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More than 1,000 athletes compete at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Indianapolis


This summer's Olympics are still a month away, but athletes across the U.S. are already competing. They're fighting this week for a place on the American team that will go to Paris. NPR's Brian Mann is in Indianapolis for the Olympic swimming trials, where some big names are competing. And he's also going to tell us about some exciting new faces. Hi, Brian.


PFEIFFER: Would you start us off with a legendary American swimmer, Katie Ledecky? She's been winning gold medals for the U.S. for more than a decade, but there are some questions about whether she would be in top form for the Olympics. How does she seem to be doing?

MANN: Yeah. So Katie Ledecky already has three Olympics under her belt, and she's been out on a book tour, kind of a victory lap feeling. So it seemed reasonable to think she might be a little distracted. But, Sacha, she's dominating again. She raced in a very competitive 400-meter freestyle finals. She won by four seconds. I asked her about her staying power.

KATIE LEDECKY: I've learned to just really enjoy each day of training and take in every moment and just appreciate the fact that I've been able to have this long of a career, stay injury free, stay pretty healthy.

MANN: So, once again, Ledecky will be one of the star Americans in Paris with a strong chance to add to her seven Olympic gold medals.

PFEIFFER: She's one of the well-known names. What about the new people, the new names? Who have you seen so far?

MANN: Yeah, so the big new star emerging here is Gretchen Walsh. She's 21 years old. And three years ago, she fell just short of qualifying for the U.S. team. This year, Walsh didn't just win a place on the team. She set a new world record in the women's hundred-meter butterfly. Walsh said, to do that, she had to rebuild her confidence and build a community of coaches and family to support her.

GRETCHEN WALSH: Those are the people that I've learned that I need to lean on. It's important in those moments. And they're going to be the ones who are there every step of the way and telling you, like, Gretchen, you can do this. You are capable of more than you'll ever know.

MANN: Now Gretchen Walsh is the fastest woman ever in hundred-meter butterfly, and she's headed to Paris.

PFEIFFER: Brian, who are you keeping your eye on on the men's side?

MANN: So a swimmer who really bounced back here in Indianapolis to win a place on the team is Carson Foster. He's 21 years old. His story really speaks to how mentally and emotionally challenging this sport can be. Like Gretchen Walsh, he missed out on a spot on the U.S. Olympic team four years ago, barely missed it. And he says, for a long time, that loss shattered his confidence.

CARSON FOSTER: And I would just battle those inner negative voices, and tonight was just different. I was smiling the whole last 50.

MANN: He says he did a lot of mental work to prepare for these trials. He's looking really strong. He won the men's 400-meter medley championship and going now to his first Olympics.

PFEIFFER: I understand most of the athletes in Indianapolis are relatively young, as many Olympians often are teens, 20s, some in their early 30s. But I hear you met one swimmer in her mid-40s?

MANN: Yeah, that's right. This is remarkable. Gabrielle Rose is 46 years old, Sacha. She first competed in the Summer Olympics back in 1996 and managed to qualify for these Olympic trials. It's incredibly difficult to do. Then here, she set personal best times, beat much younger swimmers to advance to the semifinals in the hundred-meter breaststroke. She was finally eliminated but had an incredible run in Indianapolis. And she spoke to reporters after her last race.

GABRIELLE ROSE: I feel like a different person. I feel, you know, I'm a mom. I've got other things going on, different perspective on life, and just appreciating it, having more fun than ever doing this, really.

MANN: Yeah. And so, of course, Rose isn't alone, Sacha, in not making the Paris team. More than a thousand swimmers have come here to Indianapolis to compete in events that will continue on through Sunday. Fewer than 60 of those athletes will qualify for these Olympic Games in Paris.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Brian Mann in Indianapolis. He will also be part of our reporting team for the Olympics in Paris. Brian, thank you.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.