In a swim race in particular, it isn’t an encouraging sight to approach the wall and see your competition racing in the other direction several body lengths ahead.
That’s the position Andrew Gemmell and Connor Jaeger were in during the 1,500-meter freestyle Monday night, though. And after both qualified for London, it’s safe to say they lived to tell the tale.
Chad La Tourette, who was seeded first headed into the Trials, jumped to a commanding lead in the 30-lap race, leaving the announcer to marvel at his pace and fans to take the race’s finish for granted.
But in the second half of the race, something strange started happening. Slowly but surely, Gemmell and Jaeger crept closer, getting faster while their prey slowly fell off.
La Tourette wasn’t getting slower. He held a remarkably even pace, timing at just more than 30 seconds for every lap.
But as he held steady, Gemmell and Jaeger charged. Both pulled ahead of the marked man in the last 100, and suddenly it was a new race.
It was a duel between two competitors who simply wouldn’t go away, and a final 100 meters separated both from the finish line.
Gemmell’s final 50 meters were his fastest of the 30 laps as he swam it in 27.54 seconds. He touched less than a second before Jaeger, clocking in at 14:52.19. His adversary, rocking a yellow University of Michigan cap, finished in 14:52.51.
How, when someone swims 30 50-meter laps, could they truly leave their best for last? Gemmell’s answer was simple — adrenaline and hate.
“I didn’t really want to have much left for the end. I just wanted to let my adrenaline take me from there,” he said.
“I hate to lose. I figured that would carry me through the last 100.”
Even though he was confident of his speed, Gemmell couldn’t see anything past the swimming body of Jaeger adjacent to him, who stayed with him stroke for stroke. He didn’t know that La Tourette was initially ahead of him, or that he later fell off.
Truthfully, as he touched the wall almost 15 minutes after diving in, he didn’t know if he had finished first or fourth.
“I thought I had a pretty good race going, and I thought it was going to take beating Connor to make the team,” he said. “I just wanted to get my head down and make sure I beat him.”
Jaeger, with La Tourette beside him, knew that the odds were against him. As he gained ground, though, he had a hard time believing what he was seeing — or how he was swimming.
“It’s like … unreal. I can’t believe that the race unraveled the way that it did,” Jaeger said, still in apparent disbelief.
“Knowing that I wasn’t in the lead the whole time and then me and Andrew Gemmell were slowly catching up … the race for first really came down to the last 100.”
La Tourette finished third, almost five seconds after Jaeger. Peter Vanderkaay, who had represented the U.S. in the 1,500 meters in Beijing, came in a distant fourth.
After receiving his medal, Jaeger stopped to do an interview with reporter Summer Sanders in front of the CenturyLink Center crowd. The Michigan Wolverine Olympian, who had accidentally swam an extra 75 meters in his preliminary race the day before, was relieved that his late heroics erased the previous gaffe.
“I hope that everybody is able to forget that 1,600 that I did yesterday and remember the 1,500 that I did tonight,” he said.
Thousands laughed. Thousands applauded.
When you swim a final 100 meters the way Gemmell and Jaeger did Monday night, applause is inevitable.
Contact the writer: