By Peggy Shinn | June 30, 2016, 11:45 p.m. (ET)


OMAHA, Neb. — Nathan Adrian will get to defend his Olympic gold medal in Rio. The 27-year-old freestyler won the men’s 100-meter freestyle Thursday night at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming and made his third Olympic team.

So far, he is one of only two U.S. swimmers who will get to defend gold in Rio. Dana Vollmer finished second in the 100 butterfly and will likely be named to the team by the end of trials. Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky will probably add to the list by the end of trials (in the 200 IM and 100 butterfly for Phelps, and the 800 free for Ledecky).

Adrian won the 100 free in 47.72, the second-fastest time in the world this year.

“It wasn’t the perfectly executed race, now that I look back on it, but we’re happy with popping under (48) and getting the win,” he said, still breathless from the two-lap splash-and-dash.

When Adrian talks about swimming, he often uses the word “we,” perhaps to make sure everyone knows that there is a team of friends, family and coaches behind every Olympic athlete.

Also making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team in the 100 free final were Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Held and Anthony Ervin, who finished second through fourth, respectively. Dressel will compete in the 100 free with Adrian, while all four men will represent the U.S. on the 4x100 freestyle team.

This will be the third Olympics for Ervin, 35, who won the gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. He will be the second-oldest male U.S. swimmer ever to compete at an Olympic Games.

When told he had made his third Olympic team, Ervin tipped his head back and laughed in amazement, “That’s right, that’s three.”

Dressel is one of the youngest swimmers to make the team so far, and Ervin affectionately rubbed him on the head after the race.

“I think USA Swimming is in a bit of a transition phase from old to new, if I can say it like that,” said Dressel, 19, the reigning NCAA champion in both the 50 and 100 freestyles, who cried with joy in his sister’s arms after the race. “Youngsters are up and coming, and it shows at this meet. We’ve had a ton of new Olympians. It’s been awesome. It’s probably why the place has been sold out. I think people knew what was coming, a bunch of youngsters taking over.”

For Ervin, swimming with the next generation is keeping him young. He won his gold medal in Sydney before Dressel had entered kindergarten.

“I might be older than them, but I’m younger than most of you!” Ervin said, teasing the reporters.

Adrian also joked when asked about the save of younger swimmers taking over at these Olympic Trials. “I know, what the heck?!” he said.


Nathan Adrian participates in the medal ceremony for the men's 100-meter freestyle at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials For Swimming at CenturyLink Center on June 30, 2016 in Omaha, Neb.

But unlike Dressel, Adrian doesn’t see it as a transition. In 2012, he pointed out that it was “old guys like me” who made the Olympic team. (He was all of 23 back then.)

“It’s kind of the ebbs and flows of swimming,” he said, pun probably not intended.

Then Adrian turned everyone’s attention back to the race, pointing out that American sprinting is moving in the right direction.

“That (race) was certainly a lot faster than it was four years ago,” he said. “So hopefully, given another month or so, we’ll be even faster than that.”

Four years ago at Olympic Trials, Adrian won the 100 free in 48.10.

Then at the 2012 London Games, Adrian won the 100 free, beating the reigning world champion, James Magnussen from Australia, by 0.01.

While the lives of some of the other individual gold-medal-winning swimmers from London have been full of distractions outside the pool, Adrian has remained singularly focused. The simple act of getting faster through the water has kept him motivated.

“Swimming is such an objective sport, and the glass ceiling has not been reached, so it’s exciting to just try to push yourself,” he said.

Adrian is excited to join David Plummer on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team. Why? Because Plummer is older than Adrian, and the freestyler hopes that he can learn from the backstroker, who qualified for Rio in the 100 back.

“I want to talk to him, like, ‘Hey dude, what are you doing? Let’s see what things you’re doing that have helped you improve, and how can I incorporate that into what I’m doing?'” said Adrian.

He’s also motivated by his friends who have jobs in the real world. Earlier in the meet, he was in his hotel resting when he sent a Snapchat of himself throwing a sandwich wrapper into a trash can. One of his friends commented that he could see one of the chairs that he sells in the background.

“They’re chair salesmen, and that’s the exciting part of their day,” said Adrian with his affable smile. “I’m happy for them. They’re my best friends. But I get to race, and I get to have dreams about trying to win Olympic gold. So that’s what keeps me motivated.”

Asked if he is missing any part of the real world, Adrian paused, then said with a laugh, “Job security. And a 401K.”

For now, he’s focused on Rio. And not only on defending his gold medal in the 100 free. Adrian and his teammates would like to reclaim the gold medal in the 4x100 free. The U.S. took silver in London four years ago and did not even make the final at 2015 world championships.

“I think people are going to underestimate what the Americans are capable of,” said Adrian. “The next month, we’ll be sharpening our tools. I think that we have the arsenal to be competitive for medals there.”

In other races at U.S. Olympic Team Trials tonight, Josh Prenot did what few predicted. He won the men’s 200-meter breaststroke, beating Kevin Cordes who was swimming under world-record pace until the final meters.

As Cordes slowed, Prenot — the 2015 World University Games gold medalist in the 200 breaststroke — drew even, then passed, touching the wall in 2:07.01, a new American record in the event. Cordes hung on for second in 2:08.00. Already on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, Cordes qualified to swim the 200 as well as the 100 in Rio.

Prenot’s time is the second all-time fastest 200 breaststroke ever, just 0.16 off the world record.

In women’s 200 butterfly, Cammile Adams, 24, overcame an almost-disqualification in the prelims to win the final and make her second Olympic team. Officials had to watch footage from an underwater camera to determine that Adams had not pushed off the wall onto her back in one of her turns. In the final, she swam a fast second half and passed Georgia Bulldog Hali Flickinger to win in 2:06.80. Flickinger finished second in 2:07.50.

At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Adams finished fifth in the 200 butterfly.

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.