Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky and San Antonio’s own Jimmy Feigen joined their 41 teammates, many of them first-time Olympians, for friendly races and autograph signings with fans.
Feigan, 26, is preparing for his second Olympics after winning a silver medal in the team 4×100-meter freestyle relay at the 2012 games. He will be swimming in the same event in Rio de Janeiro.
Feigen attended Huebner Elementary School, Bush Middle School and Churchill High School before choosing the University of Texas at Austin’s stellar swimming program, Longhorn Aquatics, for college.
Feigen calls himself “a true 210 kid” and said that being in San Antonio for the training camp is a great opportunity to return home. His family lives just three miles from the Northside Swim Center where he swam one race his senior year of high school.
“It’s truly great to be home. It’s such a pleasure to be an ambassador that connects the Olympic team with San Antonio,” Feigen said. “When the team gets lost they turn to me, which is a bad idea, but I’m here to help. I love it. I’m home here.”
The team met with the Spurs’ Coach Gregg Popovich and Tony Parker Friday, and the swimmers all said that the experience was one they would never forget. Despite the differences between the sports, they said, Coach Pop and Parker had great advice for the swimmers.
“Pop is awesome. He’s just so cool,” Phelps, 31, said. “Pop’s a straight-shooter. That’s what I like. There’s no B.S. He just kind of gives it to you how it is. I think that’s something that’s really special, and I think it talks a lot about how good (the Spurs) are and how passionate they are. There’s a reason why they’re always up there.”
Parker is participating in his second Olympic games where he will play for the French national basketball team.
“Tony and I talked about the Olympic experience and how staying in the village is really how you get the true experience and he said, ‘You don’t remember your first championship or Olympics, but the more you do, the harder it gets, and the more you appreciate it,’” Phelps said. “I think that was really cool to listen to. (The Spurs) have won five (championships) and this is my fifth (Olympics).”
Feigen said that meeting Coach Pop and Parker was another exciting aspect of training in his hometown.
“I actually met Parker in the village in London in 2012 and we said, ‘You’re from San Antonio!” – It was a cool little connection being in London and two people from San Antonio are there,” he said.
Hearing Popovich talk about his coaching philosophy was a humbling experience, Feigen added.
“Pop has this one thing about ‘appropriate fear’ and that’s like having fear about competing and doing your best, and it was really incredible connecting that (to us) because that happens in basketball, it happens in swimming, it happens in every sport,” he said.
Missy Franklin was just 17 during her first Olympics. She took home five medals, four of which are gold.
Franklin will swim in two events in Rio, the 200-meter Freestyle and 200-meter backstroke. She said that the team, despite having many rookies, is quickly growing closer.
“I think we all feel great about how (training is) going so far. I’m so impressed at how quickly this team has come together, especially with so many new and fresh faces,” Franklin said. “This city, San Antonio, has been awesome in offering all of these fun activities for us to do, so I think we’ll get to explore a little more this weekend and really enjoy where we are.”
The U.S. swimming team currently boasts 14 Olympic medalists, nine of which have won gold in past games.
Katie Ledecky, who first went to the Olympics in 2012, won gold at the age of 15 and nearly broke the world record for the 800-meter freestyle. Even at just 19, she is considered a veteran.
“I think the team’s stronger than ever and I think that’s because of the mix of rookies and veterans and people with a lot of Olympic experience and some swimmers who are really coming off of a lot of momentum from Olympic trials,” she said. “I think we’ll be able to bring a number of Olympic medals home and do better than we ever have.”
Jorge Guerra, a former UT-Austin Men’s Swimming manager who worked with three of the Longhorn swimmers headed to Rio, said that the national team is poised to continue its winning legacy.
“What’s becoming more noticeable is that swimmers are getting faster,” Guerra said in a phone interview Thursday. “Records have been broken, and more records may be broken in Rio, especially now that (the swimmers) can focus on specific events and they will be a little more rested. So expect fast racing – the swimmers are young.”
Lochte complemented his teammates for their work so far at the training camp and spoke of the fast times fans can expect to see in Rio.
“You see a lot of fast swimming almost every practice, so it’s pretty amazing to see these guys and how they train on a daily basis,” Lochte said. “I’m actually getting really excited for the next couple of weeks.”
Ledecky said that as distance swimming becomes more popular due to the success she and her teammate, Lia Neal, have seen nationally and internationally, she hopes a new generation of swimmers are interested in trying out distance swimming.
“Hopefully we can inspire some younger swimmers to tag along to races and give it a shot,” Ledecky said. “But I hope that young swimmers are inspired or encouraged by all of us on the team.”
Nicole Obiedo, a San Antonio resident, brought her 10-year-old daughter, Melissa, to see the training camp and to get autographs from her favorite Olympians.
“This is a great experience and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Obiedo said. “To see how much work and dedication (the athletes) put into (training), I think it’s very important for a 10-year-old.”
Melissa is a competitive swimmer with Alamo Area Aquatic Association (AAAA) and hopes to stand on an Olympic podium one day.
“This is my first time (at a training camp) and it’s really fun,” Melissa said. “My favorite Olympians are Missy Franklin, Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Katie Ledecky.”
Phelps and Lochte gave the boisterous fans “a show” with multiple breaststroke and freestyle runs. Phelps said that one of the races was “one of the best he’s had in his career.”
The two swimmers will race against each other again for 200-meter Individual Medley in Rio, their fourth Olympic match-up in that event.
The San Antonio training camp will end July 21. The team will then head to Atlanta for further training. The last stop before Rio was originally slated to take place in Puerto Rico, but the threat of the Zika virus prompted a switch to Atlanta.
Multiple team members said that they have taken the necessary steps to ensure their safety while abroad, such as spraying their clothing with insect repellant, and are not concerned about contracting the virus.
Top image: Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps starts off another set of laps. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.