OMAHA, Neb. — On a joyous night for swimming in North Carolina, three swimmers with ties to the state sped their way onto the U.S. Olympic team Wednesday night.
Charlottes Ricky Berens is the Olympic veteran of the group. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist from South Mecklenburg High made the 200 freestyle relay team again. He even finished in the same spot (third place) in the 200 free just like he did four years ago to qualify, trailing only Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
Charlottes Nick Thoman and Raleighs Charlie Houchin are the Olympic first-timers. Thoman, a backstroke specialist who moved to Charlotte in 2009 to train at SwimMAC Carolina, finished second in the 100-meter backstroke to become the only one of the three North Carolinians who will get to swim an individual event.
And Raleigh native Houchin, 24, who starred at Enloe High and whose parents were standout swimmers at N.C. State, claimed a spot in the same 200-meter freestyle relay as Berens by finishing sixth.
Houchin generally considers the 400 freestyle his best event he almost made the team in that earlier in the meet. But not in this meet, he said before the final, grinning broadly. Then he came up with a big-time performance to become one of the U.S. Olympic teams surprise faces.
One note about Houchins spot: the fifth- and sixth-place finishers in the 100 and 200 freestyle events arent officially added to the Olympic team until the end of the meet, once USA Swimming officials determine there is space available because of swimmers qualifying in multiple events.
But there always is space. So for all intents and purposes, those fifth- and sixth-place finishers always are added to the squad. So Houchin will be an Olympian, its just not quite official by USA Swimming guidelines (Houchin was not immediately available for comment after his race. ).
Thoman made the most dramatic surge among the three North Carolina swimmers to make the team. He was sixth halfway through the 100 backstroke, then passed four swimmers over the final 50 meters to earn his way to London.
I dont know if youve noticed, but I cant stop smiling, Thoman said after his performance. And that was true. Thoman was edged by Matt Grevers for first place, but he said he had never felt better about a second-place finish.
Said Thomans coach, SwimMACs David Marsh: The key to Nicks swim was belief. I am thrilled for this young man.
Berens could hardly stand after his race because of exhaustion. But he kept flashing a similar smile even while hunched over on his knees five minutes after the race, trying not to throw up.
For every Olympic dream fulfilled, however, there are waves of corresponding heartbreak. SwimMAC Carolinas Davis Tarwater was edged at the wall by Houchin who went to college at Michigan and now trains in Florida for an Olympic relay spot. With the top six qualifying in the 200 free, Tarwater finished seventh by a fingertip. Officially, the margin was 0.14 seconds.
Any time you miss the Olympic team by a tenth of a second, thats pretty tough, said Tarwater, who also barely missed the Olympic squad in 2008. Obviously it stings.
But Tarwater, 28, will have another chance Thursday in the final of the 200 mens butterfly. He won his semifinal heat Wednesday over Phelps only 20 minutes after the two had swum against each other in the 200 free.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; email@example.com;Twitter.com: @scott_fowler