After much anticipation, the 2012 Summer Olympics officially commences tonight with the opening ceremonies in London.
The United States will have over 500 athletes take part in the ceremony, including former Penn rower Susan Francia C’04 G’04, who will look to defend her gold medal in the women’s eight. Also representing Penn in the 2012 Games is Koko Archibong C’03, who qualified with Nigeria’s basketball team.
In all, Penn has had an Olympic representative in every Olympics since 1900, a streak I documented in the Gazette’s cover story this past issue. But there have also been many over star Penn athletes who have just missed out on the Games.
One of those athletes is Brendan McHugh C’12 (pictured above), who had an incredible performance at the U.S. Swimming Trials earlier this month, making the semifinals in the 100 breaststroke and the 200 breaststroke. It marked the first time a Penn swimmer made the semifinals at the U.S. trials in one event, let alone two.
With swimming at the Olympics set to begin tomorrow, the Gazette caught up with the recent Penn graduate to discuss watching the Olympics on TV, the meet of his life and what he’ll do next:
What’s it going to be like for you watching the Olympics after you were pretty close to getting there yourself?
It’s probably going to be – I wouldn’t say hard – but I’ll watch it and say, ‘Oh, I was pretty close.’ It will probably fuel my desire to keep swimming.
Looking back at the Olympic Trials when you made two semifinals, did you perform better than you thought?
Not really. I kind of wanted to make top eight. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about making the [Olympic] team. It’s a weird psychology. You want to win and go but you also need a backup goal in case you don’t because you can’t really control what other people do. I didn’t expect to go much faster than I did. Other people just swam faster.
So you went into the meet thinking you could make the Olympics?
Yeah, I’d say so. I mean, it was a little bit of a long-shot but as an athlete you have to think like that or, you know, why are you even there?
What are some of your favorite memories from the meet?
I definitely enjoyed the 100 breaststroke semifinal. That was the first one. That was when I came out at night and it was packed. I never swam in front of that many people. And then I had my best time. It all worked out well. It was a pretty good memory.
Do you feel like you really opened some eyes? Did a lot of swimmers come up to you and talk to you about your performance?
Yeah, I had tons of people I knew, who were sort of like acquaintances. I was getting text messages from numbers I didn’t even know. I assumed they were swimmers. I got a lot of support from the Ivy League, from smaller schools and even from friends at bigger schools. And then I had some big-time coaches come up to me and ask, ‘Are you going to keep swimming? Do you want to come swim for me?’ It was a pretty cool experience.
Are you going to keep swimming competitively?
I’m going to try my best. I’m definitely going to be at the next trials. I’m going to law school [at Washington and Lee] in about a month. I know law school is hard so we’ll see. If I don’t train that hard this year, I’ll definitely pick it up the next two years. I might take a year to get in shape and get through the first year of law school. After that, I’ll get back on the grind.
So you’re really hoping to make the 2016 Olympics?
As of right now, yeah. I have a broken arm right now. I broke my arm two weeks after trials. I was playing basketball with a couple of my friends. So when that comes off, I’ll get back in the pool. I definitely will try to make the team.
I’m sure you are going to play close attention to swimming at the Olympics?
Oh yeah, for sure. I’ll probably watch every night.
Do you have high hopes for the American swimmers in London?
Yeah, a couple of my friends made the team. So especially the Americans, especially the guys that I know, guys I swam with when I was 10 years old, some of them who are going to the Olympics. I’ve got to root for my friends and I’ve got to root for my country.
Because you think that could have been you out there, will there be mixed emotions when you watch?
Yeah but not too much. I’m not disappointed with how I swam. I’m actually pretty happy. I mean, there is going to be that thought – like if I keep training that could be me next time. But I’m not going to really harp on the fact that I was really close. I’ll for sure let it fuel my desire to keep swimming, though.