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Nathan Adrian Ready To Bring New Perspective, Same Old Speed, To Tokyo Games

By Karen Price | Dec. 15, 2020, 3:42 p.m. (ET)

Nathan Adrian reacts at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 10, 2019 in Lima, Peru. 


Each Tuesday leading up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, which will be held in the summer of 2021, TeamUSA.org will introduce you to an athlete you should know prior to Tokyo – as part of the “Tokyo Tuesday” series. There’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Follow along on social media with the hashtag #TokyoTuesday.

Remaining a world class athlete year after year isn’t easy, especially in the ultra-competitive world of swimming.

But for Nathan Adrian, the eight-time Olympic medalist who’s looking to go to his fourth Games in Tokyo next summer, putting in the work to stay on top is something he wouldn’t trade.

“I think I’m built for this,” he said. “I do enjoy it. I enjoy the process. You put in all this work to win and get a chance to try to show what you’ve got. You get that endorphin and dopamine rush and it’s awesome and you want to do it again, and work on how you can do it better. I’d liken it to anyone who has a job they actually like. You do something, invest in it, take pride in it and if at the end of the day it pays off, awesome. If at the end of the day it doesn’t — which is often the in sports or even life in general — you go back, figure out what you did wrong, tinker with it and make it better.”

Adrian made his Olympic debut in 2008 in Beijing. He was then a 20-year-old student at University of California-Berkeley, albeit taking a break to focus on training for his first Olympic trials. By the time he returned for his second Olympics in 2012 he was a top sprinter in contention for his first individual medal. He won gold in the 100-meter freestyle, beating Australia’s James Magnussen in a photo finish, and since then he’s continued to be one of the world’s best freestyle sprinters and a member of some of Team USA’s top relay squads.

Adrain’s road to Tokyo comes with a new perspective. Two years ago, at the age of 30, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. However, he came back later that year to anchor two of Team USA’s medal-winning relay teams and swim prelims in another at the world championships.

Now 32, Adrian has learned over the years what it takes keep himself where he needs to be.

Part of that, he said, is the communication with his longtime coach and current U.S. men’s national team coach Dave Durden.

“When I was in college I was bulletproof and took it for granted that I could go out and be social until midnight or 2 a.m. then come back Monday feeling great and kill practice,” Adrian said. “Those days are long gone. If I go to bed after 9:30 p.m. now I’m in trouble. But that comes down to communication between (Durden) and I, if I need to take a day off or adjust what I’m doing and how I’m doing it so I can achieve my goals or objectives.”

Still, some days are easier than others in terms of figuring that out.

Coming off a recent speed workout that left him disappointed in himself, Adrian said, he was having a hard time deciding if the solution would be to give himself some downtime or punish himself in the weight room.

“The jury’s still out,” he said.

Like athletes the world over, Adrian had to cope with the postponement of the Olympic Games Tokyo this past summer. He’s lucky, he said, in that he and his wife still have jobs and the ability to earn a living at a time when others don’t.

The ever-changing restrictions impacted what they’re allowed to do at the Ann Curtis School of Swimming in San Rafael, California, which Adrian owns with former Cal teammate Will Copeland. Lately they’ve been allowed to operate as a lap pool with one person per lane, he said, but because the facility is outdoor they’re having to weigh the cost of heating the pool and operations against the money they’d be bringing in.

“Some people could say it’s a source of stress, but on the other side, thank goodness I have something to keep me busy,” Adrian said.

Another things keeping Adrian busy?

Preparing for the arrival of their first child. His wife, Hallie, is due in February. 

Making sure mom and baby stay healthy during a pandemic has meant limiting trips out, having groceries delivered and other measures to protect themselves, Adrian said, but other than waiting on a few more deliveries they’re prepped and ready for parenthood.

It promises to be an eventful way to start a year that Adrian hopes will include his fourth Olympic Games.

“First things first, we’ll be doing everything we need to do to try to have a happy and healthy baby and a happy and healthy mom,” he said. “After that I’m really excited to get back to the traditional cadence of swimming, training, hitting a meet of some sort every three or four weeks. And I never thought I’d miss it, but I do miss traveling a little. I’m excited and I think, I hope, after these latest restrictions we should be good. Once the time comes I think a lot of people are going to get their momentum and fall into where they need to be leading into the Olympic trials.”

Karen Price

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Nathan Adrian