BYU swimmers make dreams a reality, qualify for Olympic trials

(Jay Westcott/News & Record via AP)
Men’s 50-meter freestyle silver medalist Payton Sorenson, right, slaps hands with young fans after receiving his medal at at the USA Swimming Winter National Championships, Thursday, Nov. 29, in Greensboro, N.C. (Jay Westcott/News & Record via AP)

The Olympics often seem like an unachievable dream for most athletes no matter the sport. But after winter swim nationals, BYU swimmers Brynn Sproul and Payton Sorenson are one step closer to competing in Tokyo in 2020.

Sproul, an 18-year-old from Las Vegas and a BYU freshman, is already making her swim dreams a reality.

On the other side of the spectrum, Sorenson, a senior global studies major at BYU, has years of experience on Sproul. He has already qualified for the Olympics once but wants this time around to end in competing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“Payton improves on some part of his performance every time he enters a race,” assistant swim coach Shari Skabelund said. “He is a racer and loves to compete. It has been a beautiful journey, conference freshman athlete of the MPSF championships to NCAA All- American and two-time Olympic trial qualifier. He has a champion’s heart.”

Both swimmers grew up participating in recreational leagues and on club teams but had different views on their Olympic goals.

“I was really good when I was little, and then when I was in high school I was good, but I wasn’t ‘this guy is going to go to the Olympics’ good,” said Sorenson, laughing. “It wasn’t really a reality for me until 2016 when I made it to the semi-finals (of Olympic trials) and thought, ‘Maybe I can do this.’”

Sorenson made it to the semi-finals of qualifiers in 2016, swimming alongside big names like Nathan Adrian and Caeleb Dressel. This time, he hopes to make it all the way.

“I was in the lane next to Nathan Adrian (in 2016), and they had a booth where you could watch your race in slow motion,” Sorenson said. “I got to watch his stroke and my stroke and see what I needed to work on in comparison to how he swam.”

Sproul, who is seven years younger than Sorenson, has had the Olympics in her sights ever since she began club-level competition.

“I always thought (the Olympics) was more of a dream than a goal, but when I hit high school and I started training with new coaches, and as I kept making the improvements, I was seeing it become more of a goal than a dream,” Sproul said.

The way these swimmers are preparing for the Olympics is different, too. Sproul has three and a half years left with the swim program, while Payton is finishing his final year in 2019.

“I’ll be done with school, so I will be able to focus more on training,” Sorenson said. “In order to have a better shot in going to the Olympics, I want to branch out into different strokes.”

Sproul is focusing more on keeping a cool head while she still swims for BYU.

“I just want to keep my goal in mind so I stay motivated and don’t get too cocky and tell myself that I can be done now that I’ve reached qualifiers,” Sproul said. “We get to meet with Craig Manning, the sports psychologist, and he’s focused a lot on the mental aspect of training and performing. I feel like that’s really helped me stay in the moment and stay focused and in control of myself when I race.”

Although real life is already catching up to Sorenson, and Sproul has just dipped her toes into the NCAA swim world, both athletes are considering life after swim and the paths they could take if the Olympics don’t pan out.

“I know I want (swim) to be a part of my life later on, even after I retire, either coaching or being a swim mom since my mom was such a huge part of my swim career,” Sproul said. “I want to help people realize that their dreams actually can become goals.”

With a new family and a world of opportunity opening up in front of him, Sorenson has more to consider.

“My mom thought me marrying someone with a kid would prevent me from focusing on (swim) full time, but I still think I can do it,” Sorenson said. “The goal is to go to the Olympics. There’s part of me that wants to move on with my life and get a good job, but at the same time, my job could be swimming. I think that would be awesome.”

Both athletes will have to wait two years to find out their Olympic trial fate. The races will be held in Omaha, Nebraska, from Nov. 21 to Nov. 28, 2020. Until then, they have a lot of training to do.

“Sorenson has (been) one of the top sprinters in the country, and we are happy he is going to attend his second trials meet,” head swim coach John Brooks said. “This will (be) Brynn’s first trials and it really is a dream come true for her. In 2016, we had nine BYU athletes attend trials and hoping to match that again. This a great start for the program.”

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