Catching Up With Trojan Great And 2008 Olympic Swimmer Larsen Jensen

July 25, 2008

Recent Trojan graduate Larsen Jensen, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the 1500-meter freestyle and the third fastest man ever in the race, is currently preparing to make his second Olympic appearance at the 2008 Games in Beijing, China. He and the rest of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Swim team had been training at Stanford for the past two weeks prior to departing today to Singapore for a final camp before heading to China. For the second Olympics in a row, Jensen qualified to race in the 400m (he finished fourth in 2004) and 1500m free and currently holds the U.S. records in those events as well as the 800m free (not a men's Olympic event). We caught up with Larsen between practice sessions on July 23.

How is training going?
'It's been great. It's always a good time to be training with the best swimmers in the world. We are coming together nicely as a team. It's an exciting experience.'

What's your daily schedule like?
'It's not much different than at what it was when we are at USC, preparing for the Olympic Trials. We have a 7-9 a.m. practice. We do some abdominal and dry-land training for an hour so and come back in the evening for another two hours of workouts. We have occasional meetings. It's nothing too different.'

Do the coaching variances affect you?
'Not really. I've worked with the same staff at the national level for a number of years. My coach here is John Urbanchek, who coached me at the previous Olympics. That worked well and he has pretty much been my national coach since 2002. He's a great mentor. People don't have issues with the different coaches. The greatest minds in our sport, in my opinion, are here at our disposal.'

In 2004, you were among the youngest men's swimmers on the squad. Now, though still quite young, you're considered a veteran. Do you feel old yet?
'I don't feel old. Somewhere in the middle. Dara Torres is twice my age! We've got people all over the place. Most are in their early-to-mid 20s. I feel like I'm in a good place. I've got some experience and I am swimming with confidence.'

It's a fairly veteran team, a lot of repeat swimmers on the squad from the one that competed in Athens. Is there a different feel as a team from 2004 to 2008?
'I think most of the teams I've been on after the first one have sort of felt the same. There are always new people who add new aspects to the team. It's important to have new faces and kind of a changing of the guard to make sure we're always trying to maintain the best team possible. As someone who's been around a bit, I can show some of the new guys the ropes and how we do things. It's a great honor.'

There are a lot of Trojans in camp. Anyone get sick of seeing so many Trojans?
'No, not really. We did have Coach Pete Carroll come and talk to us a couple weeks back. Much of the men's team is Texas guys, some from Stanford, so that was fun. He talked about coming together as a team. He's arguably one of best coaches out there, regardless of sport. It was great to have him come up. For us Trojans it was especially cool.'

In the 1500m freestyle, just four years ago, you and only a handful of swimmers had gone under 15 minutes. Now almost 25 men have done it, many of whom will be competing in August. What do you attribute the overall improvement in the race to?
'I think it's happening in most swimming events. Times are dropping. It's a mindset more than anything. It was only a matter of time until the rest of world caught up to those at the top. (Australian) Kieren Perkins first went 14:40 and no one could catch up. Then (Australian) Grant Hackett went in the 30s. Now everyone understands what has to be done. The mentality has changed and made everyone step things up a notch. But there is no clear cut favorite any more.'

Does it make it more fun?
'I don't think anyone likes to win a race that's easy to win. It's a very stacked field. There are a bunch of great athletes across the board. It adds to the prestige of the event. Everyone is excited to go compete and all of us plan to be the person to touch the wall first.'

In 2004, only one person was under 15 minutes in prelims. That's not likely to be the case this time. With so much talent in the race, does the strategy change?
'You will have to go well under 15 in prelims. That's the only aspect that will change. You have to step it up in your prelim swim. If you don't do that, you lose your shot in the final. You do whatever it takes to make the final, even if it's all out effort and you have to hope you recover to go fast again in finals. It's going to take a good time. It's different. Usually the top guys can cruise through prelims, saving their maximum effort for the final. No one can cruise this time.'

You were second to Grant Hackett in 2004 and have had a friendly rivalry. Talk much?
'Not really. He's swimming very fast and I've been swimming as fast as I ever have. On the same token, he's not the only guy worth thinking about. You can't control what others will do. Only yourself.'

You were fourth in the 400m free in 2004 but have dropped considerable time off of your mark in Athens. How is your confidence level in that compared to the 1500?
'I have every intent to go there and win both. I'm not going there to get another silver. I already have one. I don't want another. I want to put myself in a position to win. In doing so, I might get so fatigued I'm out of the medals. But that's the way a great performance will be achieved. I've got to put it all out on the line and swim to win.'

You will be racing, among others, a close friend from USC in Ous Mellouli (who will be representing Tunisia for the second time as an Olympian). You've done it before in the Olympics. What is it like to square off against a friend at this high level, someone you train with on a daily basis?
'It's no different than every day in workout. I get that question a lot. The toughest competition I get is from some of my best friends. I think we are all good at leaving it in the pool. Swimming is swimming. It's not life. There's more to life than swimming. We all know that. At the same time, it comes down to personal achievement. Everyone else is expendable in the pool. You don't give any slack. It makes it fun and it makes us better friends. The more we push each other, the more it makes both of us the best we can be. In that sense, it makes us much better than people realize. We go through the same experience and pain. If you aren't going through it, you can't understand it.'