Second in a series of area athletes hoping to qualify for the Olympics.
St. Francis de Sales alum Ryan McHugh is billing his trip to the Olympic Swim Trials at the end of the month as "one last chance to go fast."
McHugh, who recently graduated from Miami University, is traveling to Omaha on June 29 to join 1,200 other hopefuls for the at-most 52-member Olympic swim team. He will swim the 100-meter freestyle on July 2 at Qwest Center Omaha.
"For a young man of Ryan's caliber coming in, to get to the trials is a dream goal," said McHugh's coach, Miami coach Pete Lindsay.
A Sylvania native, McHugh qualified for the event by swimming the 100 free in a personal-best time of 51.32 seconds at the Toyota Grand Prix meet in Columbus on April 6. Since that time he has been training on campus in Oxford twice a day.
As a RedHawk, McHugh had the fastest team times in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle in the 2007-08 season. After finishing his career at Miami as an All-Mid-American Conference performer his last two years, McHugh thought it would be a good time to start looking into careers to use with his finance degree, possibly banking or stock trading.
But a week after the MAC championships, he found himself back in the water again.
"I decided I'd try and qualify just to use this as a meet to go out on and end my career," McHugh said. The trials are one of the fastest meets in the world because of the depth in U.S. swimming. I'm glad I get to be there."
The meet at Ohio State featured some big names, Olympic medalists Michael Phelps, Brendan Hansen and Aaron Peirsol among them. McHugh more than held his own.
He finished ninth in the 100 free and his time in the second half of the race was third only to Phelps and Caeser Cielo, the two-time defending NCAA champion in the 50 free.
"He used a different strategy on the second half of the race and it worked better for him," Lindsay said. "The competition level was very high. He was motivated."
Lindsay was particularly impressed with McHugh's feat because he is relatively new to the event at that level. Although McHugh was a sprinter at St. Francis, Lindsay recruited him to Miami with the idea he'd be a middle-distance freestyler. As McHugh gained strength and 20 pounds, Lindsay helped him change his stroke in the middle of his career to give him more power.
That was when McHugh started looking to 2008 and a chance at the trials.
"I'm very thankful for the coaching staff here and the improvements I've been able to make with them," McHugh said. "They've put a lot of time and energy coaching me and developing me as an athlete."
McHugh, who got his swimming start at the Greater Toledo Aquatic Club, said he couldn't let himself get caught up in the number of accolades his opponents have at the Grand Prix event, and that goes for the Olympic Trials as well.
"What they do is out of my control," McHugh said. "I'm concerned with myself and my training. I want to get the most out of my swim. This is it, the one last shot."
McHugh hopes to swim the 100 free in under 51 seconds, or at least break his 51.32 time.
"You want to finish up with a lifetime best," Lindsay said. "You don't worry about who's in the lane next to you. Part of it's a celebration. For a swimmer, just to be there and feel the excitement, regardless of what happens, it's great."
When McHugh and Lindsay embark on their journey to Omaha, McHugh is realistic about what to expect. No more than 52 swimmers will make the Olympic team, 26 males and 26 females. The top two swimmers in each event qualify.
The 100 free preliminaries are on the morning of July 2, and the semifinals at night. McHugh's qualifying time is ranked 82nd out of 120 swimmers entered in the event.
"I'll have to swim a lifetime best and really swim out of my mind to qualify for the night, and I swim better at night," McHugh said.
"This is most likely going to be it. After that, I've got to get a real job."
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