Josh Prenot calls his 2016 an absolute whirlwind.
The California swimmer went to his first Olympic Games in Rio, where he took home a silver medal in the 200-meter breaststroke and set an American record along the way. Since the Games, Prenot has turned professional and traveled the globe swimming on the world cup circuit.
So what’s next for the 23-year-old?
He’ll compete in the FINA World Swimming Championships for short-course distances this week in Windsor, Ontario, and come back just in time to head back to school in the new year at the University of California.
The Santa Maria, California, native is one semester away from a physics degree from Cal and said it’s a no-brainer to finish, even as he embarks on his professional swimming career. But that doesn’t mean it will be an easy transition.
“I’m dreading going to lectures again and having to do homework,” said Prenot, who is on pace to graduate in May. “I’ve had so much time off of it that now going back is going to be so tough.”
Prenot, who will swim the 200 IM, 400 IM and 200 breaststroke at the world championships, got his start in the sport by taking baby swim classes with his mom, and he joined a swim club as a kid while also playing soccer, baseball and basketball and running cross-country. While he exceled both in the pool and on the baseball diamond, he said he ultimately chose swimming because he had long-term goals in the sport he didn’t have in baseball.
Even though he competed on one of the premiere collegiate swim teams, Prenot said it wasn’t until two years ago when he began to realize his pool aspirations could really take him to the highest level.
“That’s obviously a goal that probably 80 or 90 percent of club swimmers write down on their goal sheet: ‘I want to go to the Olympics,’” he said. “But it definitely didn’t seem real when I was making the finals at nationals level in 2012 and 2013 and getting destroyed by people that were winning, and I was not on that top tier. But I’m very grateful to my coaches and teammates at Cal that they kind of pushed me to get to that level. When I finally got close enough, it was a very tangible goal and achievable.”
At Cal, Prenot won an NCAA title last season in the 400-yard individual medley and placed second in the 200 IM and 200 breaststroke. That set him up for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, where he made the team in the 200 breaststroke, breaking a seven-year-old American record.
Prenot credits the coaches at Cal, Dave Durden and Yuri Suguiyama, with helping him not only get to the level he is now, but also teaching him how to trust the process and value that above the end results.
Prenot also had the luxury of being part of a powerhouse program. Cal sent eight current or former men’s swimmers to Rio, including Prenot and four others who train under Durden — Nathan Adrian, Ryan Murphy, Jacob Pebley and Tom Shields.
“Just being around those guys that are all pursuing the same goals with the same amount of dedication every day, it’s pretty tough to not be successful in that sort of environment,” Prenot said, “and I think that’s why you saw us have as much success as we had as a team the last couple of years.”
While Prenot admits that in the immediate weeks after Rio he considered moving on from trying to make it back to the Olympic Games in four years, he said the past few months have given him a chance to take a step back and really enjoy the fruits of his labor. Now that he’s recharged, he said he’s hungrier than ever for even more success in the future.
“Number one, I have basically the best job in the world. I love going to the pool every day with my friends and motivating each other to get better at the sport we love,” he said. “It’s a joy to be there every day with Dave and Yuri and the squad.
“And two, I really was not very motivated to keep going after Rio. Yes to keep going in the sport, but not to really try real hard to get better at swimming. After taking four months of basically just sort of relaxing — yes going to swim meets but not treating them super seriously, just more doing it for the travel — after doing that, I’m very ready to get back to the process, to the daily grind. I really realized how much I appreciate and enjoy that. So the last couple of weeks that I’ve been home has been really good and I’m excited for four more years of it.”