RIO DE JANEIRO – Josh Prenot couldn’t tell where he was in the water in relation to the other seven swimmers. He saw glimpses of the other racers, but that meant nothing to him. So, not long after making the turn at the 100-meter wall, he started sprinting.
An 80-meter sprint to the finish boosted him from third to second, and he won a silver medal in the 200 breaststroke on Wednesday at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium. It’s the first medal for the first-time Olympian, and it’s the first medal for a U.S. male in the event since Brendan Hansen won bronze at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
“As far as emotions go, I’m pretty elated to have some hardware,” Prenot said. “That was actually the goal coming in. It feels awesome to be able to represent my country well and bring a medal home to the U.S.”
Swimming in his first international final, Prenot posted a 2:07.53 to take home the silver. He finished 0.07 behind Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan, who won gold with a time of 2:07.46.
“I got an Olympic medal,” Prenot said, “so I can’t be more happy with that.”
It’s been a long road for Prenot since missing out on the London 2012 Olympic Games. He didn’t make it past the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, finishing 10th that day.
But Prenot had been warming up recently. He won gold in the 200 breaststroke at the 2015 World University Games, where he finished ahead of Balandin.
In the lead-up to the 2016 Olympics, Prenot took second in the 200 breaststroke at the 2016 NCAA Championships. More impressive, he broke the U.S. record in the same event at the Olympic Trials. His time of 2:07.17 is the second fastest in the history of the event.
Known for his great finishing speed, it was the sprint in the final 80 meters that sealed the deal. Prenot, 23, said he was “so stoked” when he touched the wall, looked up at the video board and saw the No. 2 by his name.
“Seeing 1, 2 or 3, that’s absolutely a dream come true,” Prenot said.
A physics major, Prenot is expected to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley in 2017. More swim meets and potential Olympic medals are on the horizon. Right now, he’s savoring the moment.
“I’d say objectively this is the biggest day of my career,” Prenot said. “[Silver] means I was second best today, which I was extremely happy about.”
Frank Gogola is a student in the Sports Capital Journalism Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.