McLeod enjoys U after Olympic disappointment

Ryan Schuster

Something separates Gophers sophomore swimmer Jonathan McLeod from the rest of his teammates. Others celebrate their performances and joke loosely during practice. McLeod remains a picture of concentration.
His eyes stare intently at the pool in front of him as he readies his feet on the starting block. He has a quiet calmness about him as he dives into the pool. Been there, done that.
The 21-year-old has experience and maturity that go beyond his years. But a slight tinge of disappointment lingers about him.
Two years ago McLeod was one of the Gophers’ top performers as a freshman in the butterfly and individual medley events. He garnered All-America accolades as a member of the 800-yard freestyle relay team, as well as honorable mention All-America honors in the 400 individual medley. The native of Regina, Saskatchewan also set Minnesota freshman record times in the 200 and 400 individual medley events.
McLeod took last year off to train for the Canadian Olympic team. He trained an entire year. McLeod prepared relentlessly. Sometimes he trained up to seven hours a day.
But the results were disastrous. McLeod failed to qualify for the team.
“It was a really terrible year,” McLeod said. “I think I really overtrained. I got to the point where I lost focus of what I was training for. By the time I got to the Olympic trials I was mentally and completely burned out. I got there and it didn’t mean anything anymore.”
If McLeod would have swam his personal-best time of 1 minute, 48.8 seconds in the 200 individual medley, he would have made Canada’s Olympic team and competed in Atlanta last summer. McLeod believes that he should have made the team. Even today, he blames himself.
“I probably put too much pressure on myself,” McLeod said. “I spent the whole year just beating myself down so hard and focusing on this one thing. I had just forgotten how to race because I trained so much.”
After the disappointment of not making the team, McLeod was down mentally. He took the summer off to re-evaluate his life. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to continue swimming for the Gophers.
“It was really tough the first couple of months after,” McLeod said. “It was hard to learn how to race again after such a huge disappointment last year.
“I really had to find the fun in it again.”
After putting his Olympic Trials experience behind him, McLeod is enjoying himself now. He has beaten his personal best time in the 200 backstroke and currently has the fourth-best times in the Big Ten this year in both the 200 and 400 individual medley.
“He is a much more well-rounded swimmer now,” Gophers coach Dennis Dale said. “He is enjoying life more, and he is less concerned with every thing in regard to swimming. Swimming is not as important to him now, and as a result, he is swimming better.”
The biggest factor in his comeback to swimming has been his improved mental outlook. “I’ve been able to come back and recover mentally,” McLeod said.
“I think I’ve realized now that the physical part isn’t the biggest part of it. Even if I’m only physically 75 percent of what I was last year, if I’m 100 percent on the mental side, I think I’ll be 10 times better,” he said.”
Although McLeod isn’t sure if he will try out for his country’s 2000 Olympic team, he is dedicated again to swimming. He says he’s intent on improving his freshman campaign. He says he wants to be an All-American one more time.
But what McLeod wants most this year is a repeat of last season’s Big Ten championship, which he missed out on.
“I didn’t get the Olympic ring, and I really want that Big Ten ring,” he said. “But if I came back with an Olympic ring, that would make up for missing the Big Ten championship.”
Swimming teams host meets
Minnesota’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams compete at the University Aquatic Center this weekend. The No. 10 women’s squad faces Ohio State at 7 p.m. tonight and the No. 9 men’s team hosts Iowa at 4 p.m. Saturday.