Jerry Frentsos has the distinct – and somewhat still disappointing – honor of being a member of a very select swimming fraternity.
More than 30 years ago at the 1988 Olympic Trials, the former University of Florida swimmer finished third in the 400 individual medley to miss earning a spot on the team headed to Seoul, South Korea.
He was the Olympic bridesmaid behind eventual Olympic silver medalist David Wharton and Olympic semifinalist Jeff Kostoff.
And while three decades and seven Olympic Trials and Olympics have come and gone since then, Frentsos, who has remained active in the sport both as a competitor and coach over the years, is one of the world’s best Masters swimmers.
But that doesn’t mean that meet almost 31 years ago doesn’t still sting a bit.
“When I came so close but missed making that team, I was depressed for a while and questioned whether or not I wanted to swim again,” he said. “I was always known as a workout swimmer – someone who accomplished what I did by working hard and listening closely to my coaches. I think I simply over-trained and it impacted my race.”
The second-youngest of six brothers – all swimmers – Frentsos grew up in the pool. His oldest brother, Jay, was a National High School record-holder in 1978, but none of the brothers went as far as Jerry did on the national and international levels.
Two of his brothers – Jay and Matt – also qualified for Olympic Trials during their careers, but only Jerry actually competed at the meet.
A gold medalist in the 400 IM at the 1987 Pan American Games, at one point that year, he was ranked No. 3 in the world in his event, so he had reason to have high hopes going into 1988 Trials.
“I felt ready; I just came up short,” he said. “It happens. I think maybe there should be some kind of support group for those of use who finish third at Trials.”
The descendant of Greek immigrants – his grandfather emigrated from Greece – Frentsos had it in the back of his mind that he could have represented Greece at the 1988 Olympics.
He did some investigation into the process and learned that he would need to move to Greece and live there a year, serve in the Greek military and jump through several other hoops to be considered for the team.
But having grown up in Cincinnati and having swam for the renowned Cincinnati Marlins Swim Club all of his childhood, he knew he really wanted to swim for the United States on the world’s biggest swimming stage.
“My family was well-connected to the Keating family, who owned the Marlins club, and we lived close enough to the pool that we would often have swimmers – including Mark Spitz and Gary Hall Sr. – over to the house for lunch between training sessions,” said Frentsos , who has two kids, Maggie, 16, and Max, 13.
“I remember sitting at the kitchen table and holding Gary Hall Jr. as a baby while his dad was at the house visiting. My brother, Jay, swam with Mark (Spitz) at Indiana, so it was always my dream, seeing all of these top-caliber swimmers, coaches, etc., at my house as a kid.”
Four years earlier, he finished 11th as a high school senior in the same event at 1984 Olympic Trials. He bypassed his senior year at Florida in 1987-88 to train and focus on the 1988 Trials, so when that didn’t come to fruition, Frentsos said he was at an impasse with his swimming.
Should he continue training four years for another shot in 1992 in a sport that, at the time, had very few sponsorships and no prize money to help with living and training expenses? Or should he return to Florida, finish his degree and move on with his life.
He chose the latter, and while he did leave with some feelings of unfinished business, Frentsos said he knew he didn’t want to hang around for 1992 and possibly experience the same level of disappointment.
But he never fell out of love with the sport.
“It was time to move forward; swimming had given me so many things, but I knew when I left, it was the right decision,” he said. “I feel honored to have swam at the level that I did. Yeah, it would have been awesome to swim in the Olympics, but what I did get to do was pretty awesome.”
Since those days, Frentsos has done a lot professionally. He currently works in real estate in Annapolis, Md., and also coaches a Masters team comprised of gay swimmers that he took to the Gay Games for competition last summer. Before that, he worked for many years as the wellness/fitness coordinator for the U.S. Naval Academy, using his degree in sports nutrition.
While there, he connected with older brother, Paul, who won several medals at the meet in Paris, France.
One of the top Master’s swimmers around, Frentsos said he is currently training to break 10 world records (in his age group) and has worked recently with his former coach, Glenn Mills, to refine his stroke and technique to drop time and achieve his goals.
“In January, I went out to Arizona to work with Glenn, and he helped me quite a bit in all four strokes,” said Frentsos, who has held or holds 18 master’s worlds records. “It’s amazing how much stroke technique has changed since I swam competitively (in the 1970s and 80s). I know the work we did together will help me swim faster times moving forward.”
Frentsos is also working on a book that discusses how all the elements – sleep, nutrition, training, hormones, neurotransmitters, attitude, etc. – that can help or hinder someone from cutting that 1/100th of a second that often determines 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishes in the sport of swimming are connected and impact athletic performance.
“Somebody has to get third, so what can you do to make sure it’s not you; that’s the premise of the book,” he said. “Your body has already figured it out, it’s waiting for you to do the necessary things to catch up. That’s the first chapter, and I’m finishing up the other chapters with a co-writer.
“This is an exciting venture for me – something I’ve wanted to do for a while and now have the opportunity to write something that will help others. Swimming gave me so much and continues to give me so much that this is my way of giving back to that community.”