With an Olympic gold medal and several national titles to her name, you might wonder what Aggie senior-to-be Breeja Larson may have left to accomplish.
In the sport of swimming, competitions don’t end after the NCAA Championships in March. And they don’t end the day after the Olympic Games.
There’s always that next step.
In this case, the next step is the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, beginning Tuesday in Indianapolis. This year’s U.S. Championships carry with them a much bigger goal—qualification for the prestigious FINA World Championships this coming August in Barcelona, Spain.
“It’s as close as you can get to the Olympics,” said Larson, who’s never competed before in the world’s second-biggest meet, held every two years.
FINA Worlds also showcases 50-meter races in the breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke, something not seen at the Olympics and something racers really look forward to—“it adds a lot of spice to the meet”, as Larson puts it.
So what’s she hope to accomplish at this week’s national championships?
“I want to come out with a vengeance and try (and qualify in) more than one race. I want to prove that I’m not just a 100 (meter) swimmer. I want to show I can do more than that. It gave me a lot of pride to represent the United States in one event (in London). I can’t imagine the pride I’ll feel when I’m able to do more than that.”
Last summer, Larson competed as part of the American 400 medley relay team. While not swimming in the final race, she did so in preliminaries and thus earned the most coveted prize in all of sport when the USA took home the gold. Individually, she won the 100-meter breaststroke in Omaha at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and just over a month later advanced to the Olympic finals in the event--eventually placing sixth.
Then this past spring, Larson was named SEC Swimmer of the Year in taking home numerous titles in the Aggies’ first season in their new league.
A month later, she won the 100 breast to become the program’s first ever two-time NCAA Champion, helping her Aggie team set a school record with a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
The meet was held at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis—the same venue that will host this week’s USA Championships.
What a memorable year it was for Larson and her Aggie—and Olympic—teammates. Through all the hard work, the long hours, the blood, sweat and tears poured in to training, she says the year was a lot of fun.
“That’s best part of swimming. We’re not really a ‘playing’ sport. You can ‘play’ volleyball or softball or football. You can’t ‘play’ swimming. It’s all conditioning…it’s the races where you see all that hard work pay off. To be able to touch the wall and see all the hard work up on that board, in that one minute or two minutes…it’s the few minutes after that to know everything you put in was worth it.”
And to Larson, one of the most satisfying parts of all the success she’s seen was being able to share it with her coach, A&M’s Steve Bultman.
“It was a dream come true. I trust what my coach tells me what to do. Honestly? I follow him around like a puppy dog and wait for him to tell me what to do. He’s never steered me wrong. I put all my complete trust and motivation and work into him and he always has the right train of thought and best interest in what we’re doing. Just having him at the Olympics made (the experience) that much better.
“It’s not just me that has to wake up early every day and put all this work in. He wakes up early too. His whole life revolves around swimming. He’s motivated and he’s devoted his entire life to helping others’ dreams come true. It’s like the ultimate payback to let people know that he’s the coach that trained me and have him benefit from all his hard work too.”
So by the end of this week she hopes to have traded her Aggie swim cap for one emblazoned with the red, white and blue. No matter the head gear, she says success tastes best when you can share it with your teammates. She’ll have two with her this week—rising seniors Cammile Adams and Caroline McElhany. The close-knit Aggie trio is hoping to make the trek to Barcelona together, and to bring Bultman with them to give the Catalonian seaside city a little maroon flavor this August.
“It shows you’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing your country, your team. Our team trains so hard all the time. To be able to swim fast and get a good time is not just for you. It’s to glorify your coach, glorify your team and be able to let everyone know what your team is all about.
“All your hard work reflects on (your team). If you get down sometimes, you have to realize you’re not just doing this for yourself. You’re doing this for your team. It gives you more motivation when you can’t find any at the moment for yourself--not to do it just for yourself but for your teammates as well.”Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships and World Championship Trials
June 25-29, IUPUI Natatorium, Indianapolis
- Competing: Caroline McElhaney (50 free, 50, 100, 200 fly, 200 IM), Breeja Larson (50, 100, 200 breast), Cammile Adams (200 fly, 200, 400 IM)
- Website: Click Here
- Watch: June 25, 5-7 PM CT (Universal Sports); June 26, 5-7:30 PM CT (Universal Sports); June 29, 12-1:30 PM CT (NBC) & 10-11 PM (NBC Sports Ntwk)
- Live Stream: 8 AM CT (prelims), 5 PM CT (finals) each day on usaswimming.org