OMAHA — Nathan Adrian loves the fact he makes a living swimming laps in a pool, traveling the world and chasing goals he’s set — and reset — for himself.
He’s got friends who have what he makes a face at and calls ‘real’ jobs; a few of them are chair salesmen. They’ve got job security, 401Ks, things that the 27-year-old Adrian is a little jealous of.
But then something happens and he remembers though it takes a high-stress situation like these U.S. Olympic trials to secure his ‘job’ heading into Rio — which he did Thursday night, winning the men’s 100-meter freestyle — this beats a real job any day.
“We spend a lot of down time at these meets, sitting in the hotel room, watching the races and getting excited,” Adrian said. “I’m eating my sandwiches in bed. I sent a Snapchat, for instance, of me trying to throw my sandwich wrapper into the trash can. I sent that to a bunch of my friends, and they were like, ‘Oh, dude! I think that’s one of my chairs!’
“That was an exciting part of their day.”
“I’m happy for them,” he said. “They’re my best friends. But I get to race and have dreams about winning Olympic gold. That’s what keeps me motivated.”
It’s also what keeps Adrian consistent.
At the U.S. Olympic trials on Thursday night, Adrian held off two challengers to win the men’s 100 freestyle in 47.72 — the second-fastest time in the world this year — and secure his spot on the U.S. roster heading to Rio de Janeiro.
Adrian, who won the event in London four years ago, is actually one of the few American swimmers to qualify this week in the individual event he won in 2012. In the midst of a U.S. Olympic trials that has felt like a changing of the guard, Adrian has been constant.
Which is exactly how he likes it.
Unlike some of his peers over the last four years, he has not changed coaches. He’s not faced any suspensions. He hasn’t had a baby. Really, there’s been no real drama except, occasionally, in the pool.
“There’s no story there,” said California coach Dave Durden, Adrian’s coach. “It speaks to Nathan’s personality, too. He’s got a very quiet way, a ton of humility, about the way he goes about doing what he does. To remain consistent — not necessarily as you go quad to quad is it going to be stay at that (high) level ’13 and ’14 and ’15 and ’16. There are going to be some peaks and valleys and trying to give him breaks at different times. Try some different things. Not necessarily new scenery, but move some things around to keep a level of interest in what he’s doing.
“It’s a testament to Nathan the person and how he handles his business. It speaks a lot about how he goes about his day-to-day, year-to-year, from ’12 to ’16.”
Adrian has swum with Durden for almost a decade, so the two know each other quite well by now. They also know while what they did in the lead-up to London worked quite well — Adrian won two gold medals and a silver — they need to keep things interesting and effective. Adrian, now 27, said he’s noticed a change in the way his body responds to different types of workouts. Earlier in his career, it was harder to gain strength in the weight room and easier to swim yards in the pool. Now, it’s the opposite. He and Durden focus on recovery more than they used to.
But much of the rest remains the same. Adrian is still a world-class sprinter, a freestyle specialist who hopes to swim both the 50 and the 100 in Rio. (He’ll swim the 50 here at trials later this week.)
It’s what’s inside him that keeps him going day in and day out — consistently.
“Swimming is such an objective sport,” Adrian said. “The glass ceiling has not been reached. It’s exciting to just push yourself.”
PHOTOS: OLYMPIC TRIALS