Longhorns Olympic Trials spotlight: Dax Hill
June 1, 2012
Elissa Schneiderman, Texas Media Relations
AUSTIN, Texas -- The 200 yard freestyle event in swimming is a lot like the 400 meter race in track and field. It's a mid-distance test of not only speed and endurance, but patience as well. To succeed in the 200, swimmers must be intelligent about their use of energy throughout the race.
Junior Texas Longhorn Dax Hill had an opportunity to demonstrate the maturity and adaptability required to succeed in mid-distance swimming at the 2012 NCAA Championships this March. In the finals heat of the 200 yard freestyle, Hill climbed the starting blocks with the intention of breaking into a sizable lead early. By distancing himself from the other competitors, Hill hoped to escape the exhausting task of being the swimmer off whom the others draft. Instead, Hill noticed that Sourthern California's Dimitri Colupaey was off to a speedy start. Hill decided to draft off Colupaey and preserve his energy for the last pool-length.
In the end, Hill's patience paid off. Hill remained in second place until the last 25 yards, when he overtook Colupaey to secure not only his first career national championship, but also a personal best time of 1:32.50.
"It was not part of the plan until after the first wall," Hill said of his decision to stay behind Colupaey for the majority of the event. "Usually I don't change my strategy during a race. That's probably the first time I've done that. It worked out."
Hill's former teammate and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Ricky Berens was struck by Hill's performance.
"Dax's 200 freestyle this year at NCAA's was an impressive swim because he didn't get scared," Berens said. "He ran the guy down and won an NCAA title. He's a guy who is very mentally strong and he's not really scared of the big guys."
By the end of the NCAA Championship weekend, Hill earned two more championship titles: the 400 freestyle relay and the 800 freestyle relay. For Hill, who had his mind set on a team title for UT, these first place finishes were the silver lining, since he Longhorns placed second as team, after California.
Hill is now focused on training for the US Olympic Trials this summer, and hopes to secure a spot on the London-bound national team.
Growing up, Hill's father often said to him, "you're going to scare yourself when you actually do what you're capable of." After this season, Hill is beginning to see the truth in his father's adage, not just for himself, but for his entire team, as well.
"Texas has a top two team every year. It's because everyone is always hitting their potential at some point during their four years here," Hill explained. "I don't think I've hit mine. I don't think (fellow Longhorn sprinter and Olympic-hopeful) Jimmy Feigen has hit his either. We'll just work at it and let (head coach) Eddie (Reese) take care of the rest."
Hill has had the opportunity to train alongside Olympic veterans like Garrett Weber-Gale and Brendan Hansen, as well as Aaron Peirsol before his retirement, and Berens and Dave Walters before they relocated.
"Those guys have taught me so much about my freestyle," Hill said. "They taught me how to see myself doing it in my mind and then apply that in the pool."
Weber-Gale, in particular, has mentored Hill as a swimmer and competitor.
"I feel like he relates to what I'm going through a lot and he kind of helps me keep my focus." Hill said of the two-time gold medalist. "He helps with my starts. Anything I need, freestyle-wise, I can ask him and he can help me out right away."
For Hill, this is the advantage of training at Texas. For generations, the Longhorns have been producing high-achieving swimmers who share their knowledge and experiences with their younger teammates.
"Garrett is just doing what the people before him were doing," Hill said. "I guess that's the cool think about Texas swimming. You have things that have been learned since the 80's and have been refined for twenty years. That's what we're getting here."
On top of the knowledge he has acquired at Texas, Hill possesses a resolve that defines his swimming.
"Dax is the kind of swimmer that swims like he's got a chip on his shoulder, said Hansen. "He carries a mentality that everyone thinks he can't be a successful swimmer, so he gets in the water and tries to prove himself every day. I think that's what makes him successful."