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  • The Herald-Times

    Indiana University's ‘culture of excellence’ will be on display at USA Olympic Swim Trials

    By Michael Niziolek, The Herald-Times,

    2024-06-15

    BLOOMINGTON  — Former Indiana University swimmer Zach Apple got a sneak peek last week of the set up at Lucas Oil Stadium for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

    It almost made Apple want to put his trunks on.

    “I miss it a bit in these moments,” Apple said, with a pause. “I still don’t miss that 4:30 alarm going off in the morning.”

    Apple retired a year and a half ago as training for the 2024 Olympics started heating up. He felt content having won gold medals in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay and 4x100-meter medley relay at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=4UPZMT_0tsFI98B00

    “It's a lot of work to get back to the top,” Apple said, in a phone interview with The Herald-Times. “I was staring down the barrel of two more years of grueling training or hanging it up. I was pretty happy with my career and what I was able to accomplish. I felt it was time for me to hang it up."

    The 2024 U.S. Olympic trials will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium from June 15-23. The event will bring together more than 1,000 Olympic hopefuls competing for 52 open spots. The qualifiers will go on to represent Team USA in Paris, France.

    More: 'Largest swim meet ever': How an Olympic swimming pool was built inside Lucas Oil Stadium

    Indianapolis previously hosted the event in 2000, but this is the first time ever it’s being staged on a football field.

    Apple was blown away when he saw the complete set up. After removing the turf, organizers spent three weeks constructing multiple 50-meter pools.

    "The scale is unlike anything that's been put together,” Apple said. “USA Swimming does such a good job of making it a spectacle. They make the atmosphere so intense and exciting. The way everything is set up, it just looks amazing."

    ‘A culture of excellence’: Indiana swimming and diving will be well-represented at Lucas Oil

    Apple will spend much of the next two weeks in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium.

    He will be keeping a close eye on the swimmers he competed with in Tokyo like Caeleb Dressel, who won five gold medals in Tokyo. Dressel and Apple were on the 4x100 medley relay that set a world and Olympic record in 2020 while winning gold.

    Apple will also be keeping a close eye on the swimmers and divers with ties to IU.

    The Hoosiers have 40 athletes (31 swimmers and nine divers) competing at the U.S. Olympic team trials. The list includes five-time medalist Lilly King, who was teammates with Apple at Indiana in 2018-19. She entered the 2024 trials as the No. 1 seed in the 100-meter breaststroke.

    More: 5 Indiana natives made last Olympic team. 32 names to know at Indy's USA Swimming Trials.

    Josh Matheny, Anna Peplowski and Carson Tyler are among the current IU athletes competing at the event.

    Indiana swimmers and divers have won 121 medals (60 gold, 23 silver and 38 bronze) at the Olympics and accounted for 241 Olympic berths representing 26 countries.

    Apple credits that legacy of success for helping him achieve his Olympic dreams. He transferred to Indiana in 2018 after spending three years at Auburn. He was a 13-time All-American at his previous school, but the “culture of excellence” in Bloomington had an impact on him.

    As a senior, he earned seven All-American honors at the NCAA Championships and won the 400-medley relay. He also was first team All-Big Ten and had five first-place finishes at the Big Ten Championship that year.

    “The daily conversations weren’t just about being good at swimming, it was let’s break an American record, let’s set world records, let’s win gold medals,” Apple said. “It became part of the daily vernacular, it became normal even though those are such extraordinary accomplishments. That was just the expectation.”

    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3Z2dJe_0tsFI98B00

    Why U.S. Olympic Trials is the ultimate swimming battleground

    Apple competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials twice (2016 and 2020) and described those experiences as the most pressure-filled moments of his career.

    "I think swimming at trials is harder than swimming at Olympics,” Apple said. “The U.S. is so good and so deep at so many events. Once you make that team, you know you are the best of the best because we are such a stout swimming powerhouse.”

    It left him with an “unshakeable confidence” for his trip to Tokyo.

    “The Olympics aren’t easy, but the trials are such a battle that it prepares you for what's to come,” Apple said.

    He said all the trials and tribulations are worth it for a chance to reach the podium in the Olympics. Apple still has a hard time putting his feelings into words about what it meant to watch the U.S. flag get raised to the rafters while the national anthem plays.

    “It’s surreal,” Apple said. “When I look back on it, it still feels like a dream. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.”

    The gold medals make for a nifty take home prize too.

    Apple recently brought his medals into the Mooresville-based engineering firm where he works — he was taking them with him on a visit to Lucas Oil — and had fun passing them around to his coworkers.

    “The first reaction is always the same, always, Apple said, with a laugh. “Everyone is super surprised by their weight. They are a little over two pounds and people are shocked when they pick them up.”

    Michael Niziolek is the Indiana beat reporter for The Bloomington Herald-Times. You can follow him on X @michaelniziolek and read all his coverage by clicking here .

    This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Indiana University's ‘culture of excellence’ will be on display at USA Olympic Swim Trials

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