Norman man swims for Olympic contention

Jonathan Tang, left, of Norman, poses at a converted basketball arena in Omaha, Nebraska, during his attempt to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.

NORMAN — Jonathan Tang arrived in Omaha, Nebraska, to compete in Wave I of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials this week.

Today, one of the most talented swimmers to ever come out of Norman found himself among hundreds of other Olympic hopefuls.

A full-sized basketball arena had been altered to hold an Olympic-sized swimming pool that would be used to sift through the talented prospects.

Through an array of bright lights and cameras, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity may have appeared daunting to some–but Tang’s nervousness wouldn’t last.

“When you’re down there waiting to race, you walk up and the crowd gets louder, the music gets louder. It’s almost like walking into a boxing ring,” said Tang. “I saw my family in the stands. It was loud and I was really nervous, but once I got close to race time, I was locked in.”

Placing high enough in a competition at Wave I of Olympic trials would allow a swimmer to move on to Wave II next week. That competition will decide who will be on the next U.S. Olympic team.

Competing in the Olympic trials isn’t always about winning and moving on to the next stage of competition, though.

Roughly one thousand swimmers in the entire country get to go to Omaha this month, so qualifying for the trials and experiencing an environment of that scale holds immense value for developing swimmers.

Tang was ranked 41 out of 100 total swimmers in the 50-meter freestyle. He clocked a time of 23.60 in the meet — slower than he had hoped, and one that would drop his rank to 78 in that competition.

“It was just something that I was so grateful to be a part of. I’m never gonna forget this moment. Walking out there to see my family, getting to race in that amazing pool and being televised,” Tang said. “It was just an amazing experience.”

Tang could be given this opportunity again in 2024 if he chooses to pursue it. He’ll be a junior at the University of Chicago when he is able to qualify for trials again.

Nonetheless, Tang has stamped his place in Norman history by making it this far, whether he decides to compete in the 2024 trials or not. Wherever his swimming career takes him, he can always find confidence in the record books.

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