SWIMMERS: Carson Foster and letting go of past performances

Don Henshaw

While listening and reading to interviews of swimmers of competing (and thriving) at US Trials, I was struck by a recurring theme. 


A lot of letting go of past performances.


Ignoring the noise outside the pool. 


And mentally staying in their own lane. 


Carson Foster is the perfect example of this. 


Back in 2021, Carson is 19-years old and is expected to make the US Olympic team in one or multiple events, including the 200m and 400m individual medley and the 200m freestyle.


But at Trials, things didn’t come together. 


The 400m individual medley, an event which Carson had posted the fastest time by an American in 2021, is his best opportunity to make the team. 


Carson leads for a majority of the race before being run down by Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland, who would go on to win gold and silver in the event at the Tokyo Games.


He also places fourth in the 200m individual medley and eighth in a very tight 200m freestyle, missing a spot on the relay by two-tenths of a second. 


For a long time after that meet, he carried it around with him like an anchor tied to his ankle. 


“Losing my confidence was never something I had struggled with before and it was both scary and frustrating,” said Foster. “I struggled to swim fast when I knew people expected me to win. This resulted in me swimming fast in prelims, then slower at finals when the pressure was on. Or swimming fast at smaller meets, but then underperforming when all the chips were on the table at National level meets, Olympic Trials in particular.”


This type of mental block is common with athletes and can be wildly frustrating.


Foster began working with a mental performance coach to “rewire” some of those old performances and give Foster his confidence back to perform under pressure. 


Back to Indianapolis and the US Trials meet this week:


Foster takes off to an early lead in the final of the 400m individual medley. 


Just like 2021, it’s a three-horse race, with Foster bracketed by Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland. 


Although the major players are same-same, the results are decidedly not…


Foster takes his early lead, and this time powers through, winning by nearly two seconds, booking his ticket to the Paris Olympics next month. 


His reaction tells you everything you need to know about the weight of the moment. 


Foster is visibly emotional, a wave of relief as three years of doubt finally roll off his back. Kalisz and Litherland both immediately congratulate Foster with big hugs, knowing how much the moment means to him. 


In the press conference after the race, Foster acknowledges his growth and the power of focusing on swimming his own race. 


“Tonight was just different,” Foster said. “I worked on everything I have been working on and staying in my own lane and sticking to my strategy that I know works.” 


And was that a smile on your face when you turned at 350m and swam for home and your first Olympic team? 


“Knowing when I turned on to freestyle that I was going to be the fastest on that leg--I was smiling that whole last 50.”


Love to see it. 


See you in the water,




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