While many BYU students were glued to their television sets for two weeks this summer watching the London Olympics, two BYU students were there, living their dreams and competing alongside the world’s best athletes.
Rafael Alfaro and Andrew Rutherford, both BYU swimmers, competed in London and returned to campus this fall semester with lasting memories and valuable experience to guide their remaining college years.
“It was just amazing to be there and to see all the best athletes in the world,” Alfaro said. “The whole thing of the Olympics is the whole world comes together for this event and just to be a part of that was the best experience of my life.”
Both swimmers said the Opening Ceremonies was the highlight of their Olympic experiences.
“That was the pinnacle point of everything,” Rutherford said. “Being there and seeing so many people appreciate you for what you’ve done so far in your sport is just really gratifying. Just knowing that people are going to be cheering you on no matter how well you do or what happens, you made the effort to be there and that’s what really counts.”
Alfaro said he can point to two moments when he felt an incredible amount of adrenaline: the Opening Ceremonies and right before his race in London.
“When I walked out during the Opening Ceremony … that was the most energy I’ve ever felt throughout my body in my entire life,” Alfaro said. “I just couldn’t believe my eyes. The stadium and the crowd and the energy was just crazy.”
Rutherford, a junior, competed for Bolivia in the 100-meter freestyle. He finished fifth in his heat with a personal best time of 52.57, a Bolivian national record. Alfaro, also a junior, swam for El Salvador in the 400-meter individual medley with a time of 4:35.80.
Rutherford said competing in the Olympics is different than competing in any other competition.
“As a swimmer, once you’re on the blocks, you might be representing a team, but most importantly you’re representing yourself and you want to do well for yourself,” Rutherford said. “But once I was about to compete (in London), I just realized it wasn’t just about me this time. It was about the whole country, and out of nine million-plus people in Bolivia, I was chosen to represent them that day, at that time, in that event.”
Alfaro said prior to his race, just hours after the Opening Ceremonies, he planned to swim it like any other race and tried to keep calm.
“When I was in the waiting room, I was just like, ‘Okay, this is just another race, I’m going to do my best,'” he recalled. “But as soon as I walked out, everything changed. I got so nervous and so excited. I don’t know what I was thinking, but all I can remember is how nervous I was and how much energy I had and how much adrenaline I was feeling.”
Though neither swimmer medalled in London, both said they came away with valuable experience that will help them throughout the remainder of their swimming careers.
Rutherford, who found out he had made the Bolivian national team a year prior to the London Games, said he developed a great amount of discipline while staying in the mindset of competing to the best of his ability.
“I had already made it, I had already fulfilled a dream, so I could have just not trained and taken it easy and just shown up and swam,” Rutherford said. “But it took so much discipline knowing, ‘I’ve made it this far, but that’s not good enough. I need to go for more.'”
Both Alfaro and Rutherford are currently planning to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’m really looking forward to the next Olympics,” Alfaro said, talking about his goals for the future. “I’m going to try to enjoy swimming more. I guess that all just comes with time, seeing where you are two years from now and four years from now.”