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Two local swimmers will be seeking berths on U.S. Olympic team at trials – The Collinsville Press
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Two local swimmers will be seeking berths on U.S. Olympic team at trials

Canton’s Will Gallant, left, and Avon native Madison Kennedy, right, will be competing at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials that begin Sunday in Omaha, Nebraska.

Two swimmers raised here in the Farmington Valley will be swimming at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska beginning Sunday trying to earn a spot in the 2020 U.S. Olympic team that will compete in the Tokyo Olympics in Japan on July 23 through August 8.

Canton’s Will Gallant has qualified for the Olympic Trials in three events – 400 meter freestyle, 800 meter freestyle and 1,500 meter freestyle. Avon native Madison Kennedy qualified for her fourth Olympic Trials and will compete in the 50 meter freestyle.

Gallant and Kennedy will need to finish among the top two finishers in their respective races to qualify for the Olympic team.

This is the first Olympic Trials for Gallant, 19, who graduated from Canton High in 2019 and swam with the West Hartford Aquatic Team (WHAT) through high school. He spent a year at the University of Indiana before heading out West last May to California to train with Mission Viejo Nadadores under the coaching of former U.S. national team coach Mark Schubert.

“Preparation wise I couldn’t be more pleased,” Gallant said. “I have made a lot of sacrifices to focus on (the trials) this year. I am training with coach who has produced a lot of Olympic athletes. It’s something I have had on my mind for a long time.”

Gallant’s best chances to earn a spot on Team USA probably lies in the distance events – the 800 meter and 1,500 meter races (0.93 miles).

“It’s a strategic race,” Gallant said of the long races. “The best thing you can do is play to your own strengths. I can hold on well. I prefer to get out in front and hold on (to the lead). I’m not as big (as some other swimmers) and I don’t have a big finishing kick.”

Gallant is seeded 10th in the 800 meters with a time of 7:57.55 that he swam in April. But he is confident he can another seven seconds because he hasn’t tapered yet – shaving and decreasing training while increasing rest in anticipation of a big meet.

In the 1,500 meters, Gallant is the No. 8 seed with a time of 15:18.39 and is looking to drop about 18 seconds.

In both races, he will be challenging Bobby Finke, a 21-year-old student from the University of Florida, who is the top seed in both events, and Jordan Wilimovsky, who earned a spot on the U.S. team in 2016 in the 1,500 meters.

“I love the 800,” Gallant said. “I am not sure which one will be my better race (800 or 1,500). I think I have an equal chance in both of them. It will be similar to the mile. It’s just a little faster pace.

“It’s a similar race for me – go out hard and hold on as long as I can.”

The 800 meter race is set for Thursday with the 1,500 meter race on the final day of the trials on Sunday, June 19. This is the first year that the 800 meters will be in the Olympics for men since 1904 when they swam in yards – not meters.

Gallant will also be swimming in the 400 meters on Sunday and is seeded 27th with a time of 3:53.44. “For me, it’s an all-out sprint,” he said.

After the Olympics, Gallant will return to the collegiate ranks and attend North Carolina State.

Kennedy, who lives and trains in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be swimming in her fourth Olympic Trials in the 50 free.

In 2016, she had her career-best time in the event in the semifinals with a time of 24.39 seconds but she finished third in the finals with a time of 24.48, 0.15 behind Simone Manuel, and didn’t get a bid to the Olympics in Brazil. Kennedy finished fifth in the 50 free in 2012.

This year, she is seeded 12th in a field of 161 competitors with a time of 24.87 seconds. She is the oldest swimmer in the 50 free at 33 and one of the oldest women at the trials. She graduated from Avon High in 2005.

“I am very fortunate to have a body that is healthy and a mind that still wants to feel the highs and lows of swimming,” she said. “I still have the bandwidth. I love to swim and I love to compete.”

It’s been a challenging year for Kennedy to train for the Olympic Trials.

She has been on her own for four years now. She came to Charlotte in 2011 to train under David Marsh and swim for Swim Mac’s elite team. Marsh left Swim Mac in 2017 to return to California and the club gradually turned their focus away from the elite team. Kennedy is the only elite-level swimmer left from Swim Mac.

She still swims under the Swim Mac banner but coaches herself and trains on her own. She swims in a lap lane during open swim at the Swim Mac facility but the challenge is that the pool is set up in yards now instead of meters to accommodate the younger swimmers that the club is now working with.

Kennedy doesn’t complain but she is realistic. She has represented the United States at the world championships and Pan-American Games. She has been a member of the U.S. national team over the past decade.

“I am a little bummed to be in the place where I am,” she said. “I am doing the best I can. I am used to have access to that level of training and facilities and it is a stark comparison.

Last fall, she swam with the D.C. Trident in the second season of the International Swimming League (ISL), spending six weeks in the ISL bubble on the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.

“What helps me feel calm is that I have been doing this for years. I know how to pick up the slack,” she said. “I still feel great and I still feel good in the water.”

Whatever happens in Omaha, Kennedy is not retiring from swimming. She plans to enter the ISL draft for season three later this month. “I love to swim and I love to compete,” she said.

To help minimize the number of athletes in the building at one time, USA Swimming broke up the Olympic Trials into two groups as part of USA Swimming’s COVID-19 mitigation plans . The top two swimmers from each event in Wave 1 qualified to compete in Wave 2 that begins on Sunday. Wave 1 contained swimmers with slower qualifying times.

Gallant and Kennedy both qualified to compete in Wave 2.

Olympic Trials schedule
Sunday, June 13: Men’s 400 meter freestyle. Preliminaries, 11 a.m.; Finals, 7:45 p.m.
Thursday, June 17: Men’s 800 meter freestyle. Finals, 7:45 p.m.
Saturday, June 19: Women’s 50 meter freestyle. Preliminaries, 11 a.m.; Semifinals, 7:45 p.m.
Sunday, June 20: Women’s 50-meter freestyle finals; Men’s 1,500-meter freestyle finals, 7:45 p.m.

Broadcast schedule
NBC has rights to the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials and will have coverage on NBC, the NBCSN cable network and its streaming service Peacock.

June 13 Qualifying Heats* 5:30 p.m. NBCSN | STREAM LINK | Peacock
Finals 8 p.m. NBC | LIVE STREAM
June 17 Finals 8 p.m. NBCSN | STREAM LINK | Peacock
Finals* 10 p.m. NBC | STREAM LINK
June 19 Qualifying Heats* 6:30 p.m. NBCSN | STREAM LINK | Peacock
Finals 9 p.m. NBC | LIVE STREAM
June 20 Finals 8 p.m. NBC | LIVE STREAM

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 35 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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