Competing in what is arguably the fastest swim meet in the world is a milestone few swimmers reach, but Malibu native Logan Hotchkiss got to swim against the best of the best at the U.S. Olympic trials last week, June 26 – July 3, in Omaha, Neb.
Hotchkiss — who just finished his freshman season at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) — wrote his ticket to Omaha at the end of May, when he earned his first Olympic trials cut in the 200-meter freestyle at the Speedo Grand Challenge in Irvine.
A month later, Hotchkiss and 15 current and former UCSB swimmers arrived at the Centurylink Center and were greeted by a brand-new 50-meter competition pool built exclusively for the meet, along with sold-out seating for 14,000 spectators.
“It was a lot bigger than any other meet I’ve ever been to before,” Hotchkiss said. “It was a lot more nerve-racking than I thought it would be.’
The team traveled to Omaha for the weeklong meet on different days, depending on when their races were scheduled. Hotchkiss arrived three days before his race, along with three other teammates.
“We had a couple of days to swim in the pool and get used to the time change,” he said.
Hotchkiss said that a few of his UCSB teammates, who had competed at the previous Olympic trials in 2012, helped show him the ropes.
“It’s a lot of fun having the team in the stands,” he added. “There’s a lot of good energy.”
Hotchkiss said he was nervous on the day of his race, but he channeled his nerves to swim the 200-meter freestyle in a time of 1:52.27 — his second-best time ever, and just half a second off his personal best time of 1:51.57.
“The day of [the race], I was very nervous,” he said. “We walked out [on deck] and there were 8,000 people in the stands. I liked the pool. It was the same depth across, it felt fast and it was really clear too.
“I was pretty happy with my race,” he added. “I think my coaches were pretty happy with it, considering I’d never been to a meet this big before. It was a cool experience to be able to swim with athletes of this caliber.”
Hotchkiss finished 75th in the event out of over 100 of the nation’s fastest 200-meter freestyle swimmers.
“I felt a lot more relaxed once my race was done because it felt like a lot of the pressure was off,” he said. “I think it would have been cool to have another event to swim.”
While very few swimmers finish within the top 16 and top eight of their events, Hotchkiss and the other swimmers had the opportunity to return to the pool in the evenings and watch the semifinal and final heats.
“We went back to finals every night,” he said. “There were twice as many people [than there were at prelims] and the energy was a lot higher. At the beginning of the night there was a countdown and a big light show. Whenever a swimmer would be on world record pace, everyone would stand up and start screaming. It was pretty cool.”
Hotchkiss said that his favorite race to watch was the finals of the 400-meter individual medley on the first night of the meet, where Chase Kalisz passed seasoned Olympian Ryan Lochte to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team for the first time.
Through the intense competition and stimulating atmosphere of Olympic trials, Hotchkiss said the experience as a whole was the highlight of the meet for him.
“Weather hanging out as a team or swimming my race, it was just a great experience to have,” Hotchkiss said.
Only the top two finishers in each event and the top six finishers in certain sprint freestyle events qualify to make the Olympic team, meaning the road to Rio for the vast majority of U.S. competitors, including Hotchkiss, ended at trials. Still, Hotchkiss and his UCSB teammates have big goals for next season.
“I think our goal for this year is to win conference — that was our goal last year and we didn’t do it, but I think we can this year,” he said. “It’d be pretty cool to make NCAA [Championships]. NCAAs are harder to make than trials.”
In the meantime, Hotchkiss, who is also an Los Angeles County Lifeguard, plans to spend July guarding on the beach before getting back into full training in August.