June 25, 2016

The other Toad to Omaha

Former swimmer Ford Story ’16 makes his bid to reach the Rio Games at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Ford Story '16 Won the Big 12 Conference title in the 100-yard breaststroke. Tomorrow, he swims against the country's best in the 100-meter breast at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha. (Photo courtesy TCU Athletics)

June 25, 2016

The other Toad to Omaha

Former swimmer Ford Story ’16 makes his bid to reach the Rio Games at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

The TCU Baseball team is not the only Horned Frog champion with big dreams in Omaha this weekend.

Recently graduated swimmer Ford Story ’16 also is representing the purple and white in Nebraska, as he takes to the pool at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday morning. Ford will face 150 competitors in the 100-meter breaststroke. Only two make the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“It’s going to be the studs of the studs of the sport, a really amazing atmosphere,” said Story, a native of the Houston area. “Just to be in the pool with other Americans who are the best in the nation and want to represent their country is an honor. A few world records may fall.”

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, household names in the sport, are among them, although neither will compete in Ford’s event.

But the May graduate has his own credentials. In February, he won the 100-yard breaststroke at the Big 12 Conference Championship, becoming only the second Horned Frog to be an individual league titlist since TCU joined in 2012-13. He just missed making the NCAA Championship meet.

“It was a David versus Goliath situation, and David won that day,” quipped TCU coach Richard Sybesma, who has been with the Frogs since 1978. “In fact, David dominated. Ford was 77-hundredths faster than second place. That’s not close.”

Yet, Ford is in Omaha this weekend because of another race – against time. In December, he earned the chance to compete at the Trials with a qualifying mark of 1:03.46, which he achieved at a 50-meter, long-course pool in Lewisville. The TCU Recreation Center Pool, where the Horned Frogs train and host meets, is a 25-yard, short course facility.

The qualifying time was a surprising triumph, a mere two-tenths of a second under the cut time. It came after Ford rededicated himself to working with Sybesma all last summer after a “disappointing end” to his junior season in which Ford finished fourth at the Big 12 meet and was more than a half-second slower than his sophomore breakout season, when he finished second in a photo finish.

Stung by the setback, Ford focused on long-course training at Forest Park and Wilkerson-Greines pools, knowing that improving at the longer distance with its fewer turns and longer, more frequent strokes would help with the short-course regimen that totals 6,000 yards per week.

“I’d only done short course in high school and TCU,” said Ford, who set the Texas prep record in the 100 breast as a senior and was a high school All-American in his signature event and the 200 medley. “I never swam for a club team, so I’d never had experience with long-course. It was a bit overwhelming at first.”

By the end of the summer, he’d increased his strength and was comfortable with the increased distance. Once the Big 12 season was over, he went back to the long-course regimen exclusively to get ready for Omaha.

“I know what I have to focus on: staying relaxed and maintaining stamina, really concentrating on making the last 20 meters my best.”

Ford’s time ranks him 118th entering the event, but he and Sybesma have their sights set high.

The coach is eager to see how the training helps his pupil.

“He’s worked hard to shave seconds off his time,” Sybesma said. “It’s a tremendous honor just to be here. Because American swimming is so dominant, in many ways, the U.S. Trials are faster than the Olympics. Ford’s got a place here because he worked hard. I can’t wait to get to race day.”

Meanwhile, the swimmer himself is more relaxed, saying he wants to go into the meet with close to zero expectations and a completely open mind. On Friday night, he watched one of his roommates Mitchell Traver pitch for the Frogs against Coastal Carolina.

“I’ve never been in anything of this magnitude. I’m just going to live in the moment and have fun,” Story said this week before traveling to Nebraska.

But he also admits to having two goals for Sunday. “Athletically, I want to finish in the top 16 and get to the semifinals. I know that probably means a ‘one-double-o’ – a minute flat. Emotionally, I just want to take everything in and enjoy every moment.”

Representing TCU, especially at the same time the baseball team is advancing through the College World Series, makes this weekend even more special, Ford said.

“I don’t stress very much. I’m going to take this like any other day. But it’s one I won’t forget for a long time.”