The last time the best swimmers on the planet got together on the same pool deck was for last year’s Summer Olympics in London, and Cal sophomore Elizabeth Pelton wasn’t there.
Pelton will get a chance to measure up against the best in the world this time at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, and a lot has happened since the last big international gathering.
Most notably, Pelton used the motivation from not qualifying for the Olympics to dominate in her first college season. She earned seven All-America honors and was named the NCAA Swimmer of the Year.
“It kind of planted this motivation that has just been really undying and I can’t seem to shake it right now,” Pelton said. “I definitely have something to prove, but it’s also seeing how well I can do from here. This year went pretty well. I just want to build off of that.”
It wasn’t simply the fact that she missed out on the Olympics that has heightened Pelton’s ambition. It was how she missed out. With the top two finishers earning berths at the Olympic Trials, Pelton finished third in the 200-yard individual medley by two-tenths of a second. She also placed third in the 200 backstroke by five-tenths of a second.
“Getting third by two-tenths of a second is definitely not fun,” Pelton said.
Pelton is well over it now, despite the fact that the swimmer who finished first in the 200 IM final at the Olympic Trials is Cal teammate Caitlin Leverenz. Incoming Cal freshman Missy Franklin was the top finisher in the 200 backstroke at the trials.
In the months leading up to the World Championships, current and past Cal swimmers who qualified to make the trip to Barcelona have all been working out together at Spieker Pool. Pelton has trained alongside Leverenz and fellow teammate Rachel Bootsma while former Bears Natalie Coughlin, Anthony Ervin, Nathan Adrian and Dana Vollmer have also been in the pool. This all with Cal coach and 2012 U.S. Olympic Team coach Teri McKeever, who will serve as an assistant to the American team in Barcelona, looking on.
“I can’t take any easy days or someone will call you on it,” Pelton said. “People are watching. It’s the highest standard every single practice. You have to come prepared every single day.”
Although she said “there’s nothing that can motivate you more than that,” Pelton said she doesn’t spend much time anymore thinking about the disappointments of the Olympic Trials. One thing that helped her move from it was the fact that she was preparing to begin life as an NCAA student-athlete.
“I kept looking to the future as opposed to the past,” Pelton said. “I don’t think I would have done as well at all this year had I been satisfied. It was more a blessing in disguise. It was a perfect closing – trials and my senior year of high school and then the new start with a new team and college in general. The timing really worked in my favor.”
Pelton will make her first appearance at the World Championships on Sunday in the 4x100 freestyle relay. She then will compete in the 100 backstroke on Monday and the 200 backstroke on Aug. 2.