Nathan Adrian earned the title of 100-meter freestyle Olympic champion in London, earning his first individual Olympic gold medal and bringing his career total to four Olympic medals from two Olympic Games. But as he revealed in this candid interview, he tries to forget he is an Olympic champion every day. At age 24, Adrian is still striving “to get faster, get better and continue to win for Team USA.”
@rgwahoowa1 on Twitter asks: When you were younger, did you ever think you would become an Olympic swimmer? What did you want to be?
When I was little it was always a dream to be an Olympic swimmer, but it wasn’t necessarily something that I thought was totally tangible. It was one of those things that as a little kid you think you’re going to be a fireman or you think you’re going to be an astronaut or something along those lines. I think I wanted to be a dentist initially. But I had definitely always thought about the Olympics. Little by little it just became a little more true and a little more true and college came up and I just kept improving.
@dsc1811 on Twitter asks: Can you describe what altitude training feels like?
Death (laughs). When you’re swimming it feels like you have a pile of rocks on your chest, not only making it hard to breathe but making you sink in the water because your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen to really pull you through the water. That’s only the first couple days; after that you get adjusted and it starts to feel good. You just can’t recover as quickly when you’re between efforts; be it in the weight room or in the pool you just have to take a little more time to really get your breath.
TeamUSA.org: How often do you come to the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center?
I come here once a year usually, for two weeks in the wintertime. For the Olympic year we actually came in the springtime, and that was getting us prepared for Olympic Trials and the Olympics.
TeamUSA.org: Do you notice a difference when you’re at the OTC?
I think the biggest affect is that you’re just focused on swimming up here. Whether it’s at altitude or not at altitude, I’m with 35 of my best friends, we’re going through a training camp where all of us are getting totally broken down to the point of exhaustion and we really get to bond up here. I think that’s the most important, and then the altitude definitely helps; it’s a little bit secondary.
@julie_sonne on Twitter asks: Are you trying to make the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games?
Knock on wood. I plan on doing it. I love what I do now and I still very much enjoy swimming, training and competing.
@julie_sonne on Twitter asks: Are you single?
I am currently still single, yes.
@LoveAlyRaisman on Twitter asks: So now you are an Olympic champion, what’s next?
I ask myself that all the time. Keep on the path of what people have coined the “Road to Rio.” It’s really a short quadrennial — Barcelona this summer (for the FINA World Championships), Australia for Pan Pacs, then wherever 2015 world championships will be and then it’s on to Olympic Trials again. Once you think about it like that it shortens up a little bit. And when it comes to being an Olympic champion, I try to forget that every day. There will be a time in my career when I’m ready to sit back and enjoy my accomplishments, but right now I’m trying to get faster, get better and continue to win for Team USA.
@Rachel_White28 on Twitter asks: What events would you like to swim in Rio?
I missed out on the 50 freestyle (for London). I’d love to add that as an individual race, then just continue to swim well in the 100. In the 400 freestyle relay I’m very proud of what we did because we weren’t necessarily supposed to get a medal at all on paper and we ended up getting silver. But as with anything, once you get silver you think about all the situations that could have gone a little bit differently in which you would have got gold, so I think that’s on my mind and a lot of my teammates’ minds.
@danielladelaros on Twitter asks: How do you stay motivated?
I just love to race, compete, compete against myself, compete against others. Once you see that time on the board, then you see an improvement, that makes me that much more hungry to go out and do it again. Or you’re in the weight room and your numbers are increasing — you can do one extra pull-up versus two or three weeks ago, or you can lift just a little bit heavier. That’s what it’s all about, it’s about going in there and improving.
Rachel H. on Google+ asks: Who do you think your main competition will be in Rio?
That’s a long time away. In 2009 you could’ve asked those current Olympic champions who their competition would be in 2012 and it would have been a shot in the dark. There’s so many fast swimmers now and people are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is considered the age limit for continued improvement. Look at Anthony Ervin — he’s still improving and he’s 30 at this point. I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer to that.
TeamUSA.org: Let’s take it down a notch. Who do you think will be your biggest competition in Barcelona this summer?
James (Magnussen of Australia) is obviously going be there. There’s another young Australian, I think his name is Cameron (McEvoy). Domestically, the Americans are no slouches. Matt Grevers will always be there, Jimmy Feigen will always be there. I’m looking forward to that and I think it’s a positive more than anything because those are additions to our relay.
Dorie M. on Google+ asks: Do you have a personal hero? How has your hero influenced you?
I have always looked up to Gary Hall Jr. as a young swimmer and that’s because he did it his own way and he did a good job of letting his personality come out in his swimming. A lot of people follow the cookie-cutter mold of Olympic athlete and it was so much fun watching him do what he did.
TeamUSA.org: Have you ever considered following in his footsteps and wearing a boxing robe to competitions?
I don’t know if that’s quite my style, but it would be fun. I love when you get a friendly competition going and there’s a little bit of smack talk. That’s one of the great things about having such great friends on the national team: I can walk up to them and say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna beat you real bad in this race,’ and we’ll put a little wager on it. It’s very friendly but it makes it a little more competitive and it makes it a little more fun, and at the end of the day we’re still the best of friends.
MB S. on Google+ asks: What advice do you have for kids who hope to become Olympians?
Keep doing what you’re doing. It was always a dream of mine when I was a kid and I never realized it until basically I made the team. You just have to keep training hard, keep dreaming and you never know what’s going to happen in the next four years, the next eight years.
IPhatty N. on Facebook asks: I have read in interviews that Nathan wants to come to Thailand. Why do you want to come here?
I’ve heard it’s beautiful and it’s a fun place to go and it’s very exotic, so I don’t see why not. It’s a long trip. The perks of living this life that I live is that I am fortunate enough to travel, and I very much appreciate that and I try to go everywhere I can go and drink in a little bit of the culture and Thailand seems like an interesting place.
Nikki H. on Facebook asks: What’s your favorite band/artist to listen to before you swim?
That’s a good question. Currently it’s still Avicii — still brings back a ton of good memories from training and gets my blood moving a little bit. I think especially walking on the pool deck a little bit of electronic music gets me pretty psyched to go fast.
Keith T. on Facebook asks: How old were you when you started to swim?
I began lessons when I was like 2 years old or something. I knew how to float before I can even remember. But I was in a swim team, swimming competitively, when I was 5 years old. I actually have a video of me swimming when I was 5 years old and if I was a lifeguard I would have jumped in and saved me because it looked like I was drowning.
TeamUSA.org: So you weren’t winning gold medals at age 5?
No, not back then! So keep your chins up. If you’re losing at 5 years old it doesn’t mean anything.
Arporn S. on Facebook asks: What was the most intense practice you’ve ever had? How did you feel?
There’s a lot of different ways to define intensity. There’s the four-hour-long practices that seem like they take forever and you’re moving slow and moving through as much yardage as possible. I used to do those as a kid and they’re just awful. Moving on to more race-specific training, I train for an event that’s less than a minute, always — either the 50 or the 100. These days it’s not about the yardage but about the intensity and how long we keep that intensity up. You can have me in the water for an hour-and-a-half now, doing 3,000 or 4,000 meters, which isn’t that much but my entire body will cramp up. I’ll be in the fetal position for a minute or two, waiting until my body gets enough oxygen to release my muscles again. Those are probably some of the most intense practices to this day. Especially on those days you’re trying to get up, you’re trying to get fast. We have one of those coming up and you think about the quality of guys training with us right now — between myself, Anthony Ervin and Garrett Weber-Gale, I think I counted six gold medals at the Olympics ranging from 2000 to 2012. It’s a good group of guys to be here training with, and as you can imagine we’re all great friends, but in the water we’re pretty competitive so it elicits some great performances in practice.
@ama1210 on Twitter asks: Do you have any fears besides open water?
Open water is a huge fear of mine; I absolutely hate it. This gets a little conceptual, but I would fear looking back and having any particular regrets about any decisions that I made or any paths that I’ve decided to go down in life. I think regrets are something that I never want to look back on my life and have.
TeamUSA.org: What would your fans be surprised to learn about you?
Oh man, these are tough. I can do a pretty good handstand. For someone who’s 6-6 or 6-7, I can probably do as good of a handstand as anybody.