Notable Olympic Swimmers Competed In Knoxville Over Weekend

Monday, December 09, 2013 - by John Shearer

From Thursday through Saturday, I had the opportunity to cover the AT&T Winter National Championships in swimming at the University of Tennessee’s Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center in Knoxville.

Although I have covered a variety of swimming meets at the pool since it opened in 2008, this was the first time I have attended one in which so many former Olympic medalists from the United States have also competed.

In fact, I briefly thought I was at a gathering of precious metals collectors after reading some of the biographies of the swimmers.

Since it is USA Swimming’s main national meet of the winter, about all the famous American swimmers of recent history except Michael Phelps, currently retired, and Ryan Lochte were there.

Even though the names of the decorated Olympians are probably still not as well known as even average athletes in the higher-profile sports, I still enjoyed getting an opportunity to interview a few of them.

They included Missy Franklin, who won five medals, including four gold, at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London at the age of 17, and Katie Ledecky, who was only 15 when she won the 800-meter freestyle at London.

Ms. Franklin seemed extremely gracious, friendly and easily approachable when one or two other media members and I talked with her after the meet Saturday, and I even learned her roommate at the University of California is former Baylor School standout swimmer Kristen Vredeveld, who was also competing at the Knoxville meet.

And Ms. Ledecky seemed to have an obvious maturity for her age, no doubt due to the fact that she has been on the world swimming stage for several months now.

I also talked with Claire Donahue, who went from the unlikely swimming school of Lenoir City High School to win an Olympic gold medal on a relay in 2012.

And during the first night on Thursday, I talked with 31-year-old swimmer Natalie Coughlin, who has won a staggering 11 Olympic medals, including gold in the 100-meter backstroke in both 2004 and 2008.

I asked her what made her keep going when most people her age have long retired, and she replied enthusiastically that this is her job, and she loves it and that it sure beats a desk job.

Also at the meet, although I did not get a chance to interview them, were such decorated male Olympians as Cullen Jones, Matt Grevers, and Nathan Adrian. 

Of the ones I interviewed, I asked them not really about their times or where they are right now with their swimming, but about their time in Knoxville and competing at the meet at the Jones Center, which is named for Cleveland businessman Allan Jones.

To listen to their comments, click on the podcasts below.

For an interview with Missy Franklin, listen here.

For an interview with Katie Ledecky, listen here.

For an interview with Natalie Coughlin, listen here.

For an interview with Claire Donahue, listen here.

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