Cal's Adrian Prepping for an NCAA Title and More Olympic Gold
By Brian Price
Heading into the Pac-10 Championships, Cal seems right where any team would want to be: ranked first in the nation with 27 out of a possible 35 first place votes.
But head coach David Durden isn't letting let his guard down.
"Each day brings new improvements and encouragement, but there's still work to be done," Durden said.
Nobody understands that better than senior captain Nathan Adrian. A native of Bremerton, Wash., he is proud to carry on a Pac-10 lineage that started with his older siblings, Justin and Donella, who swam at Washington and Arizona State, respectively.
Adrian, who set American records in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle, is a three-time NCAA champion and won an Olympic gold medal in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay for the US in the 2008 Beijing games. As a 19-year-old Olympian, Adrian was a part of history as one of Michael Phelps's teammates in his historic quest for 8-gold medals.
"[The Olympic veterans'] openness, friendliness and willingness to share techniques and offer advice on how to prepare was crucial in my preparation," Adrian said. "That's what I've tried to emulate at Cal in mentoring the underclassmen."
Adrian is clearly a leader for the Golden Bears and Durden appreciates how his star swimmer was able to successfully step into his role.
"He speaks up at the right time," Durden said. "His timing is impeccable when it comes to helping younger guys move forward."
Adrian came to Cal for his freshman year and then took the following year off to train for the '08 Olympics and returned for his sophomore year. His most vivid memories of Cal were seeing his brother compete in the Pac-10. "I travelled down to Long Beach for my brother's Pac-10 [Championship] and I remember looking at the heat sheet and seeing names like Anthony Irvin, just incredible sprinters at Cal, [then, during my recruiting trip, I saw] parking spots for noble lariats. Overall, I felt Cal had the perfect balance of athletics and academics in one institution," Adrian said.
Adrian has carried on a tremendous history of Cal sprinters, and routinely clocks sub-20 seconds in the 50-meter in practice. Durden was amazed. "I'd look down at the watch and say to myself, 'Okay that can't be right!'" Durden said. "As a coach, I haven't seen an athlete that can step up and clock 19.8 seconds [for 50-meters] at the flip of a switch and keep doing it throughout practice."
Granted, these are hand-timed practices, which are going to be a tick faster than automated timing in the Olympics, but the world record for the 50-meter short course is currently 20.30. In other words, Nathan Adrian flirts with world records every day in practice.
Durden also discussed the key to their successful coach-athlete relationship as a product of "controlled freedom."
"I've allowed him to experience swimming rather than trying to control his process," Durden said. "It's really how I work with a lot of our guys. Nathan has had some great successes, but also some failures. I've allowed him to learn and grow from both at his own rate. I want to let him be an athlete."
Adrian succeeded one goal at a time. "At first it was a matter of getting in the pool when I was five, then making the high school team, then realizing I was good enough to swim in college, and then having my pick of schools to compete at," Adrian said. "Once in college I was surrounded by so many guys who had set world records, won gold medals and who had just accumulated many accolades in the pool. The goal then was to somehow bring myself up to their level."
"He's not the kind of sprinter that's going to scream and beat his chest," said Durden. "His style is being centered, focused and driven. When you race the best in the world time and time again, you get more comfortable."
The Olympic experience was meaningful on many levels—not just in the lanes. "I was in the same Olympic village as [Roger] Federer and Dirk Nowitzki," Adrian said. "[I was 19] and going to McDonald's with LeBron James for those apple pies. The basketball team just loved Michael Phelps and everything he was doing, so I kind of got to ride his coattails. It's also such an informal setting and the perfect way to meet and get to know all of these people."
Adrian's experience also offered a fascinating glimpse into the pre-race rituals of some of America's finest swimmers. "I like to keep a relaxed vibe going on and joke around with Matt Grevers, Michael [Phelps] is very quiet and getting his thoughts together, Aaron [Peirsol] will walk in really late and get in trouble, Garrett [Weber-Gale] likes to jack himself up and scream."
His first gold medal is safely packed away in his bank vault as he begins the process of prepping for 2012, now less than a year away. Adrian may need to start clearing some more space at the bank for future hardware.
But for now, look for Adrian and the heavily favored Golden Bears to be major contenders in the Pac-10 Championship, which begins on March 2 in Long Beach, Calif.
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