Kinesiology student heads to her second Olympics
Four years ago, Brittany MacLean's life was full of firsts.
She had just graduated from high school. The native of Canada was about to start her freshman year at the University of Georgia. And she was competing in her first Olympics.
Now more established on the international swimming scene, MacLean, who is entering her fifth year in the College of Education pursuing a sport management degree, is preparing for her second Olympics. She leaves for Rio de Janeiro on July 29 feeling excited and even more confident than she did four years ago.
"It's definitely different (this time) ... I was just out of high school and everything was new to me," she said in a phone interview from Toronto, where she is visiting her parents before leaving for the games. "I made the finals, though, which was unexpected and exciting. But this time I guess I'm a bigger name in the field; I've been competing internationally, and it's a different training atmosphere. I appreciate that it takes a little bit more."
During the 2012 London Olympics MacLean, who competes for the Canadian team, qualified for the finals and placed seventh overall in the women's 400-meter freestyle. This year, MacLean will be competing in the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyles as well as the relay.
MacLean began swimming competitively when she was 7, but it wasn't her only activity. She also played soccer and hockey, for example, and continued playing multiple sports until she reached high school. At that point, she said, she began to give up other sports to focus on swimming. And that's when she started competing on a national level.
But in Canada, few universities have a top swimming program and none offer athletic scholarships. So she took a few recruiting trips to the United States and soon realized that the University of Georgia was where she wanted to be.
"At the time Georgia hadn't won (in swimming) in a while, but they were always hovering around the top five," she said, adding that she had grown up wanting to swim in the NCAA, and Georgia's program specializes in middle-distance freestyle—her event. "I took a trip and literally fell in love with it. The dorms, the food, the campus—everything seemed to be right for me. A few days later I verbally committed."
Along with being a serious medal contender this year, MacLean said she's also looking forward to this year's Olympics because she'll have the chance to watch other sports and experience it with her friends.
Typically she and her teammates have to leave a competition right after the swimming portion has ended. But in Rio the athletes get to stay for the duration of the games. Since swimming takes place the first week, she'll be able to first focus on her events, then relax and watch the other sports.
And because nearly a dozen other swimmers from the University of Georgia have qualified to compete on the United States' team, MacLean will have lots of friends there with her. MacLean is one of three bulldogs who will compete for Canada, while seven current or former UGA swimmers will represent the United States.
"I know I'll definitely get to see some other sports, and I'm really excited now, since the Georgia kids at trials did so unbelievably amazing," she said. "I'll get to experience something that not really everyone gets to do, and I get to do it along with the rest of my (UGA) teammates."