Swimmers’ Olympic run ends with surprising disappointment

None of the Gophers’ 32 swimmers made the U.S. Olympic team, but several earned top-15 finishes.

CJ Smith (cq/gophersports) swims during practice June 22 at the University Aquatic Center. Smith placed 13th in the 1500-meter freestyle Sunday at the U.S. Olympic trials and missed the final by five places.

Marisa Wojcik

CJ Smith (cq/gophersports) swims during practice June 22 at the University Aquatic Center. Smith placed 13th in the 1500-meter freestyle Sunday at the U.S. Olympic trials and missed the final by five places.

Megan Ryan

While 32 past, present and future Gophers swimmers competed at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Neb., over the past week, none made the Olympic roster.

The Gophers’ best chances hung on 2008 graduate David Plummer in the 100-meter backstroke, recent graduate Ashley Steenvoorden in the 400 freestyle and senior Haley Spencer in the 200 breaststroke.

“We had a lot of lifetime bests,” head coach Kelly Kremer said. “But I think what we lacked here was that real breakthrough performance that you need at this level.”

Plummer’s Olympic trials ended on the third day. As the second seed, he advanced through preliminaries and the semifinals with ease but fell just short in the final.

He placed third with a time of 52.98 seconds. Plummer needed a top-two finish to travel to London and was less than a second behind Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman.

“I can only assume how David is feeling,” Kremer said. “We’re very hopeful and counting on him continuing to swim and giving it another shot in four years.”

After Plummer’s early defeat in his only event, the Gophers’ trials never reached that height again.

Spencer initially did not make the semifinal in her weaker event, the 100 breaststroke, as she finished 17th — one place out. She was scratched in when another swimmer pulled out.

The senior placed 14th in the semifinal and did not move on to the final, but the event served its purpose in preparing her for the 200 breaststroke.

“The big thing with the second swim in a meet like [the 100] is it just gets you ready for your big event,” Spencer said.

Spencer qualified sixth for the 200 semifinals and took the last eighth-place spot for the final, unlike former Gophers swimmer Keri Hehn, who placed 13th at 2:30.07.

To make the Olympic team, Spencer said she knew she had to change her strategy.

“Usually I like to take it a little easy that first 100 and then come home like a banshee,” Spencer said. “This time coach Kelly just told me, ‘Hey, you get one shot at this, you don’t want to regret anything, so just go for it.’ So that’s what I did.”

Spencer said she came home a little rough and finished seventh at 2:27.82, five places away from the Olympic team.

“I can call myself the seventh-fastest 200 breaststroker in the nation at this point, and I think that’s a very big accomplishment,” Spencer said.

Right after the race, Spencer met her teammate Ashley Steenvoorden.

“I just looked at her and I said, ‘There’s no way we’re not going to do everything we can possibly do to make this team in four years, and we need to do it together,’” Spencer said.

Steenvoorden suffered her own disappointment at trials. She missed the final in her best event, the 400 freestyle, by two places. The recent graduate placed 10th with a time of 4:10.96.

Kremer scratched her from the 200 freestyle to give her more time to prepare for her next-best event, the 800 freestyle. Unfortunately for Steenvoorden, the event finished similarly, as she placed 14th with a time of 8:39.52 and missed the final again.

“Ashley came in here with the highest goals and highest expectations. She really wanted to and has the capability of being an Olympian,” Kremer said. “Falling short of that goal hurts in this moment.”

Although none of the favorites made the cut, a few Gophers swimmers exceeded expectations.

Kyler Van Swol placed 20th in the 200 butterfly with a time of 2:00.48 and missed out on the semifinals by four places.

The junior reversed his fate in the 100 butterfly by posting the eighth-best preliminary time of 52.77. In the semifinal, he said one breath in the wrong spot dropped him to ninth place and prevented him from swimming in the final.

“I’m a little upset about that,” Van Swol said. “But overall I’m happy with the swim.”

CJ Smith also finished just outside of the top-eight cutoff for the 1,500 freestyle. The sophomore placed 13th with a time of 15:29.19.

Former Minnesota swimmer Alex Wold earned a ninth-place finish in the 400-meter individual medley. His time of 4:19.84 barely missed the eight-man cutoff for the final.

While there won’t be any Gophers Olympians on the U.S. team, Kremer said the swimmers aren’t giving up.

“Everybody is really excited to get back here that already I’ve got people talking about ‘I can’t wait until 2016,’” Kremer said.