Bronze medalist Nathan Adrian poses during the medal ceremony for the men's 100-meter freestyle final on day five of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Aug. 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Nathan Adrian is all about getting faster in the pool.
In the men’s 100-meter freestyle, he just wasn’t quite fast enough.
Australian up-and-comer Kyle Chalmers deprived Adrian of defending his Olympic gold medal in the men’s 100 free. Chalmers took over the lead in the final 50 and won in 47.48. Pieter Timmers from Belgium finished second in 47.80.
But Adrian did not walk away from the pool empty-handed. The 27-year-old won the bronze medal in 47.85. His time was 0.33 seconds slower at the 2012 London Games, where he won the gold medal by 0.01 seconds.
“I’m certainly happy to have another medal, happy to have two finals under my belt and come away with two medals so far,” Adrian said, referring to the gold that he won as part of the men’s 4x100 freestyle on Sunday night.
A three-time Olympian, Adrian now has five Olympic gold medals, with six total, and has moved into the top 10 of most decorated Olympic swimmers.
The 100-meter freestyle is a notoriously difficult Olympic title to defend. The last Olympian to defend the title was Pieter van den Hoogenband from the Netherlands, who won the race at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games.
With the podium spots often separated by hundredths of a second, the swimmers often don’t even know where they stand as they come to the wall.
Swimming in Lane 4 in the middle of the pool in the final, Adrian said he has good peripheral vision with his goggles, but “it’s not necessarily the wisest thing in the world to use it,” he said.
“If I had my choice, I would swim in Lane 1 or Lane 8 every time,” he added. “I’m a guy who likes to have clear water. In the middle of the pool there — you can’t really see it from the TV — but there’s a giant wave that hits you pretty hard. It’s hard. You just have to deal with it. You have to play the hand that you’re dealt.”
Although Adrian did not defend the 100 title, he became the fifth U.S. man to win two medals in the 100 free.
He credits a poor showing at the 2015 world championships for getting him back into shape to even have a chance of defending his title. In the 100 free at the Kazan worlds, Adrian tied for last.
“Last year was a big wake up call,” he said. “I wasn’t in the shape I needed to be to break 48 [seconds] in the 100 and it showed. That was very clear to me. We had to make some changes.”
Although it looked like a race of old versus new — with Chalmers, 18, becoming the youngest man to win the 100 free in 36 years — Adrian said it’s more a testament of the quality of the field competing in the event.
“I love this event,” Adrian said. “I think anybody who has the capability to swim this event tries to swim this event. The contrast to that would be like the 400 IM. People don’t necessarily like swimming the 400 IM but they like swimming this guy (referring to the 100 free). I think that probably has something to do with it.”
Now a veteran in the pool, Adrian has been one of the top freestyle sprinters in America for almost a decade. But he doesn’t feel any older.
“When you look on the page [start list], Pieter and I are the only ones born in the 80s, that’s a little weird,” Adrian said with a laugh. “I plan on continuing to swim, so we’ll probably see some guys coming up being born in 2000s soon.”
Adrian noticed Chalmers after he competed at Australian Olympic Trials this year and knew he couldn’t count him out.
Nor did Adrian count out teammate Caeleb Dressel. The 19-year-old is considered a future star in freestyle sprinting in the U.S., and he finished sixth in the 100 free at his first Olympic Games. Dressel is known for the large tattoos on his left arm. The eagle is from his favorite Bible verse, the flag represents his country.
Asked if he was happy with his time in the 100 free, Adrian said no — “But I’m happy with a medal.”
The Cal swimmer will have two more opportunities to win medals in Rio. He competes in the men’s 50 free Friday and the men’s 4x100 medley on Saturday.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn is in Rio covering her fourth Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.