Q&A: Olympian Jordan Wilimovsky (Weinberg ’17) discusses swimming career, unusual 2020 Olympic cycle

Man competes in freestyle swimming.

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Jordan Wilimovsky (Weinberg ‘17) competes in freestyle. Wilimovsky was the first American man to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games.

John Riker, Senior Staffer

Swimming and Diving

At his first Olympic Games in 2016, Jordan Wilimovsky (Weinberg ’17) placed in the top five of both the 1,500-meter and 10K events — and his time as a  Northwestern athlete wasn’t even complete.

A few years later, Wilimovsky was the first man to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. However, he’s experienced choppier waters this time around, marked by the Games’ postponement last March and a nationwide shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While in Evanston, Wilimovsky earned All-American honors in three of his four seasons, using an Olympic redshirt year during the 2015-16 season. The Malibu, Calif. native also holds the distinction of being the first American to race in both the open water and pool events at the Olympics.

Already a qualifier in the free water 10K, Wilimovsky is looking to add to his event list this June at the U.S. Olympic Trials. The Daily spoke with Wilimovsky about his storied career and his perspective on the unprecedented cycle for the Tokyo Olympics. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

The Daily: As a California kid, what inspired you to come to Chicago and Northwestern to continue your swimming career?

Wilimovsky: Obviously it’s an incredible school with great academics — one of the schools that was on my radar my senior year. I love the team, love the campus and just the atmosphere of the school, and I was pretty happy with my decision.

The Daily: In retrospect, what about your time at Northwestern stands out to you, and how do you feel it helped you develop your career?

Wilimovsky: Being able to compete at the NCAA level is pretty unique. It’s super fun to be on a team like that where you’re living together, training together, and you go to school together. Taking your swimming to the next step by being able to do that for four years definitely helped. You definitely have to lift your game when you get to college and put more time and effort into being competitive. 

The Daily: How did it feel to qualify for the Olympics your second time around, especially so early on in the process?

Wilimovsky: It was awesome to get that out of the way. Four or five years ago now, I was very excited to represent the U.S. and get that first qualification, but now, with the perspective of going into Trials this year having made the team already, I definitely appreciate it a lot more. I want to add some events at the Olympic Trials in June, but if I don’t, I’m already on the team, so there’s a lot of pressure off from that. 

The Daily: After the pandemic hit, how did you adapt your training and mentality over the course of that summer?

Wilimovsky: I took about a month off, which is the longest time I probably spent out of the pool in, like, 10 years. Over the summer and even through the fall, training was pretty difficult trying to find consistent space, just because everything was open one week, closed the next. We’ve been able to get more consistent training and better pool space, and right now, it’s just head down, focusing on the next two months before Trial.

The Daily: You’ve had both the normal Olympic cycle in 2016 as well as the abnormal buildups of both 2020 and 2021. What have you experienced as the challenges of building back up after last spring’s false start?

Wilimovsky: You get to reset and be like, “What are some things I can use this year to improve on and some things in my training where I felt like I was lacking in certain areas. You get to have a second shot at it, but at the same time, it’s also pretty frustrating because everything was closed. As the Olympics got closer and closer, the reset date got closer and closer, and you’re kind of like, “Hey, I need to get back in the pool, hopefully stuff opens up soon.”

The Daily: You’ve been to the Olympics before and had that Olympic experience — what do you hope to get out of this year’s Games?

Wilimovsky: Anytime you get to represent the U.S. is obviously super cool, and just being able to put up some fast times. I don’t really know what to expect this time around — it’s going to be different from any kind of World Championships or Olympic Games just because of limited spectators and social distancing. I’m trying to go in with it with an open mind and be prepared for whatever they throw at us. 

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Twitter: @john__riker

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