Station Camp High rising junior Riley Gaines has competed in big swimming meets before.
But next week, she’ll swim on a national stage with a chance to represent her country.
Gaines is scheduled to travel to Omaha, Neb., to compete in the United States Olympic Team Trials for a chance to qualify for this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I’m really excited,” Gaines said. “I’m kind of nervous, but really excited. Actually, the nerves haven’t really set in yet.”
The 16-year-old Gaines qualified for the Olympic Trials in March by swimming her best time – 56.31 seconds – in the 100-meter freestyle in the National Club Swimming Association Junior National Championships in Orlando, Fla. The minimum time required to qualify for the trials in the 100-meter freestyle is 56.49 seconds.
She hasn’t posted a faster time since March, but she has been close.
“I’ve been all around it, and I know I can drop a little bit more,” Gaines said.
In preparing for the Olympic Trials, Gaines is either training – or doing as little as possible.
“I’ve got to stay hydrated a lot,” Gaines said. “That’s one of the big things my coaches tell me. I’ve got to sleep a lot and get a lot of rest. I can’t be out in the sun too much, and I can’t be on my legs too much. It’s like they have me on bedrest.”
Gaines has a lot of competition, as 104 other swimmers qualified for the 100-meter freestyle. She enters the event seeded 82nd, but her time is less than 1.5 seconds from the 16th-fastest qualifying time. The top 16 swimmers from Thursday’s preliminary round – slated to begin at 10 a.m. – advance to the semifinals later that evening. From there, the fastest eight swimmers make Friday evening’s finals.
“The 100 free is such a hectic race, because it’s only down (the length of the pool) and back,” Gaines said. “It’s not like you have a lot of room for error. Everything’s got to be perfect. And it’s crazy, because everyone’s times are so close.”
So, with only 16 swimmers advancing from the preliminary round, how does Gaines trim the gap and advance into the semifinals?
“It’s all about the starts and turns and the finish to me,” Gaines said. “Everyone’s the same in the pool, I think.”
Gaines is already a two-time state champion in a pair of events on the high-school level, having won the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly in each of the past two seasons at the Tennessee Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (TISCA) Tennessee State High School Swimming and Diving Championship Meet.
Thursday’s race will be the first of what could be multiple opportunities for Gaines to swim on the biggest of stages. However, she prefers to take a more relaxed approach in her initial Olympic qualifying attempt.
“I’m thinking the next four years, when I’ll be in college, that it’ll be big-time serious,” Gaines said. “I’m just going to have fun with it.”
Gaines nearly qualified for four other events as well, missing the required time by a second or less in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter freestyle and 200-meter butterfly events.
“I missed a lot (of events) by just a little,” Gaines said. “I missed the 200 free by 0.3 (seconds), I missed the 200 fly by 0.5 and I missed the 50 free by 0.6. I think I was a second away in the 100 fly.”
Gaines is one of a handful of teenagers competing in her event.
“It shows that I work my butt off every day,” Gaines said. “It’s crazy. I have practices every morning, every afternoon, on Sundays when most people have a day off a lot of times.”
The preliminary heats can be seen live via NBC Sports online at www.NBCSports.com/Live, or on smartphones and tablets through the NBC Sports Live Extra app.
Reach Chris Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 615-575-7118. Follow him on Twitter @CB_SumnerSports.