my stroke for the entire summer of 2019, and I think I got frustrated and tried to force things.
“Since then I’ve done a lot more focused work, thoughtfully doing the technical things that made my stroke efficient in 2016 and 2018 (when he won the 200 breast at Phillips 66 Nationals and qualified for the World team).”
Just like everyone else, Prenot knows that his path to Tokyo includes a huge obstacle: U.S. Olympic Trials.
While he knows it’s an “insanely-stressful meet,” he also knows he’s been there twice before and enjoyed a very successful meet in Omaha in 2016 – earning a spot on the Olympic team.
This time around, most likely his final Trials, Prenot said his approach will be calculated and well-planned as the format is unforgiving when it goes badly but amazing when things go well.
“The stakes are the highest they can be (at Trials),” Prenot said, who keeps his silver medal in his closet. “If you don’t qualify, your next chance is a whole four (or three this time around) years away. The better prepared I am to swim at my potential, the less stressed I will be.
“I wish that my previous success at Trials was a cheat code that took away the nerves, but it’s not. The only thing to do is get locked into my process of preparing and racing, and keep the focus on that as much as possible.”
And Prenot knows it won’t be easy. The American breaststroke field is stacked, and he is well aware that it’s going to take a top-tier performance to qualify for the team.
But that’s nothing new – and the competition takes an even higher step up when it comes to the rest of the world.
“(Russian) Anton (Chupkov) has taken the world record down pretty far, and I know he’s not planning on getting slower over the next year,” he said. “I don’t know yet if 2:05 is within my grasp, but I’m excited to find out in about a year.
“I know that I haven’t reached my best performances yet. Maybe this is being harsh on myself, but if we take away results, times, and placement, I’ve never really swam a race I’m completely happy with, not even my best performances. What drives me is getting as close to my perfect performance as possible. I want to see how fast that could be.”
While the ongoing pandemic has resulted in some interruptions in his life – not only with his ongoing training but also his post-swimming plans – Prenot said if he was only motivated by external things like medals, he may have retired after the 2016 Games.
But because his motivation is internal, he knows for certain he is capable of swimming faster than his best times – and he’s excited to prove that over the next year – most likely his last one as a competitive swimmer.
“(I’ll swim) at least one more year,” he said. “As I get older, I’m definitely giving it more thought and starting to seriously set up good post swimming options for myself.
“The pandemic has really thrown some uncertainty into life planning, but I will continue to evaluate and do what’s best for my family and myself. I count it as a blessing that I’ve gotten to do the sport I love for so long.”