Feb. 10, 2005
By Marvin Olberding, USOC
After a third-place finish in the 2004 Olympic Trials, Nick Brunelli (Mansfield, Mass.) wondered whether or not he wanted to invest four more years in his dreams of swimming at the Olympic Games. But now, after an impressive second half of 2004 and a strong training regimen, he is more driven than ever to realize those hopes.
At the Trials in Long Beach, Calif. last July, Brunelli placed third in the 50m freestyle, making him an alternate for the U.S. Olympic squad. The 23-year-old Arizona State University student said he was disappointed with his finish and missing out on a chance to go to Athens, but at the same time it motivated him to see if he could perform better.
"The Olympic Trials got me fired up," Brunelli said.
Brunelli's first chance to test himself came at the World Short Course Championships in Indianapolis, Ind. in October. In the 50m freestyle, he posted a familiar finish, third, but paired it with a gold medal in the 400m freestyle relay.
From there, Brunelli began to prepare for a late-November trip to Melbourne, Australia for a World Cup event against some more of the sport's best. When he arrived in Australia, he was invited to compete in a race in Sydney before the World Cup event, and the sprinter couldn't turn it down, although he had his doubts at first.
"Going into that I really didn't know what I was getting myself into," Brunelli said.
The event was the Qantas Skins, an annual contest in which sprinters face off in a "knockout" format where a group of five competitors race, with the slowest swimmer being eliminated. After a two-minute break, the remaining four compete, with the slowest athlete being eliminated, and so on until there is a winner.
For Brunelli, a "distance sprinter" as he considers himself, the format was tailor-made, and it showed when he defeated fellow American and two-time Olympian Jason Lezak for the 50m freestyle title.
"I've grown up doing the long distance stuff, then slowly got into more sprinting stuff," Brunelli said. "I'm more of a 200 guy that likes to sprint."
The win gave Brunelli confidence and he proceeded to have two excellent showings over the following two weekends. In the World Cup event at Melbourne, he was second in both the 200m freestyle and the 100m individual medley and finished third in the 50m freestlyle. For an encore, Brunelli went to San Antonio, Texas for the U.S. Open and won gold in all three freestyle sprint events: the 50m, the 100m and the 200m.
Since then, in addition to working on the completion of his degree in recreation-tourism at ASU, Brunelli has been training. And training. And training.
"I've stepped up to a totally different level just this year," Brunelli said.
Even though he's put in the effort, Brunelli's recent success has caught him somewhat off-guard.
"It's surprising that I'm doing this well right now," Brunelli said.
Even with classes, Brunelli said he's still training every day (twice a day sometimes), but his practices are getting a little bit lonely as of late. His class schedule doesn't allow him to practice with the ASU swim team and the man who has been his partner, fellow ASU swimmer Gavin Meadows, recently retired.
The lack of company isn't going to be too big of a distraction, though.
"You don't really need anybody around you," Brunelli said. "As long as you're motivated, it all works out."
One motivating factor could be swimming in front of his home country in a major event, and close to his hometown, when the FINA World Cup comes to East Meadow, N.Y. Feb. 11-12.
After that, Brunelli's first goal is to make the World Championship team and race individually, though he's always got his sights set on something much bigger.
"My main goal is to make the Olympics in 2008," Brunelli said.