Junior Amalie Fackenthal swam a 50-meter freestyle in 26.04 seconds at the Junior National NCSA Championship in March, qualifying for the Olympic Trial cut of 26.19 seconds.
She is currently at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, and her 50-meter freestyle race was televised on NBCSN on July 2.
Q: What has the experience been like so far?
A: It’s definitely the coolest meet I’ve ever been to, being able to see every single Olympian there is – to see these people in real life and compete with them.
There are so many cool things for the athletes that you don’t get anywhere else, so it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Or twice, if you’re lucky.
Q: How do you feel seeing all the Olympians?
A: Surprisingly, they’re a lot less intimidating in real life than you think they are before you see them. Like Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps were super scary before I came here, but I saw them and they were normal people. Michael Phelps is actually smaller than I thought he was.
Q: What kind of perks are there for the athletes?
A: There’s a whole section in the back of the building with a warm-up pool, and there’s another section where you can sit down with your coaches and watch the tape of your race on the screen.
They have these giant water coolers – tons of them – so that we’re always hydrated. They must hold 50 gallons of water.
They have a massage place, too. I have two massages on Saturday, before my race.
They also have an ice-bath area with a bunch of inflatable pools; the thing is, they’re mainly for colleges – Florida State and all those big schools. So I don’t get to use those. If I was in college I probably would.
There’s also the Athlete Lounge. It’s for all the athletes, and there’s a bunch of couches and beanbags with TVs, so you can watch the competition pool without having to be there. There’s also another TV in the corner with video games, so you can play FIFA (a soccer video game) or something.
They have therapy dogs, a ton of different breeds of dogs, just walking around every day, and you can sit in the Athlete Lounge and pet them. They’re really nice.
There’s also this counter where people are always making smoothies for us, and they have a fridge full of chocolate milk and Chobani yogurts. There are lots of healthy snacks like almonds and bananas.
Q: What races have you done so far?
A: I’ve done my two time trials, and my real race is on Saturday.
I swam the 100-meter freestyle on Tuesday and went 57.07, and I did the 100-butterfly today and went 1:01.09. I dropped time in both, and I got my second trials cut in the 100-fly, but obviously it’s too late for that. Trials are almost over.
Q: What is a standout memory from your experience?
A: The first night, we were sitting up in the stands watching Finals, and we saw Ryan Lochte get beat out by Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland.
They say the Olympic Trials are a show, and they really do make it a show. There are all these lights and there’s music playing – this whole thing happens before the actual racing even starts. It’s really cool to watch in person.
Q: What is the best thing that’s happened to you?
A: Yesterday Halliday and I were walking out of the Athlete Entrance after Finals because we had left our bags in the Athlete Lounge, and tons of people crowd around the Athlete Entrance after Finals because they’re trying to catch Ryan Lochte or Michael Phelps to get autographs.
So we’re walking out, and a bunch of kids stopped and asked us for our autographs. It was really cool. They don’t know who we are, but they still wanted our autographs!
Q: What is the pressure like?
A: I know that people say it’s more about getting to Trials than it is about doing stellar when you’re there.
I mean, for most people, Prelims is where they stop. It’s only the top 16 or top eight that make it past Prelims out of hundreds or thousands of kids.
So since I haven’t actually done my real race, the stands have been pretty empty – they maybe seat 15,000 people, but it’s been pretty empty after Prelims – so I haven’t had the same kind of pressure that my teammate Kinsey Halliday has. But she said it was really nerve-wracking with a bunch of people watching.
Especially in the beginning, the stands aren’t all the way full, but there are probably 9,000 people in there watching you, and you’re on the big screen.
You walk out there in a line, so you’re the only one on that stage for a little bit and it’s scary.
Q: You swam a 26.04 50-free to make the Trials cut. How much time would you have to drop to have a chance at the Olympic team?
A: I’m pretty sure I read something that said if I go 24-anything, I’d at least make it to Finals. I know the fastest girl, Simone Manuel, I think, has a high-ish 24, so I’d have to drop more than a second.
Q: Do you think that’s possible?
A: When I got my cut in Florida, I dropped almost a whole second there. So, honestly, I’m keeping my hopes up, and I believe in myself. If I drop another second that would be so great, but it’s not my main goal.
Q: What is your main goal then?
A: My goal for the 50-free is to win my heat and get a best time. I don’t know what lane I’ll get; I hope I’m somewhere in the middle.
If you were anywhere else and you said you wanted to win your heat, maybe that’s not that big of a goal, but at Trials people are so fast. There are like seven girls with the same exact time as mine, so we’re all going to be in the same heat. Winning is a good goal.
(Fackenthal finished second in her heat with a time of 26:04, only 0.09 seconds behind first place. The time tied her personal best and her qualifying time for Trials.
She was seeded 113th before racing, and she moved up to 49th after all 18 heats had raced.)
—By Sahej Claire