Olympic Q&A with Dominik Meichtry
July 14, 2008
BERKELEY - CalBears.com caught up with Dominik Meichtry about competing in the Olympics for his native Switzerland. The Rorschacherberg, Switzerland, product previously competed in the 2004 Athens Olympics. The now former Cal swimmer completed his Golden Bears career last March, when he swam the anchor leg of Cal's 400-yard freestyle relay that placed third, swam the third leg of the Bears' 800-freestyle relay that placed 10th, and was ninth in the 200 free, 11th in the 100 free and 12th in the 500 free. Meichtry reached the semifinals of the 200-meter free at the 2004 Olympics, and he finished 11th in the event at the 2007 World Championships. He has qualified to swim in the 100- and 200 frees and the 4x100-free relay in Beijing.
CalBears.com: What was your favorite memory of the 2004 Olympics?
Meichtry: 'Shaking hands with (tennis star) Roger Federer was quite the experience. Something that stands out from 2004 was going to the opening ceremony and, as we walked in, I don't know how many people were in the stadium, but walking in, everybody was cheering for us, and not because I am Swiss and not because you're from Iraq or from the United States, but because you are an athlete and there are certain sacrifices that you had to make in order to reach that level. I just loved being seen as an athlete after having put so much work into it. Not because I'm a swimmer, not because I'm Swiss, but because I'm an athlete.'
CalBears.com: Is there any one thing you're looking forward to in Beijing?
Meichtry: 'I'm just looking forward to competing. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I'm getting a second chance now. The funny thing is when I went to Athens, my coach told me to enjoy the moment because then I was more of a spectator than an actual threat, but in four years time, I would be there for business. Right now, I am putting all of my emphasis on reaching my goals. Every day I'm pushing to the max with that in mind. In 2004, I was the youngest on the team, and I knew I hadn't reached my full potential yet. It's kind of nice because now. I've seen it all before, it's exciting, but let's get the job done. I'm really excited; I will have friends there that I already know, Cal guys will be there. It's really cool to have that support there, to have the support here in California, and also back home in Switzerland.'
CalBears.com: What's your first memory of the Summer Olympics?
Meichtry: 'The Olympics were always kind of a distant dream. I remember watching the Olympics in 1992; I don't remember much, I was eight-years-old, I just remember the rings. I remember watching in '96. I remember the big Gary Hall, Jr., and Alexander Popov showdown. From that point on, I thought it would be really, really cool to one day do that. I had a big setback in 1999 when I broke my hip and I was told I wouldn't be able to swim competitively or put that kind of pressure on my hip. So any hopes of Olympic dreams were just shattered. But five years later I was walking into the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games.'
CalBears.com: Do you have a swimming mentor?
Meichtry: 'My coach back in South Africa when I went to school there - Peter Williams. He competed in the (50-meter freestyle) at the '92 Olympics for South Africa. He told me from the first day I started training with him that his goal was to get me to America. It was interesting to have a coach who wasn't trying to push me to my limit, but instead someone who guided me slowly to get better every year but not burning me out. Sometimes it's push-push-push for immediate success and not developing you to be your best. His goal was to get me to the United States (to swim in college) and for me still to excel here. I am very grateful to him.'
CalBears.com: How long have you been swimming?
Meichtry: 'I have always had a passion for water. When we lived in Zaire, we actually had a pool in our backyard, and for safety reasons, we thought it would be best if I learned how to swim. I didn't really like swimming that much. I didn't see the point of swimming back and forth all the time. But when we moved to L.A., there was a junior lifeguard program there at the beach. I thought that sounded really fun. There was a certain qualifying time and I trained for that a bit. I qualified and did the whole junior lifeguard thing, and I loved it.'
CalBears.com: What was the biggest sacrifice you've made to continue your swimming career?
Meichtry: 'I think leaving home and coming here. Being away from family, being around a very controlled environment with mom and dad there to support you; now all of a sudden being on your own. I knew this would help me as a person and I knew I would mature as a swimmer by coming here and having the structure that Cal offers. In general, leaving home was a big deal.'
CalBears.com: Has Cal helped you as a swimmer?
Meichtry: 'Absolutely. Training with Duje Draganja when he was here, all those other Olympic medalists, it gives you drive. Now having guys like Jernej (Godec) going for Slovenia and Martti (Aljand) going for Estonia, it's nice to be in that international environment where we can kind of push each other to the max. It's something I never had when I lived at home.'