Focused on the future

Mason swimmers’ dream of competing in the Olympics coming into focus

Photo contributed by Abby Waechter

Andrew Little | The Chronicle

Three seconds.

That is how close Carl Bloebaum is to achieving an Olympic dream.

Bloebaum, a senior and one of the most decorated swimmers in the history of Mason High School swimming, advanced to the second wave of qualifying for the United States swim team this summer.

Nearly 900 swimmers competed in Wave one of the U.S. trials, 50 advanced to the second wave. Bloebaum was one of them.

The 2020 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials were divided into two waves, Wave one for swimmers who qualified with the traditional qualifying times and Wave two for competitors who swam the fastest seed times. The top two finishers in each event from the Wave one finals would advance to the second wave. Bloebaum said that the possibility of advancing to wave two and competing for an Olympic spot motivated him to win his events.

“I didn’t have many expectations until I saw the psych sheet when I was seeded second going into [the race],” Bloebaum said. “I saw that I was [ranked] second, and [thought], ‘oh I can realistically make it back to Wave two,’ so I told myself I want to win and I want to come back to Wave two.”

Bloebaum has always been an advanced swimmer, as the Mason Manta Rays record wall proves, and is not intimidated to compete against older, more experienced swimmers. He said it was not until later in his career when he started to grasp the understanding of the fact that he could have a serious future in the sport.

“When I was thirteen [I realized that] I had a bright future ahead of me because that was a year where I really started to separate myself from others. I just kind of knew, ‘Okay, I have big things that I want to do, and I have got to work to get them,’” Bloebaum said. “For the past four years, I’ve been working towards the goal [of the Olympic Trials], and I got there.”

Bloebaum specializes in butterfly, and qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 100 and 200 meter events. Butterfly, particularly the 200, is widely considered one of the most physically demanding events in swimming. Mason Head Coach, Mark Sullivan said that Bloebaum’s skill along with his mindset allows him to go beyond the typical potential of a high school athlete.

“He has an, ‘I will not lose’ attitude,” Sullivan said. “I’ve seen him in races where all of a sudden he goes into a sixth gear and just accelerates, [there is] so much God-given talent that he possesses.”

By swimming a time of 1:58.9, just over three seconds slower than the eventual winning time at the trial finals, Bloebaum managed to not only earn a personal best, but also win the race to advance to the second wave. Bloebaum said he ran on adrenaline for the entirety of the race, but when he finally finished, he was overcome with emotion.

“After just under two minutes of a lot of very hard swimming to see my name touched first, all the emotions just came at me so quickly, especially never having experienced anything like it,” Bloebaum said. “I just let it all out, slapped the water and then I yelled a little bit. I was really excited for myself. It was just a really cool experience.”

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Olympic Trials were postponed forcing athletes to adapt to a five-year training schedule as opposed to the typical four-year cycle. As many older athletes would normally view the postponement as a hurdle, Bloebaum viewed it as extra time to refine his skills in preparation for his career that is still ascending.

“It definitely affected my mindset but almost in a positive way because I told myself I’ll have another year to get better,” Bloebaum said. “Some people are getting too old for trials, while I’m still trying to reach my peak so it was almost positive for me.”

Sullivan has coached several Olympians in his career and said that while Bloebaum is younger than all of them, he shares many of the same qualities as those athletes.

“If he keeps improving the way he has shown, he’s got a legitimate shot at making it,” Sullivan said. “[He shares] similar traits: hard working, heavily determined, tremendous dedication. He has all the intangibles. If he keeps staying healthy, who knows what could happen.”

Not only did Bloebaum’s “why” for swimming change after the Olympic trials, but he also had the opportunity to swim against elite talent and gaze into his future as a swimmer. Bloebaum said that the experience helped him realize the measures he needs to take in order to achieve the goals that he has set for himself.

“Once I swam, I saw that everyone there was there to make it to Wave two, there were thousands of other people that had the same goals as me,” Bloebaum said. “I realized I have to do other things to separate myself from the best in the country.”

Bloebaum said that swimming at the Olympic trials reshaped his view on the school team, and that he doesn’t want to take it for granted. He hopes to use his time at the trials to fuel his legacy forward for the Mason swim program.

“I want to make a name for myself, but I want to solidify my name in Mason sports and Mason swimming history,” Bloebaum said. “I want to have an impact on the Mason sports themselves, because I love swimming for my school.”