By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Clark Burckle had been in many finals at the high school, college and national levels in his life, but none was as big or important as the one before him last summer in Omaha.
He knew if he swam the 200 breaststroke at the 2012 Olympic Trials – an event he’d done hundreds, even thousands of times in practice and competition – like he was capable, he would have a great opportunity to join older sister Caroline (2008 Olympic relay bronze medalist) as an Olympian in the Burckle family.
It had been his dream to swim in the Olympics since he took his first lesson (and since watching the Atlanta Games in 1996), and as he stood on the precipice (literally and figuratively) of realizing that dream, the significance of the race started to sink in.
“I’d been in many finals, and I think it was just finally my turn,” said Burckle, who swam to a second-place finish (behind Scott Weltz) and earned a spot on the Olympic Team. “I honestly don’t remember much from the race, but just before the countdown before the final, I do remember my leg trembling on the block, the bright lights and my final lunge to the wall. There was so much anticipation, regardless of the outcome, I just wanted to see my result.”
His result catapulted Burckle onto his first Olympic team and into his first Olympic Games. He joined his U.S. teammates at training camp en route to London and had what he calls some of the “most memorable moments I’ve ever had.”
And while the results of his event weren’t what he envisioned (he finished sixth in the 200 breast), Burckle said he left the Games feeling that he still has more to give and with a strong sense of motivation and pride.
“I was pretty worn down by the time the (Olympic) final came around. I had plenty left mentally, but physically, the prelims and semis were taxing as I went best times in both,” said Burckle, who also made the 200 breast final at the 2008 Olympic Trials “That made the final interesting. They played Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO when I was in the ready room for the final, so I sort of just let the energy take me. I wish I had just taken the governor off the first 100 – I might as well as just gone all in right off the bat.
“I was just excited to be a part of the National Team at the world’s highest stage. Talk about a huge honor. That is something that I had personally been dreaming of since attending the Games in Atlanta in 1996. I just wanted my shot. I wanted to know what it felt like to represent the United States. It was everything I could have ever imagined.”
Leading up to his Olympic experience, Burckle said he relied upon the advice and guidance of his family, friends and coaches – especially Caroline. Coming from a very athletic family – his father, Chris, swam at Louisville University, and his mother, Jill, played tennis for the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Indiana University, it was almost inevitable he would be an athlete.
“Caroline has a very relaxed outlook when it comes to swimming. That grounds me,” said Burckle, who swam his first three years at the University of Florida before transferring to the University of Arizona for his senior year.
“I like to think of myself as fun and trying to go with the flow, but really I have a tendency to try and control every outcome. You obviously can’t do that at a meet like Olympic Trials. I just kept telling myself that ‘Clark Burckle’ was not going to change as a person no matter the outcome. I credit Caroline with laying that path out for me.”
With Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau – mainstays on the past several World Championship and National Teams – done competing, it might look like Burckle is a shoo-in for this summer’s World Championship team and even the 2016 Olympic Team.
But having been one of the recent up-and-comers himself, Burckle said he knows there’s a deep U.S. talent pool in the breaststroke events and he can’t assume or expect anything. He continues to refine his stroke, and says he continues to learn something new about the sport and his event every day.
“I have matured outside of the pool (over the past year), and I am finally realizing that I can set goals and have dreams away from swimming,” Burckle said. “In the pool, I have become smarter and have more of an idea of what has been working, but have barely begun to understand how to get faster. It is a process for me. I’m a slow learner.”
He said he will be competing in some Arena Grand Prix events as well as some local meets in Arizona to continue to become “race ready” for this summer’s World Trials.
Just as it has been in the past, he knows it’s going to take hard work and dedication to remain on the podium – and team airplane.
“Swimming is very competitive right now, and I would be stupid to think I am a shoo-in this summer. I will more than have my work cut out for me with up-and-comers all over the country, especially Kevin Cordes,” said Burckle, who was recently accepted in the prestigious Stanford MBA program and will begin classes this fall.
“But I have a great training group at Arizona, and I am pushed every day. I feel like I have a good shot this summer as I have continued to mature technically and mentally in regard to strategy. All in all, I just want to swim to the best of my potential.”