Olympic Journey - 2008
A Golden Homecoming for Bremerton's Nathan Adrian
While walking on campus at the University of California-Berkeley, Nathan Adrian doesn't draw the attention that his counterparts from the recent Bejing Olympics do.
Adrian, 20, isn't bombarded with autograph seekers ala Michael Phelps. And no, the Bremerton native hasn't put pen to paper for an upcoming book. He's too busy writing papers, studying chemistry and becoming accustomed to life as a student-athlete again.
"It was really tough," Adrian said. "I mean, school is school. You take a year off of it, you kind of lose those habits lose the ability to focus for two-to-three hours at a time. So when I finally got back in school, I had a little bit of a transition period. Now it's all right."
Adrian returns to Bremerton, along with the gold medal he won in Beijing, this week to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. He will be honored on Friday at his alma mater, Bremerton High School, during a pep assembly at 1:30 p.m.
During an interview at the King County Aquatic Center earlier this month, where he competed in the Husky Invitational, Adrian said he has settled nicely into his life in the Bay area, and is coming down off an Olympic high that left him craving more.
Adrian left California following his freshman season in 2007 to train full time with Mike Bottom at The Race Club in Islamorada, Fla. The training and single-minded focus by Adrian paid off as the then-19-year-old qualified for the Beijing Olympics in the 4x100 freestyle relay.
Adrian helped the U.S. set a world record in that event in the morning then watched as teammates Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak came from behind to beat France and win a gold medal in the finals (and break the world record again). Medals are given to prelim participants as well.
Adrian said watching the final of the 4x100 relay the next morning was surreal. The U.S. contingent was sitting up high in the NAC — each session teams are rotated from the deck to the upper rafters — but Adrian said it didn't make it any less exciting.
"We were going crazy," Adrian said of watching Lezak come from behind to beat world record holder Alain Bernard of France in the final 50 meters. "Everyone was thinking the French had already won by the time Jason jumped in. And by the last 50 (Jason) started catching him, and man, it was just really exciting.
"Just crazy how he actually did it, how he touched him out, I mean just the feelings afterwards. I think we were all just in shock. I was shaking. I had no idea how he did it."
At the moment, it hadn't dawned on Adrian that he was a gold medalist.
"That set in a little bit later," he said. "I was caught up in the fact that he had actually done it. It was incredible."
But the feeling of being an Olympic champion came full circle when Adrian was presented his medal.
"It ... feels like any other medal except that it's heavier and bigger," Adrian said. "But at the same time, the kind of the thought behind it, 'Wow! This is an Olympic gold medal. How many people get to hold these, let alone get to call it their own.' That's pretty exciting. But it doesn't necessarily mark the end, or my final goal.
"I'd like to think that there's more in store."
Adrian's gold is the first for a Kitsap athlete.
"It's hard to explain how it feels," he said. "Everything leading up to it and everything you ever heard about the Olympics, is just this huge grand thing going on.
"But when it comes down to it, it's just another meet except with really, really fast times."
Adrian, who is half Chinese on his mother's side, didn't get to see much of Beijing until after his race. He spent the majority of his time in the athlete's village and the National Aquatics Center.
Every country had their own support staff, and their own dormitories with huge national flags flying outside.
"I think the coolest part was how open all the athletes were to everyone else," he said. "Any one of them knew what it took to get to the Olympics, they'd obviously done it, so they knew that (we) had a mutual respect for everybody there."
Adrian won't forget what happened inside the NAC. He said the Chinese audience at the pool was somewhat subdued, but the vocal Americans made up the difference.
"They (Chinese) don't go quite as crazy when anything happens, but at the same time it doesn't really matter because we were surrounded by ourselves," he said. "We were going nuts anytime Michael won, or anytime anybody swam a good race. It's fun to just to be able to watch."
As for his one and only race, Adrian didn't feel particularly nervous and was more excited to get into the water and compete. Adrian's biggest obstacle was overcoming his extended taper (when swimmers rest leading up to important meets).
"I had to try to perform my best at the (U.S. Olympic swim) trials (in July) to end up actually on the team," he said. "I swam all right, just not great."
Adrian said he fully intends to train for London in 2012 and swim in more than a morning prelim.
Beijing was only the beginning for the Bremerton swimmer.
"Absolutely," he said. "Being just on the prelims relay was enough to fuel the fire," he said.
In the meantime, Adrian, who said he hopes to qualify for the world championships next summer in Rome, is perfectly happy with his anonymity at Berkeley.
"I kind of enjoy it that way," he said. "Being on the team was enough of the attention where I can stand to be in the background for a while."
Annette Griffus, Kitsap Sun, December 17, 2008.
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