Looking to London: Peter Vanderkaay
Peter Vanderkaay

Michigan at the London Olympics

Peter Vanderkaay (2003-06) is a three-time Olympian and ranks among the most accomplished student-athletes in Michigan athletics history.

He has won three Olympic medals (two gold, one bronze), is a three-time world champion, three-time World University Games medalist, American record-holder (500-yard freestyle), current two-time U.S. Open record-holder, five-time NCAA champion, 10-time Big Ten champion, and Big Ten record-holder (200- and 500-yard freestyle).

He provided updates on his training leading up to the Olympic Trials and now continues to provide a glimpse into the life of an Olympian as he heads to London.

Peter is joined on the U.S. Olympic swim team by fellow Wolverines Davis Tarwater (2003-06), Charlie Houchin (2007-10), Tyler Clary (2008-10) and Connor Jaeger (2011-12), as well as former coaches Bob Bowman (2004-08), Jon Urbanchek (1982-2004) and Michael Phelps (2005-08).

Monday, July 30th

Wow, the past 48 hours have been jam packed since winning the bronze in the 400 freestyle. The outpouring of support for me and my family has been nothing short of incredible. I really can't even describe it. Thank you so much to everyone who has contacted me. I wish I had time to personally thank everyone, but I don't think it's humanly possible. It's been that awesome!

The race itself was great and I felt so much better than I did at Olympic Trials. I dropped about three seconds and that was the key in winning a medal. Huge props to my teammate Conor Dwyer, who finished fifth because he had a great swim as well. After my race, I gathered with my family and friends outside the venue.

Yesterday, we tried to round up as many swimmers and staff members with Michigan connections as possible for a Wolverine picture. We couldn't get everyone because Michigan is so well-represented in the pool. However, we did get a pretty sizable group. I talked to some of the other athletes and we'll try to get something in the village as well. I also got my family and friends passes into the village yesterday. It was fun to visit with them and give them a tour.

So far Team USA is swimming great and I look forward to the remaining events. Being here has been incredible and experiencing the Olympics is a must-do event if you are a big sports fan. There isn't anything that compares in my opinion.

Front Row: Connor Jaeger, Peter Vanderkaay, Michael Phelps, former U-M head coach Jon Urbanchek.
Back Row: U-M assistant coach Josh White, U-M volunteer assistant coach Mark Hill, Davis Tarwater, Derya Buyukuncu, former athletic trainer Keenan Robinson, former U-M head coach Bob Bowman.



Thursday, July 26

We are now settled into the village -- it's beginning to feel like a temporary home. I'm rooming with Connor Jaeger and we're suite-mates with Brendan Hansen and Ricky Berens. Like most European-style dwellings, it's much smaller than what we're used to in the U.S., but it's been really nice. It kind of feels like a flashback to my days in West Quad, especially with the recent string of warm weather and no air conditioning. Connor has warned me that he is a "sleep talker," but I haven't heard anything yet over the industrial grade fan. Hopefully if I ever hear anything he'll reveal something extremely personal -- just kidding!

Vanderkaay (left) with fellow swimmer Conor Dwyer and the USA women's gymnastics team; Olympic Village

The village itself is awesome. It's much smaller and more condensed than the villages in Athens or Beijing, which makes getting around much easier. Also, the food seems to be improved as well. Overall, being in the village is like living in a strange, money-free utopia with a bunch of really fit people. The other great thing has been receiving a mountain of free Team USA gear. I don't know how I'm going to get it all back to the U.S.

Yesterday, some teammates and I partook in some media events for one of my sponsors. We did a brief appearance on the TODAY Show and then I headed to the Team USA house for another gig. It was pretty cool to drive through London and see how electric everything is going to be for the next few weeks. I also learned how to get back to the village via the underground, which will be crucial after the swimming competition is over.

Vanderkaay in the Village; Vanderkaay (left) with fellow Olympians Wu Peng and Connor Jaeger.

We are now less than 48 hours away from the start of competition. I swam this morning and I feel ready to go. The 400 free is Saturday (July 28) and I can't wait. Team USA is focused and confident.


Wednesday, July 18

Hello, Wolverine fans.

I'm currently in a Team USA training camp in Vichy, France. It's great to be here and the city is really nice. Vichy is a small town of about only 30,000 people but it's certainly beautiful. The weather has been amazing and the training facility is incredible. The pool even has a pretty good water slide that is getting some solid use from our team. Vichy is famous for its thermal spas, and historically, many people have traveled here for that very reason, including Napoleon. Our hotel has a spa connected to it but the only way to access it is to wear the hotel robe. When I put this thing on it looks like a short cocktail dress. It's embarrassingly small. When in Vichy ...

As it turns out, the people of Vichy are super excited about us being here. There are advertisements all over the city promoting the open practice on Saturday for media and fans. We also have police escorts to and from the training facility. This consists of motorcycle cops causing massive traffic jams during rush hour for the sake of getting the Americans to practice on time. They insist on doing this.

Images from Vichy, France
The pool and water park in Vichy; Vanderkaay (right) with fellow USA Olympians Elisabeth Beisel and Conor Dwyer

Note: I have a Michigan degree in biology and have never taken one French lesson in my whole life. Last night we had dinner out on the town instead of at the hotel. Because I'm a total foodie, I asked the woman at the hotel front desk for restaurant recommendations. Something probably was lost in translation because I think she thought I was asking her out to dinner. She proceeded to recommend the nicest restaurant in town. Fellow Wolverines Davis Tarwater, Tyler Clary, Connor Jaeger and I dined in style, eating beef filet, foie gras and escargot. We were even asked to sign the restaurant guest book, reserved for actual famous people.

Training is going well and I'm feeling really good in the water. The team is looking stronger every day and I'm confident we are going to have a great showing in London. We depart Vichy on the 23rd so I'll be sure to check in again from the Olympic village!



Sunday, July 8

Olympic Trials was a fantastic experience for most of the athletes and fans. Never before has swimming seen a show quite like it. There was much more fanfare and excitement in the building than in 2008. It was an incredible event for the sport of swimming.

I swam the first day and won the 400 free, punching my ticket to the London Games. I felt so relieved to have made it, even though I was hoping to go much faster time-wise. It's a good thing I did because the rest of my races I failed to qualify. I was ninth in the 200 free, just missing a shot in the finals, and my bid in the 1,500 came up short with a fourth-place finish. Those were disappointing performances because I expected more out of myself. However, only about two percent of the competitors go on to make the team, so I really can't complain. Even worse is the heartbreak felt for those who find themselves on the fringe, the third places (and seventh places in relay events), terrorizing their thoughts for months and sometimes longer with "what-ifs." Thankfully, I capitalized on one of my opportunities. The Trials is a mix of celebration and tragedy, and sometimes the tragedy can be overwhelming.

It was great to see a lot of swimmers with Michigan connections, past and present, also punch their tickets to London, including Tyler Clary, Charlie Houchin, Michael Phelps, and my good friend and classmate Davis Tarwater. Also, if anyone was going to beat me for a spot in the 1,500, I'm glad it was a Michigan man. Connor Jaeger is a great ambassador for the Wolverines and he'll certainly represent the current team well, for Michigan and Team USA.

After the Trials were over I was able to go home for a few days and decompress as well as resume training for London. I had to un-pack and then re-pack because I'm now currently in Knoxville, Tenn., for the domestic Olympic training camp. We leave for Europe on the 14th for another training camp in northern France before arriving in London.

Today was awesome because we got a bunch of free gear. If you like free stuff, I highly suggest making the Olympic team -- everything from shoes to sunglasses, with much more stuff coming when we arrive overseas. The training camp has been fun so far and I'm already getting excited about competing again.


Tuesday, June 12

If you are a swimmer, the word "taper" is the sweetest, most lovable word in the world. It signifies that the hard work is over, along with most of the early morning practices. It's one of the nuances of swimming that makes everything worth it. Months and months of grueling training now comes to fruition in a period of a couple weeks.

I have been tapering for a few days now and each day I've felt better than the previous day. Yesterday we did a set of 8x100s fast on 2:00 (which is nothing compared to the amount we usually do), and I held faster times than I have all season. That's the beauty of taper. The only thing that was really hard about it was the pool temperature. We did the set outdoors and the water temperature was probably around 85 degrees, which is much warmer than usual because it's been so hot lately. The air outside was in the mid-90s and extremely humid. I felt like I needed to be sprayed with a fire extinguisher after number eight! After practice, the team went over to Coach Troy's house for a BBQ, so that was better.

The only downside to taper is trying to fill the extra time normally consumed by training. I've been reading books [editor's note: a sampling includes a biography on Lincoln and a story about a Comanche Indian] and watching movies like it's my job. Anything that isn't physically strenuous is ideal. Last week a few teammates and I went fishing with former Michigan diver and current Florida diving head coach Donnie Crane. We caught some pretty good size ocean trout. It was awesome to be out on the water, but standing on a boat for five-plus hours in the heat can wear you out.

The hype is really building for Trials now. It's hard to escape the media coverage for London and I can tell that people's interest is beginning to peak. I've already received a lot of texts and phone calls from friends and former teammates wishing me well in the coming days. We leave for Omaha on the 22nd so I'll be sure to check in when I arrive.



Tuesday, May 8

With only about six weeks left until the Olympic Trials, I'm on my last couple of weeks of intense training. Some of the physically demanding dry-land conditioning and weight training has already begun to let up, which has me feeling a little bit better. As a swimmer, the resting phase known as taper is the most desirable portion of the season. It's where we emerge from the depths of hard training and begin to feel strong and fresh. The light at the end of the tunnel is near!

Last week my brother Dane came down to Gainesville to visit and continue his training for a few days. It's always good to have a change of scenery, even if it's only for a short time. For me, it was fun to have him around and catch up with things that are happening in Michigan. It ended when we both flew back to Michigan on Saturday. One of my teammates in my class got married and I was in town for almost 24 hours before flying home Sunday. It's always nice to be back, and even though I didn't really get to visit with anyone, I was able to see old teammates and friends at the wedding, which was a ton of fun. Ann Arbor has hardly changed and it still has a magical feel to me.

I am done traveling until Trials, except for the Charlotte Grand Prix this weekend. On Thursday I'll leave for this competition that starts on Friday and ends Sunday. Most of the Michigan swimmers will also be in attendance, some of them coming from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Since this is one of the last major domestic meets leading up to Trials, it will be interesting to see how people swim. Everyone is undoubtedly in different phases of training, knowing that it's impossible to make the Olympic Team this weekend. However, it is a good chance to race and gain some experience. Sometimes I feel like the last few competitions are kind of like a poker game; not everyone likes to show their hand. Since I'm definitely still in hard training, I think my hand will be on the table!


Tuesday, April 17

Wow, these past few years have gone by fast. It seems like just yesterday I was amongst an elite training group in Ann Arbor preparing for the 2008 Olympic Swimming Trials. A lot has happened since then and a whole new quadrennial cycle is nearly complete. With about 10 weeks to go until Trials, I am excited about the opportunity to keep Michigan fans abreast of my journey to the Trials, and hopefully, if things go well, through the London Olympic Games.

If the past four years of training can be compared to baking a cake, I am currently in the frosting stage, which is sweet (no pun intended). So much of the groundwork has already been laid, and for most swimmers now is the time to polish up the little things. In the realm of most Olympic sports like swimming, this is the showcase year. As a swimmer, the stakes don't get any higher! My goal with these blog entries is to provide some insight during this time of preparation for the looming competitions.

Thanks to everyone in the University of Michigan community who has supported me, as well as all of the other Wolverines with Olympic dreams. Please check back soon for updates, and as always, GO BLUE!

-Peter Vanderkaay