For the past few years, Michael Brinegar has been competing against some of the best swimmers in the United States.
He’s about to do it with Olympic berths on the line.
The 16-year-old is entered in two events in the U.S. Olympic Trials, which begin Sunday in Omaha, Nebraska. He’ll swim the 400-meter freestyle Sunday and the 1,500 freestyle July 2.
“I think it’s pretty exciting,” said Brinegar, who will be a junior at Columbus North. “I just think it will give me more experience. I think I can do really well for my age.”
When Brinegar made his first Olympic Trials cut in the 1,500 freestyle in the 2014 Junior Nationals, he was one of only two 14-year-old boys in the country to have qualified at that time. Since then, he has lowered his best 1,500 time to 15 minutes, 37.51 seconds, which he swam in last year’s U.S. National Championships.
Brinegar added the 400 freestyle cut on March 3, when he went 3:58.40 in the American Short Course Championships in Austin, Texas.
“I’m feeling really good about how I’m doing right now,” Brinegar said. “I’m getting pretty good training in, and I feel like I’m really prepared for the trials.”
This summer, Brinegar has been back in Huntington Beach, California, training with Golden West Swim Club. He also spent last summer there.
Golden West’s coach, Mark Schubert, coached Brinegar’s mother, Jennifer, when she was in high school.
“He’s one of the best young distance freestylers in the country,” Schubert said. “His work ethic has really improved over the past two years. His training has just been really outstanding in the spring and summer.”
In the Olympic Trials, Brinegar is seeded 101st in the 400 freestyle and 47th in the 1,500 freestyle. In the 400 freestyle, the top 16 qualify for the prelims, and the top eight make the finals; the 1,500 freestyle goes directly from the prelims on July 2 to the finals on July 3.
Only the top two in each event, provided they meet the Olympic qualifying time, make the Olympic team that will compete in Rio. While Brinegar likely will have a better shot at the Olympics in 2020, he’s focused on swimming personal bests at these trials.
“The trials is a pretty pressure-filled meet, and statistically, only about one-third of the swimmers in the trials swim their best times, and I think Michael is going to be in that third,” Schubert said.
Brinegar also is focused on making the U.S. team for the Junior Pan-Pacific Games, which are in August in Hawaii. Once a swimmer qualifies in one event, they can swim any event at those games.
A week after the trials end, Brinegar will leave for The Netherlands for the World Junior Open Water Championships from July 14 to 16. He is one of only two 16-year-olds on the U.S. team and will swim the 7.5K.
“I’m really excited to go to that,” Brinegar said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity, and I’m excited to have a chance to swim for the USA.”
Brinegar made the junior national team last year. Next spring, the team will train for a week at the national national training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Whether Brinegar will return to swimming at North remains to be seen. He won the state title in the 500-yard freestyle as a freshman but did not swim for the Bull Dogs last season.
“I think there is a chance,” Brinegar said. “We’ll have to see what happens over the course of the summer.”
Name: Michael Brinegar
Club: Golden West Swim Club
High school: Columbus North
Year: Will be a junior
Top events: Will swim 400-meter freestyle on Sunday and 1,600 freestyle on July 2 in U.S. Olympic Trials.