Elizabeth Beisel competes in the women's 400-meter individual medley heats during the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships at the Hamad Aquatic Centre on Dec. 3, 2014 in Doha, Qatar.
|Elizabeth Beisel celebrates with her silver medal during the medal ceremony for the women's 400-meter IM at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 28, 2012 in London.
MINNEAPOLIS – When the 2015-16 Olympic swimming season kicked off this past weekend at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Minneapolis, Elizabeth Beisel refused to compare herself to younger national teammates Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky, who won a combined nine medals at the 2015 FINA World Championships.
“I’m not going to be winning all those medals or breaking all those records like Katie or Missy,” 23-year-old Beisel said, “but I can just be there to make sure everyone else on the team is and they’re all having fun.
“It’s intimidating for young girls to come to the team. I was in their shoes when I was 13. You don’t have ‘friends’ when you’re 13. You have people who look after you. I’m giving back to what was given to me 10 years ago.”
But when Beisel, a two-time Olympian and five-time world championships team member, competed alongside her younger teammates in Minneapolis, she did also willingly acknowledge the one obvious void in her career.
The only thing still missing from her résumé is an Olympic gold.
“I think it’s everybody’s dream to have a gold medal, and that’s definitely what’s on the line for me next summer,” she said. “It’s what you think about when you’re in the middle of a hard practice or when you’re waking up early to train.
“I’m getting older and contemplating how long I’m going to swim for. I would love to get that gold medal out of the way at the next Olympics and just pop that off my chest.”
Despite her aforementioned fun, teacher-like approach, deep down, Beisel is still one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet, and she always has been.
Growing up in Rhode Island, she competed in swimming, soccer, basketball, ballet and surfing, and was also a committed violin and piano player.
As the youngest member of the U.S. swim team at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, a 15-year-old Beisel was taken under the wings of Natalie Coughlin and Katie Hoff, who these days are more like her best friends than big sisters. With their help, Beisel finished fourth in the 400-meter individual medley and fifth in the 200-meter backstroke in her Olympic debut.
She kicked it up a notch at the London 2012 Games with two podium appearances, winning silver in the 400-meter IM and bronze in the 200-meter backstroke.
Heading into her third Olympic Trials next June, Beisel will focus on her signature events — the two she medaled in at London 2012 — and perhaps also dabble in the 200-meter freestyle or try to make a relay team.
It’s been an up-and-down road for Beisel since the last Olympic Games, though.
She won bronze in the 400-meter IM at the 2013 FINA World Championships before dazzling at the 2014 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships with gold in that event and bronze in the 200-meter backstroke.
After graduating from Florida in 2014, Beisel turned pro but remained in Gainesville training with Gregg Troy, who has coached her since 2010, and studying for the GRE.
“It was something I was comfortable with,” Beisel said. “When you’re this close to the Olympics, you don’t want to change your training methods. You want to stick to what you know. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
But last season, after overcoming a groin strain in the winter months, her highest finish at the 2015 world championships was 13th place.
Beisel approached the Minneapolis Arena Pro Swim as a tune-up meet, with her best finish being 17th place in the 200-meter backstroke. (She was in fifth place in the 400-meter IM before a disqualification.)
She aims to use December’s AT&T Winter National Championships in Federal Way, Washington, as the best competition to gauge where she stands in her events seven months ahead of the next U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
“It’s probably going to be my last Olympic Trials, so I want to go out with a bang and obviously do well,” Beisel said. “I feel like there’s even more on the line because I’m older and have more to lose than I did when I was 15.”
Beisel, always planning one step ahead, is already starting to lay out plans for her post-swimming career, too. She would like to pursue a career in media, and she has the personality for it. Bubbly and affable, she’s the type of person who’ll just walk up to strangers and effortlessly introduce herself.
“I’ve just always loved being around people and being in the loop,” Beisel said.
“I definitely need to be around people. I need to be doing something that’s always keeping me going. I can’t just sit at a desk. I’m not really sure what it will be, but hopefully I can use my swimming to bring me into something that I can do.”
But first, she’ll try to beef up her resume with one more qualification.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.