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1 year after missing Rio, Madison Kennedy is taking swimming destiny into her own hands

Madison Kennedy on missing Rio

Charlotte swimmer talks about looking back on last summer's Olympic trials, in which she missed the cut to earn a place on the U.S. team that competed in Rio.
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Charlotte swimmer talks about looking back on last summer's Olympic trials, in which she missed the cut to earn a place on the U.S. team that competed in Rio.

In the year since Madison Kennedy of Charlotte missed earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic women’s swimming team by fifteen-hundredths of a second, people have asked her the same question probably fifteen hundred times: Does that still haunt you?

“No,” she says, without hesitation. “I want to pay respect to Trials and all those other people that just missed out, but ... it doesn’t.”

“And I don’t really replay it in my head. I just remember looking up (after hitting the wall) and waiting for it to hurt – but it didn’t. I was like, ‘OK,’ ” she exhales. “ ‘We survived.’ That’s about it. But I would not change a thing that I said in the article.”

US Swim Trials Swimming (1)
Abbey Weitzeil, left, reacts with Madison Kennedy, right, after winning the women’s 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Sunday, July 3, 2016, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) Mark J. Terrill AP

Last June, shortly before the Trials, Kennedy was the subject of an Observer profile that highlighted her free-spirited personality and her radical approach to training. Among other things, the latter involved her forgoing some training sessions with SwimMAC’s Team Elite in favor of part-time jobs at retailer Lululemon and fitness studio Hilliard Studio Method (both of which she continues to work at).

<p><a target=”_new” href=”http://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/olympics/article84023987.html”>[READ MORE: She’s a rebel. Will that get swimmer Madison Kennedy to the Olympics – or keep her out?]</a></p>

“I’ve actually gone even more that way,” says Kennedy, 29, who has lived and trained in Charlotte since December 2011. “I’m even more (independent) now.”

It’s true: In preparing for next week’s 2017 Phillips 66 National Championships and World Championship Trials in Indianapolis, the freestyle sprinter (a 50-meter specialist) has gone almost entirely off script – or, rather, she’s writing the script herself. Since August, Kennedy has swum with her teammates “a dozen times or less” in favor of writing her own workouts and working out in “open” pools, alongside weekend warriors, stay-at-home moms and people just starting to learn to swim.

We caught up with her briefly last month, before a workout on the deck of Queens University of Charlotte’s Levine Center pool, and again by phone Thursday afternoon. Here’s what she had to say...

... about her current status as it pertains to coach David Marsh, whose Team Elite program recently split with SwimMAC: “David isn’t not my coach anymore, he just has not coached me since August. ... There’s no animosity or anger. Someone was like, ‘Oh, are you not swimming with him because of last summer?’ I’m like, ‘Uh, no. What? No!’ It’s because I have a different schedule. I’m getting married this year. I went to a ton of pro meets. ... The separation from SwimMAC, and it being a post-Olympic year is kind of difficult in terms of pool space and scheduling – keeping it concrete and plannable – and that just doesn’t really sit super-well with me or my schedule. So this year I decided to do my own thing. But no matter what happens, next year there’ll be a conversation as to whether I’m gonna continue going my way or if I’m gonna link up with David and his new program. It just depends on where it’s gonna be and what it looks like.”

Meanwhile: “I’m still representing SwimMAC through the rest of the summer, because they’ve given me a lot of support over the last six years. That board and those coaches have been so supportive of me.”

... about her confidence in her current approach: “I’m not qualified to coach myself or anyone else. But I am doing my best. Yes, I have doubts in the back of my head that I maybe didn’t do the best job, but I did the best job that I could do for myself every day.

“I do not know everything. I definitely do not know even a shred of what my coaches in the past have known. Seriously, even if I don’t agree with them, their knowledge, their experience, their perspective is way above mine. But that doesn’t mean that what I have to say or what I think is not valid. ... I’ll make mistakes doing it my way, and I won’t be so proud that I won’t listen to advice.

“I’m lucky,” Madison Kennedy says. “I won’t always get to do this. I’m healthy, I’m good, I’m grateful.” John D. Simmons jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

“People have helped me. John Long at Queens (associate head swim coach), he helps me on power days mostly, if he’s there. So if he’s around the building, he’s like, ‘Go faster!’ And I ask him for advice. Not like, ‘Hey, what should I do today?’ But just, ‘Hey, how does this sound? Does this sound like it needs to be more or less intense?’ So I’ve definitely had input, from Bob Groseth as well; he was the assistant coach for Team Elite last year.

“It’s a cool experience to be able to be like, alright, you’ve had 25 years of swimming experience ... you should be able to prescribe yourself a pretty solid training plan – and if (it doesn’t work out) well, then, back to the drawing board. It doesn’t mean you suck. It doesn’t mean you’re bad at swimming. It’s just, OK, maybe you didn’t know what you wanted, or what your body wanted to do. But no matter what happens this summer, I’m in charge, and I’ll either have f----- it up, or I’ll do well. It’s kind of thrilling to think about.”

... about self-imposed pressure: “I’m over being stressed about, ‘Am I gonna make this time?’ It’s like, ‘Dude, you get another year to swim for however long you want and you should just be grateful for every time that you get in the water and that you don’t suck. That time (goal) might come, but you know what? If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

“People are like, ‘Do you feel like you have a lot of unfinished business?’ It’s like, ‘Uhhh, I really don’t know how to answer that.’ I mean, I’m not gunning harder to make this Worlds to prove myself – that I’m still good and I’m still relevant – just ’cause I didn’t make the Olympic team. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to prove yourself. That’s awesome. Prove yourself. Prove your worth. (Show) what your coaches and your family and all your support system have done for you. Let the world see it. But if you put a lot of pressure on it, like ‘This meet determines my value,’ then I think that’s a problem. ... My importance is not placed upon the success of one swim meet.”

... and finally, about her October wedding plans with fiance Eric Lane: “We’re designing my dress. My mom’s making it; she’s sewing in her basement. It’s gonna be pink with feathers. I’m serious. Sheer lace, beading, sequins. It sounds like a drag costume, but it’s not.”

Madison Kennedy and Eric Lane (shown in the Levine Center weight room at Queens University in June 2016) have been a couple since their freshman year at Rutgers. Lane continues to work as his fiancee’s strength coach. Mark Hames mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes