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The Amazing Race: Nathan Adrian!

April 3rd, 2012

Nathan Adrian. Photo credit with thanks to: Tim Binning/

Imagine this: You’re one of the best swimmers in the world. You have an Olympic gold medal to prove it. And you worked really hard for it. You train hard day after day, year after year.

You have to be at your best for every race because the difference between winning and being last … is often less than a second. There’s little to no room for error.

Now it’s time for another race. It’s getting close to the Olympics so they’re starting to mean a little more.

You’re on the starting block, ready to race against the others, including the best swimmer there is, Michael Phelps. He’s got 16 Olympic medals!

Here goes. You bend over into the starting position waiting for the buzzer to begin the race…


Your swimsuit just split in half at the back (OMG). Your behind is there for everyone to see! This is like a bad dream! Now what?! Do you race? Do you cover up in embarassment and bow out? Are people looking? Can you get your mind off this in time to re-focus on the race? You only have a moment to figure out what to do.

The buzzer goes.

You dive in and go for it. You try to ignore what’s just happened, but you also know the water going through the rip is slowing you down and could make the difference. The race is less than a minute long, just two lengths of the pool. It’ll be over soon enough.

You touch the wall. You look up to see your times … YOU WIN!

And you’ve beaten Michael Phelps who comes in 2nd! Wow.

This is exactly what happened to Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian this past weekend!

The rip is bad enough, but beating Michael Phelps and everyone else under those circumstances is pretty amazing. While there was a lot of attention given to what took place on the outside, what’s really incredible is what went on inside of him — that he could put the incident, um, behind him … and still win the race. And with a great sense of humor.

For some of us, it took this incident to get our attention about Nathan Adrian, but 11-year old competitive swimmer, Nico Ferrara, has seen for years what a true champion he is.

Nico got a very special chance to send him some questions a few weeks ago and their exchange is below. Video of that amazing race and his reaction is below as well.

Nico: What special quality do you think you have that has made you the best in these events?

Nathan Adrian: I am quite sure nobody has actually asked me that before! I think I have a genuine love of racing that really helps me. Many great swimmers are afraid of racing or thinking about racing gives them anxiety. When I step up on the block I am just excited to put my swimming abilities to the test versus the other swimmers in the heat.

Nico: How does it feel to hold the American record in the 50 free and the 100 free?

Nathan Adrian: It feels good to know that I am the fastest American to swim the 50 and 100 yard freestyles. That being said I still would like to go faster because I know that there is room for improvement and I am excited for the next opportunity to swim those races again.

Nico: What are your goals for the London Games? Is one of them to break those records?

Nathan Adrian: My goals for the London games starts by qualifying for the team. Olympic Trials are about 6 weeks before the actual meet so I must qualify before I think about specific goals for London. That being said I would be happy and feel successful to medal individually in both the 100 and 50 freestyles.

Nico: You swim a race. You try your best. But you miss your goal by a fraction of a second. Does it motivate you to swim faster next time? Or do you find it hard to overcome and sometimes it sets you back?

Nathan Adrian:  Coming up short of a goal is one of my biggest motivators. After a race that I perform poorly in I am extremely motivated to find out what I did wrong and what I need to do to be better next time.

Nico: Does being 6 feet 6 inches tall help you swim faster? Were you encouraged to swim when you were younger because of your height and body type?

Nathan Adrian:  Being 6’6″ definitely helps me swim faster. I am one of the taller swimmers out there. I was not necessarily encouraged to swim because of my height and body type. I was into swimming way before I knew how tall/big I was going to be. I started growing about my junior year of high school and was very skinny for about 3 or 4 years and then I really started to fill out.

Nico: Are you friends with the swimmers you compete against? How do you keep competition separate from friendship?

Nathan Adrian: I am friends with the swimmers I compete against. Some of my best friends are my training partners. Sometimes it is tough to keep the competition separate from the friendship, however, I kind of see two sides of every person. One side is the person that I compete against in the water. The other side is the person that I talk to and spend time with outside of the water.

Nico: Was there ever a time when you were over-confident and lost to someone you should have beaten? What was your reaction?

Nathan Adrian:  This is a great question! I can not specifically think of a time that this has occurred. I have cut it EXTREMELY close though when it comes to being over-confident. At NCAAs my senior year I qualified 8th in the 100 freestyle (1 spot away from being in the consolation heat instead of the finals) because I didn’t try 100% in the qualifying heats. I went on to win the event and almost set an American record in the finals. I took that experience very seriously and learned from my mistake just to make sure that I would never cut it that close again.

Nico: How do you balance school work with swimming?

Nathan Adrian:  Being an athlete was a bit tough but it really forced me to be efficient with my time. When I was studying I would be focused on studying 100%. The TV was not on and I had to be somewhere quiet. I did not do homework in a room full of people because I would get too distracted. I found that by focusing fully on my homework I could get that done and then have time to hang out with my friends without the stress of school work lingering over my head. And … if you try really hard and are focused on getting good grades you will get them.

Nico: Do you do anything special before you race, like having a ritual? Or listen to music? What’s on your playlist?

Nathan Adrian:  Nothing special for me before the race. No true ritual besides trying to stay relaxed and focus on myself and moving through the water. The only time I would listen to music would be during warmup/stretching and getting ready to swim. That is usually during an in season meet where it is sometimes harder to motivate myself to really give 100% in my races. That playlist would usually consist of some type of up beat fast electronic music (Avicii or deadmau5 for instance).

Nathan Adrian. Photo credit with thanks: Tim Binning/

Nico: Who’s your hero and why?

Nathan Adrian: This is a tough question. I don’t necessarily have a hero that I want to be like in every way. I do, however, look up to plenty of people. One of those people being Gary Hall Jr. for his confidence and poise at swim meets. He had his own sense of style and I enjoyed watching him as a young swimmer.

Nico: What’s in your swim bag (any good luck charms?)

Nathan Adrian: I am boring in this department as well. I definitely try my hardest to keep deodorant though! Some of our meets are in extremely hot places (Shanghai or Rome in the summer are both hot places!). Having a funky smelling shirt is a great way to not have any confidence from the moment you step on to the pool deck so I would definitely recommend keeping some deodorant in your bags :-).

Nico: Does Michael Phelps really eat at Subway? Do you?

I honestly do not know. I spend my time with Michael at training camps and at meets where the food is provided for us so he has never had the opportunity to eat at Subway while we are together. I definitely do eat at Subway. It is a great way to get some fuel in my body before or after a practice. If you eat at Subway make sure you try to stay away from all of the fatty sauces they offer (mayo, chipotle, etc.) and get as many veggies as you can stand!

Thanks, Nathan Adrian! Congratulations! And we’ll be cheering you on. 

Nathan Adrian Responds to Suit Slip from SWIMSWAM on Vimeo .

Interviewer Nico Ferrara. Photo Credit: Blanche Mackey

Congratulations, also, to Nico, who is just back from his first national swim meet and achieved personal bests in all 6 of his events! Wow!

Next Tuesday will be our final piece with Olympic swimmers. We’ll be featuring U.S. Women’s Swim Team Olympic Coach, Teri McKeever. You can click here to read the previous two in this series,  Natalie Coughlin  and  Anthony Ervin .

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