OMAHA, Neb. — Jake Mitchell returned to the pool all by himself.
He got a do-over, a chance to redeem himself.
Boy, did he ever.
Mitchell produced a much-improved performance in a time trial after all the scheduled races were done Tuesday, likely earning a trip to his first Olympics.
He had flopped in the 400m freestyle on the first night of the U.S. swimming trials, going too slow to meet the Olympic qualifying standard.
“It’s insane,” Mitchell said. “I’ve wanted to be an Olympian since I was a kid. This is definitely a dream come true.”
It was surely a different feeling that he had Sunday.
While Mitchell finished second behind Kieran Smith in the final of the 400 free — which normally would be good enough for a spot on the Olympic team — his sluggish time (3:48.17) was more than 3 seconds behind the winner and not fast enough to meet the Tokyo cut.
“Obviously, I was pretty disappointed,” Mitchell said. “All summer long, I’ve been training to go 3:44, 3:45, somewhere around there. Going 3:48 was not as good as I hoped.”
Everyone who finished behind Smith had until June 27 to produce a time that was good enough to make the Olympic standard of 3:46.78 — a unique predicament for the powerful U.S. team, which usually has no trouble meeting the cutoff in any event.
Mitchell got the first crack at it, swimming solo in the main pool in a time trial approved by world governing body FINA after many fans had already left the arena.
But a few hung around — and they were all cheering loudly for Mitchell.
“I was super nervous in the staging area. Shaking almost,” he said. “As soon as I walked out, I looked around. I made a point to look at everyone in the stands, to hear everyone cheering for me. That was an amazing feeling.”
Mitchell went out much stronger this time and held on finish in 3:45.86 — more than 2 seconds faster than his previous race.
He pounded the water and thumped his chest when he saw the time. Back in the practice pool, a huge roar went up from fellow swimmers who were still warming down after a busy night that included four finals.
“I’m really grateful to get a second chance, to get a time trial,” Mitchell said. “I just spent the last couple of days training to execute as best I could.”
He was inspired by the performance of Carmel Swim Club teammate Drew Kibler, who earlier Tuesday finished third in the 200 free final to secure a relay spot at the Olympics.
“We’re such good friends,” Mitchell said. “To see him make it, I knew I had to make it as well. I knew I could.”
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