When the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials begin Monday in Omaha, Neb., perhaps the most anticipated race for those who care about the sport in North Carolina will also be the shortest.
Cullen Jones, Nick Brunelli and Josh Schneider train together every day in Charlotte at SwimMAC Carolina. They are also among the top six seeds in the 50-meter freestyle event in which only the top two finishers earn a spot on the Olympic team.
We want each other to make it, thats the first thing, Brunelli said. We all want to somehow get on that team and get on it together.
Theres a remote possibility that can happen, but only if at least one of the men can qualify in the 100 freestyle. All three are also seeded in the top 20 in that event (as is their teammate Davis Tarwater and homegrown Charlotteans Ricky Berens and Scot Robison).
Jones is the most well-known of the SwimMAC trio. He starred at N.C. State and earned an Olympic gold medal in 2008 in a relay race that became one of the defining moments of the Beijing Olympics.
But Brunelli (whose wife is expecting twins) and Schneider (who played high school football and dreams of getting an NFL shot) will be fearsome competitors. Jones knows that from the daily practices.
Theres no other place where there are three guys who are just cranking it out every single day, Jones said.
More than a dozen other swimmers with North Carolina ties also have a decent shot at making the Olympic team. But the sad truth is that about 95 percent of all those who make the Olympic Swimming Trials dont actually make the Olympic squad.
So while Jones, Brunelli or Schneider might make the team, they may well have to do so at the expense of each other. After all those races in the shadows in Charlotte, it will come down to one more in Omaha.