By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
More than a month after the last hand touched the wall at Olympic Trials, Megan Romano is still angry.
She’s angry that she didn’t swim to her potential in Omaha – missing making the team in all four of her events, a couple in which she felt she was a true contender.
After taking some time to reassess and correct what she calls a “mistaper” prior to Trials, Romano decided she was going to throw herself back into competition – and take out her frustration upon her competitors at the U.S. Open this week in Indianapolis.
“I just wasn’t myself at Trials,” Romano said. “I felt weak and slow, and it kept me from swimming as fast as I know I can. It was really frustrating, and I left the meet very angry – mostly at myself.”
Despite her sluggish physical condition and subsequent performance, Romano did come within a few seconds of making her first Olympic team with a seventh-place finish in the finals of the 200 freestyle. The top six made the relay.
It was that swim and result that left her the most disappointed – especially since her time in the semifinal would have made the team.
At the same time, it also motivated her to work even harder and prove she belonged among the swimmers who made the team. She’s been so motivated this week in Indy that she began the week by swimming a commanding 53.92 to win the 100 freestyle – a time that would have won the event in Omaha. She also won the 200 backstroke – with more events to come.
“I’ve been irritated with how I did at Trials since it ended, but I always knew I was capable of more and I’ve shown that so far this week,” said Romano, who will be a senior for the Georgia Bulldogs this fall. “I feel really good, really strong and fast, and I just wish I would have felt this way at Trials. If I had, I might be coming back from London instead of swimming in Indianapolis.”
Romano’s swimming journey began as a 6-year-old whose parents signed her up for swimming lessons mostly for safety reasons. Living in St. Petersburg, Florida, and growing up near the water, Romano said it was a priority to them that she knew how to swim.
Over time, she blossomed into one of the top swimmers in her age group, setting a national age group record for 13-14 year olds in the 100 freestyle. After a stellar high school career – where she was named the MVP of her high school team all four years – Romano picked Georgia over several other schools.
She made an immediate impact for the Bulldogs by being named first-team All-Southeastern Conference and All-Freshman SEC. At NCAAs, she swam on all of Georgia’s relays (earning All-America honors in all of them) – including the NCAA Champion 800 freestyle relay – as well as the 100 backstroke, 100 freestyle and 200 freestyle.
Since her freshman year, she’s continued that early dominance, culminating in her first individual NCAA title in the 200 freestyle – setting an NCAA record in the process – at the 2012 NCAA Championships. She also finished second in the 100 free and 100 back as a junior.
This success – along with a strong performance at a meet in Texas a couple of weeks before Trials – made what transpired in Omaha that much more disheartening for Romano.
“I came to Omaha a few days before Trials and felt something wasn’t quite right but wanted to push through and see what I could do,” Romano said. “Finishing seventh and just missing making the Olympic team was really hard for me – it still is. But I know what I can do and I’m eager to continue proving what happened in Omaha isn’t what I’m truly capable of.”
Friday (today) is Romano’s toughest day in Indianapolis as she swam a double – the 100 backstroke followed by the 200 freestyle. In the morning prelims, she qualified for tonight’s finals in both events – sixth in the 200 free and first in the 100 back – showing her determination and versatility remain as strong as ever.
“Doing a double like the 200 free and 100 back are tough, but it’s something I’ve done at past meets (including Trials) so it’s nothing new for me,” Romano said. “The key is getting right into the warm-down pool after the first event and working out that lactic acid to be ready for the next event. There isn’t much time in between them.”
With her senior year at Georgia – and final swimming season – approaching, Romano admits her focus is all about her team and not necessarily on her own individual success. In her three seasons in Athens, she and her teammates have finished second to Cal-Berkeley the past two years, and she’d very much like to end that drought in her final year of competition.
As far as continuing in four years toward redemption and a spot on the 2016 Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Romano isn’t ready to commit to that just yet.
“I love racing – it’s what I love most about swimming – and I would love to help my team win a national championship; it’s my top priority,” said Romano, who said she has already agreed to compete for the United States next summer at World University Games in Kazan, Russia. At the 2011 Games in Shenzhen, China, she won bronze in the 400 free and anchored the gold-medal-winning 800 freestyle and silver-medal-winning 400 freestyle relays.
“It would mean so much more as a team and would top off my whole career. Beyond that, I don’t know what I want to do – continue training and competing or doing something else. Right now, I’m just preparing for what’s coming this next year, and I’ll decide after WUGs next summer.”