In the final weeks before they head off to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, members of the United States Olympic swim team are in San Antonio for their first training camp as Team USA. The Olympic trials took place earlier this month in Omaha, Nebraska, and this training camp is the first time the 47 swimmers on the team will swim together and prepare for the world’s biggest stage.
On Saturday, more than 4,000 fans packed San Antonio’s Northside Swim Center for the first and only session open to the public. The facility consists of two outdoor pools as well as an indoor natatorium. Fans were allowed to walk around to all three pools to see the swimmers get in their sets, drills, and even a few full speed-races that included five-time Olympian Michael Phelps going up against four-time Olympian Ryan Lochte.
Josh Davis, the two-time Olympian and three-time gold medalist from San Antonio, provided entertainment for the fans by interviewing swimmers and coaches poolside for the video board. To kick things off, Davis spoke to Jimmy Feigen, who is also from San Antonio and qualified for his second Olympics. Feigen riled up his hometown crowd that filled the stands on a scorching South Texas afternoon.
“I’m shocked to see this kind of turnout,” said Feigen. “When we were driving up there were cars lined up for like a mile outside, so that’s pretty cool. I’m used to seeing this kind of turnout for high school football. Training the last few days, the stands were empty, so to walk in today and see it packed with people standing all around is somewhat jarring.”
Outside the stadium, there was a street fair for people who weren’t able to get a pass to enter the training session. Even those who did have a pass could go in and out to get water and snacks. At the indoor natatorium, selected fans got to meet the swimmers and receive autographs.
“Just to sit down and sign autographs for people who think you’re an inspiration to them is really humbling,” said first-time Olympian Simone Manuel. “I’m very grateful, and I’m just super excited to represent my country.”
Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, was the last swimmer to leave the facility, as fans lined up to meet him even after the event ended. Phelps stayed to take pictures and talk to every one of them. Throughout the week, Phelps has also posted videos on Facebook Live with his teammates answering questions for fans from the pool or on the team bus.
“It’s cool for me to be able to show everyone who I am, and that I’m just a normal human being,” said Phelps. “It’s cool to interact with fans not only in this country, but all over the world, and just kind of give them an insight into what we do.”
For the fans, the open training session allowed them to get an up-close look at the Olympic swimmers before they leave for Brazil. In the swimmers’ minds, the training is a great time to bond as Team USA and prepare themselves for the task ahead.
“It is the greatest honor there is,” said Missy Franklin on representing the United States. “Especially with everything that’s going on in our world right now, I think this is the perfect time for an Olympics with the way it brings everyone together.”
From San Antonio, the swimmers will go to Atlanta for their final training camp before finally arriving at the main event. They hope their time together before the Olympics will help the team perform at the highest level on the biggest stage in Rio de Janeiro.
Photographs by (from top): Ronald Martinez/Getty Images; Brian Yancelson