Last week in Omaha, Nebraska, freestyle swimmer Chloe Sutton qualified for her second Olympic Games; her first as a pool swimmer. As an open water swimmer in Beijing, Sutton came up short of a medal. Perhaps that is because, as she says, when she closed her eyes and envisioned herself wearing a medal around her neck, she was on a pool deck and not a beach. Back in the pool competing for two years now, in a few weeks she’ll have her chance to make that vision a reality.
1. As a young swimmer, when did you start to become serious about the sport? How did you come to focus on freestyle as opposed to breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly?
I was serious about the sport from the very beginning (when I started at 6). I was always very competitive and I always knew that I wanted to be a swimmer. I was also, always a freestyler. I did a little bit of butterfly and IM when I was younger but free was always my favorite.
2. You began competing as an open water swimmer and recently [in 2011] moved into the pool. What was it that brought you out of the open water and into the pool?
I was a pool swimmer before 2006 when I first began to try open water. When I first tried it, I loved open water. It was fun and adventurous; it was thrilling! In 2009 I started to find my way back to the pool and I began to find myself enjoying pool swimming over open water again. In a way, my switch was mainly because it’s what my heart told me, as corny as that sounds. When I closed my eyes, I saw myself with a medal around my neck on a deck and not on a beach.
3. Building off of the last question, talk about what that transition has been like for you. How is training different for 800 and 400 meter races in the pool as opposed to open water marathon events? How have you grown mentally?
Honestly, it isn’t much different. I still train a lot of yardage, but now I might do a little bit more speed work during different phases of our training. While I was doing open water, I was still competing in the pool, so not much has changed. I just dropped the 10k from my list of events. I’m still a swimmer that loves swimming. I still work extremely hard at practice every day. It doesn’t feel different at all. I have definitely grown mentally over the years. I have matured and gotten stronger throughout this whole journey.
4. Assess your performance at Olympic Trials: Are you satisfied or perhaps a bit disappointed that you did not qualify for both the 400m and 800m free? What were you expecting from yourself going into Omaha?
I was thrilled about my 400. The relief I felt after finally making the team was a huge weight off of my chest. I felt amazing in that race and I was so excited about the 800. As the week went on, I tried to keep my conditioning by doing a few harder practices, but I started feeling drained by the end of the week. I don’t know exactly what happened in my 800, I do know that I felt awful, but I am extremely grateful to have made the team. So many people miss the opportunity completely, and that could have easily been me, so I am going to do everything I can to make my 400 count.
5. In your own words, who is Chloe Sutton today in 2012 as opposed to four years ago in 2008 before your first Olympics?
In 2008, I was young and everything that goes with that word. I was naïve and overwhelmed with the experience of going to the Olympics. I was also very fragile. I got stressed and upset easily. Today, I am a lot tougher. I am so much smarter about my swimming. I know what to expect in London and I know what I expect of myself. I have higher goals and I am willing to do more to reach them.
6. Is representing the US in the Olympic Games the highest accomplishment for an athlete?
It definitely is. It’s a combination of pride in yourself and your achievement and pride in your country. The most amazing thing to me about this whole experience is the amount of support we as athletes get from our country. To be able to wear the stars and stripes is an amazing feeling. I grew up a military brat and I saw that same pride in my father being a Colonel in the Air Force. It was something I always wished I could feel, and now I know.
7. In your eyes, as a top competitor in your sport heading into London, is winning gold simply a goal, or is it the only option?
Getting on the team was relief. It was only the first step. I want to represent my country to the best of my ability. I am going to do everything I can to get a gold medal.
8. Aside from competition, what makes the Olympic experience so memorable?
The people you meet! Team USA really grows a deep bond after going through an Olympics together. It’s amazing the connections you can make. It’s also fun to meet other athletes from other sports and comparing stories.
9. Throughout your career, did the accomplishment of participating in the Olympic Games always seem attainable?
Yes. I always knew that I wanted to get to the Olympics. Everything I did from the time I was 6 was geared towards the Olympics. It was my passion.
10. Is there a special camaraderie that exists between fellow Olympians? If any member of Team USA were to win a medal, would it be as if you won it as well?
We definitely feel like one entity while we are swimming and while we are in the stands cheering. Team USA is special. I wouldn’t say it’s 100% the same but when somebody wins and they play the national anthem, you feel a lot of pride. We recently had a team meeting where we shared a special moment that we felt after making the Olympic Team. Most people talked about the journey we all had to go through to get here and the people who have supported us along the way. We have all gone through similar ups and downs and we have all worked so hard to accomplish our goals. Success for one is success for all when you share bonds as deep as we have.
We will continue our 2012 Team USA / London Olympics Interview Series all month leading up to the start of the Games. Find all the interviews and more Team USA coverage on the DoubleGSports.com Team USA page.