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Friedel keeps pushing his limits

BY ZAC BOYER

To gain encouragement for the most important meet of his career, Josh Friedel has only to look back at what almost was his biggest mistake.

Friedel slipped off the wall in the preliminary heat of the 200-meter backstroke at the Junior National Championships last August, leaving him without a start and significantly behind his competition.

He barely made the cut, tying for 30th, and advanced to the C final after winning a swim-off. Remarkably, he then posted a 2:02.82–a time that was not only the second-fastest of all 30 swimmers in the finals, but one that qualified him for the U.S. Olympic trials, which begin next week in Omaha, Neb.

“I can’t really describe how lucky I am for that,” Friedel said. “It’s a great accomplishment.”

While he may chalk up his success to good fortune, it was only the beginning of what turned out to be a strong season for Friedel.

He recently finished his freshman year at Florida State as one of the Seminoles’ best backstrokers. He won the bronze medal in the 200-yard backstroke and placed ninth in the 100 back at February’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship meet.

The Olympic trials will begin for Friedel next Tuesday with the preliminaries of the 100-meter backstroke and will serve as the Mountain View graduate’s next measuring stick. He would like to finish the 100 in under 56 seconds and the 200 in less than two minutes—a time he believes would qualify him for the top heat in the finals.

Only two of the 100-plus swimmers in each event will represent the United States at next month’s Olympics in London. Ryan Lochte, the gold medalist in the 200-meter back at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as well as Matt Grevers, David Plummer and Nick Thoman, are the favorites to make the Olympic team in both events.

“I’m not going to be so surprised if he gets there, but I’m not going to be terribly disappointed if he comes up a little short,” Florida State head coach Neil Harper said. “I think for him to go best times is our goal for now, and I think that if he gets close to those times, or on those times, it will be another step in the right direction and another feather in his cap.”

The two-time Free Lance–Star swimmer of the year, Friedel left Mountain View with five individual school records and, with two relays, seven total.

When Friedel got to Florida State, though, Harper noticed issues with his technique. While tightening his stroke and adapting to college, Friedel struggled.

“There were parts of the year where you were like, ‘Well, he looks OK, but he looks dog tired and he looks fatigued,’ and if you get lost along the way, you lose focus,” Harper said.

“It took him a while to perfect certain things, and then really, he was just trying so hard to do certain things that sometimes, the harder you try, the worse it gets.”

Friedel had nearly a month to rest in advance of the ACC championships, held in Christiansburg, and it helped. He dropped nearly three seconds on his 200 back time, placing third in 1:44.59 after a prelim swim of 1:43.54, and swam a 48.38 in the 100-yard backstroke.

The Olympic trials, he said, should prepare him well for his sophomore season. He and Harper have spoken about the lessons, especially the mental and emotional strains, such a meet can present.

“I think that’s my goal for him—to know that it’s going to be a really hyped-up, ultra-exciting, ultra-nervous event where, if you can do well and come through, then when we’re dual meeting in North Carolina or we’re swimming against Virginia Tech, that’s nothing,” Harper said. “It’s the experience of, ‘Hey, I’m a big-time swimmer. Now I can use this to my advantage in other competitions down the road.’”

As the Junior Nationals demonstrated to him, personal growth can come in a variety of ways.

“I’m not at my full potential, and I would like to believe that hopefully next year, I’ll make a pretty big improvement,” Friedel said. “If that all works out, you know, it’s going to be a big year mentally for me and physically. Big things will happen next year. I’ll just tell you that.”

Zac Boyer: 540/374-5440

zboyer@freelancestar.com

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