Gators at Olympics: Eric Friese representing Germany

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun
Eric Friese

Eric Friese enjoyed one of the greatest moments of his life on his couch in Gainesville.

The Gators swimmer, who is from Potsdam, Germany, expected to celebrate earning a spot on the Olympic team in Berlin, just 20 miles from his hometown.

But expectation tends to be different than reality, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More:Current and former UF athletes headed to Tokyo Olympics

So, instead of rejoicing with friends and family in Germany’s capital city, the sophomore found himself in Gainesville when the occasion happened.

“I was watching German trials, and it was really intense,” he said. “Right when the event started, we lost the Wi-Fi connection and missed the first 10-20 seconds, so I didn’t know what happened. Then I got a message from my coach saying ‘congratulations, you made it.’”

Friese won a spot on the German men’s 4x100 relay team April 17. The games, which have been highly scrutinized, are scheduled to begin Friday in Tokyo.

Gaining a spot on the German team is a much different process than the U.S, Friese said. Normally, he would return to Germany for trials, but due to COVID, trials were split up, and he was given one chance to obtain a spot — the 2021 TYR Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo, California, the weekend of April 9.

This came just two weeks after the NCAA Championships on March 27.

Friese’s performance in California got off to a rocky start. He underperformed in his top two events — the 100m fly and 50m free.

With his head still held high, Friese moved on to the 100m free and raced better than ever. He dashed a 49.05, setting a personal best by .56 seconds.

“I remembered when I touched, I was surprised because I didn’t think I could go that fast,” he said.

Despite missing the German automatic qualifying time by just .48 seconds, Friese ranked second in the 100 free relays. The top four swimmers qualified for the team, which put him in solid shape. He secured a berth the following week.

Friese added he benefited from the postponement of the games from 2020 to this year, as it allowed him to speed up his times.

“If the Olympics were in 2020, I don’t think I would have been close to the times I got to make the team,” he said.

He said the four months he spent in Germany last year resulted in a sharp increase in his game because he had nothing going on except practicing.

The Tokyo Games have received much coverage because the restrictions put on athletes due to the pandemic. For example, competitors must leave two days after their event, and the IOC banned the intermingling that commonly occurs in the Olympic Village.

These constraints refuse to temper his excitement in the weeks leading up, however.

“I think we should be happy with what it is right now,” he said. “Yeah, it is restricted, but so has everything the past year.”

It’s a special feeling to swim with Gator Nation behind you, but Friese admitted it doesn’t compare to the extraordinary feeling of battling with 83 million of your compatriots supporting you.

“When I grew up as a kid, I watched the Olympics, and I always wanted to be there,” he said. “If you had told me during the last one in 2016 that I would be in the next Olympics, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Friese departed for Germany on June 25 and arrived in Japan for training camp in mid-July.

The men’s 4x100 relay occurs Monday, July 26 from the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.