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Starting Next Week, A Dozen Charlotte-Area Swimmers Will Compete For A Spot In The Tokyo Olympics

Courtesy Mat Josa
Matt Josa, of Fort Mill, South Carolina, is competing in four events at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, June 4-20.

During the next three weeks in Omaha, Nebraska, about a dozen world-class Charlotte swimmers get their shot to compete in the Tokyo Olympic Games.

For almost all the 1,000 athletes competing in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, this is the most competitive event of their lives — and the conclusion of more than a year of training challenges and anxiety caused by COVID-19. The meet is scheduled for two “waves,” or phases, that take place June 4-20.

Courtesy Nic Eriksson
Nic Eriksson

This is Nic Eriksson’s third attempt at making the Olympic team. His event in Omaha is the 100-meter breaststroke. Eriksson, 27, originally from Indianapolis, now lives in Charlotte, where he is an assistant swimming coach for Queens University. He graduated from Queens in 2015.

“It is the hardest meet in the world. Harder than the Olympics, even,” Eriksson said recently. “At the Olympics, you medal at third. At the trials, you need to get into the top two, and the depth of talent and level of competition in the U.S. are extremely tough.”

The trials decide the Olympic roster of about 40-50 swimmers. The two fastest male and two fastest female swimmers in 13 individual events make the team, while the relay teams take the six fastest.

“The odds of making the team in your first Olympic trials are much less than 10% , and for many of the North Carolina swimmers, it’s their first time qualifying. They don’t have the experience of how big this event is,” Eriksson said. “If you’re in the top 40 in your event, there’s only been one person ever to qualify for the team from rank 40. There’s not that many from North Carolina in the top 40 in their event.”

Among key Carolinas swimmers to watch are Claire Curzan, 16, of Raleigh; Matt Josa, 25, of Fort Mill, South Carolina; and Michael Chadwick, 25, of Charlotte.

Curzan is a sprinter, competing in freestyle, butterfly, backstroke, and the freestyle relay. In March, she swam the 100 butterfly in 49.51 seconds. In the history of the event, only four women in the world have competed faster.

Chadwick will compete in the 50 and 100 freestyle.

"I’m just grateful to be racing again, honestly. ... When you finally get a competition again you’re kind of licking your chops because you’re just ready to go."
Matt Josa, swimmer from Fort Mill, South Carolina, on training after COVID-19 shutdowns

Josa will compete in four events — the 100-meter backstroke, 100 butterfly, 100 freestyle, and 50 freestyle. Josa finished sixth in the 100 butterfly at the 2016 national team trials. He swam for Queens during his first two years of college, then at the University of California at Berkeley before graduating in 2019.

Like swimmers worldwide during COVID-19, Josa struggled to find access to competitive pools. He trained at Queens for the upcoming Olympic trials. The pandemic also cut down on the number of meets and the field of swimmers allowed to compete in meets. Some Charlotte-based swimmers flew to events in Illinois and Florida to qualify for the trials.

“There were definitely a lot of challenges, and the majority of it was not having access to a facility, and that being a consistent facility,” Josa said. “I’m just grateful to be racing again, honestly. I did not realize how much I love racing. But the training aspect becomes so mind-numbing after a year of no competition. When you finally get a competition again you’re kind of licking your chops because you’re just ready to go.”

 Danielle Melilli
Courtesy Danielle Melilli
Danielle Melilli, who swims for Queens University of Charlotte, is competing in the 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, June 4-20.

Another Queens University swimmer, Danielle Melilli, qualified for the Olympic team trials on May 23, at a meet in Illinois. She is competing in the 50 freestyle during the first wave in Omaha. With a finish in the top two, she could move into the second wave, which is more competitive.

“I mainly expect to gain a lot of experience from the meet,” she said. “It will be the biggest meet I’ve attended in my swimming career and I will focus on enjoying the moment and just having fun.”

Other Charlotte-area swimmers competing at the Olympic team trials: Lindsay Flynn of Matthews, Kiley Wilhelm of Charlotte, Kaylee Hamblin of Charlotte, Teresa Ivan of Charlotte, Skyler Cook-Weeks of Queens University, Madison Kennedy of Charlotte, and Katie Rauch of Charlotte.

Follow the U.S. Olympic team trials in Omaha with online live-streaming links on NBC Sports.

Grace Wesoly is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news.