Spirit 3

Athletes train for years in the hopes of competing on the biggest of all sports stages: the Olympic Games.

Two outstanding members of the University of Alabama swim team are hoping to take their skills to the Olympic game pools in Tokyo in July.

“It’s been my dream to go to the Olympics ever since I’ve started swimming,” said athlete Zane Waddell. “I think it’s every athlete’s dream to go to the Olympic Games.”

In four months, Waddell may be swimming for the most prized sports award as part of Team South Africa. But he’s not the only Alabama swimmer who may be swimming in Tokyo this summer.

It could be Flora Molnar’s second time swimming for Team Hungary.

“It was the best three weeks of my life,” she said. “It was such a huge opportunity. Before that, it was really hard to qualify myself for the Olympics and I did it right on the last chance. Swimming in the arena full of fans was like a dream come true.”

In his first season with the Crimson Tide, head coach Coley Stickels is no stranger with competing on an international stage. In 199, Stickels swam in the short course world championships for Team USA.

He can relate to what his Olympic hopeful athletes are going through, he said.

“I think the athletes responded pretty well because they knew I had been in that situation before, so they could relate to me and I could relate to the feelings they were going through.”

Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne is a member of the United State Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s Advisory Council. He said he’s proud of Alabama’s student athletes.

“To see them perform at those levels, and that we put the infrastructure and systems in place to give them that opportunity, we’re proud of that,” Byrne said.

Four years ago in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Molnar placed 25th out of 90 swimmers in the 50 meter freestyle. Now, she’s excited for her second chance at an Olympic medal, swimming in the 50 and 100 meter butterfly and freestyle events.

“The experience from the previous Olympics also motivates me because I know what kind of environment it is and I want to relive that moment again when I was racing in the area,” Molnar said. “I really want to show that I’m still here and still have it in me.”

It’s Waddell’s first Olympics, but it’s not his first time swimming in an international competition. Last summer, he won the gold in the 50 meter backstroke at the World University Games and the FINA World Championships.

That’s a testament to his coach and Alabama, he said.

“I think being at a top-10 NCAA school has really prepared me mentally for what the competition is going to be like at the Olympic Games, so I feel prepared,” Waddell said. “There’s not many nerves. I know I’ve done the work so I am just going to go out there and do my thing.”

As head coach, Stickels said anything is possible for his swimmers, and he’s so proud of their accomplishments.

“It’s the process, the amount of work and time and energy that they’ve put into it over the years,” he said. “Not just at Alabama, but years prior, so there’s a lot that goes into making an Olympian.”

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