Joshua Zuchowski Continues Pursuit Of Being An Olympian

Joshua Zuchowski with his father Jonathan Zuchowski at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Swim Team trials. Photo courtesy Dan Schemmel

Joshua Zuchowski, a 2022 graduate of the King’s Academy and a rising junior at Stanford University, had to sit for a final exam in economics before pursuing a chance to earn a spot on this year’s U.S. Olympic Swimming Team. 

From June 11-20, Zuchowski was in Indianapolis, where he made final training preparations and competed in this year’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming, presented by Lilly. It was his second U.S. Olympic Team Trials experience after also competing at the event in June 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Zuchowski’s ultimate goal was to earn a spot on this year’s U.S. team competing in Paris at this year’s Summer Olympic Games. He was one of nearly 1,000 male and female swimmers in Indianapolis with the same goal. There were 52 spots on the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team up for grabs.

“I arrived in Indianapolis on Tuesday, June 11, and I had to sit down and do an economics final exam that Wednesday morning, which my coach had to scan and submit to my professor,” Zuchowski said. “The exam lasted three and a half hours. I then headed to the pool for my taper workouts.”

The venue for this year’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming was a 10-lane, Olympic-size, 50-meter-long competition pool and a massive L-shaped warm-up/practice pool. Both pools were constructed inside the Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. Nearly two million gallons of water were needed for the pools. No other U.S. Olympic Team Trials event had ever been staged in such an expansive venue.

“It was an amazing place to swim and watch a swim meet,” said Zuchowski, 20. “You felt the excitement for the trials as soon as you arrived in Indianapolis at the airport. That city really knows how to support a high-level sports event. More than 20,000 fans attended the finals every night. I’ve never seen anything like it in swimming.”

Zuchowski was originally entered in four events in Indianapolis, but he and his coaches felt his best chances for earning a berth on the U.S. Olympic Team were to focus on the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke, which meant he had to withdraw from the 200-meter individual medley and the 200-meter butterfly.

At the trials, every swimmer in any given event competed in one of many preliminary heats. From there, the top 16 swimmers, based on their preliminary race times, advanced to the semifinals, which were held in the evening and broadcast live on NBC and Peacock. After those 16 swimmers competed in the semifinals, the top eight swimmers advanced to that event’s finals, held the following night, also broadcast live. Of those eight swimmers, the top two advanced to the Paris Olympics as members of the 2024 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team. Clearly, making the team in any given event is very difficult.

Zuchowski competed in the preliminaries of the 100-meter backstroke on Sunday, June 16. The 100-meter backstroke featured 75 swimmers, who swam in one of 10 heats. Zuchowski was in the 10th heat, in a less-than-desired outside lane (lane eight). In lane four of Zuchowki’s heat was Ryan Murphy, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, and the gold medalist in the 100-meter backstroke at the 2016 Olympics. Zuchowski’s 100-meter backstroke time was 55.36. That placed him 36th out of the 75 swimmers — not good enough to advance to the semifinals. In the end, Murphy and Hunter Armstrong finished one-two in the 100-meter backstroke final on Monday, June 17. Their times were 52.22 and 52.72, respectively. They will represent the U.S. in Paris in that event.

“I then turned my thoughts to the 200-meter backstroke, which is one of my strongest events,” Zuchowski said. “I learned a few things from the 100 back that I used in the 200 back, and it helped.”

After two more days of final preparations, where he worked on refining his stroke and his overall technique, Zuchowski was ready for the 200-meter backstroke preliminaries on Wednesday morning, June 19. In the 200-meter backstroke, there were nine heats and 74 swimmers. Zuchowski was in the ninth heat in lane two.

Of the eight swimmers in his heat, Murphy was one of them, swimming in lane four. Zuchowski was clocked at 1:59.31. Of the 74 swimmers who competed for one of 16 semifinal spots, Zuchowski had the 14th fastest time, which propelled him into the semifinals that evening. In the pre-race introductions, Zuchowski’s name and image were on display on the massive 60-foot video screen, which hung from the rafters of Lucas Oil Stadium, as he walked to his starting block at lane one.

“I stood out there for two or three minutes while the other swimmers were introduced. I was enjoying the roar of 20,000 fans. One of my goals was to make it to an evening semifinal, and I did,” Zuchowski said. “It was so cool.”

If he could have generated one of the eight fastest times, he would have advanced to the 200-meter backstroke final the following night (Thursday, June 20) with the chance of earning one of two spots on the U.S. team. Zuchowski swam a 1:59.59, which was the 12th fastest semifinal time. The eighth-fastest semifinal time in the 200-meter backstroke was 1:57.99. In the end, Murphy and Keaton Jones finished one-two in the final of the 200-meter backstroke. Their times were 1:54.33 and 1:54.61, respectively. They will represent the U.S. in Paris in that event.

Dan Schemmel, Stanford University’s head men’s swimming coach, was proud of Zuchowski’s performance, especially in the 200-meter backstroke.

“Josh was great,” Schemmel said. “He got sick earlier this spring, which hindered his training and preparation, so we’re really happy he was able to put together the performance he had in Indy. Making a semifinal is a huge accomplishment, and we’re extremely excited about the trajectory he is on.”

Zuchowski’s Olympic dreams and aspirations will now have to wait until 2028, when the games will be held in Los Angeles. He will graduate from Stanford in 2026. Whether Zuchowski continues to swim in pursuit of Olympic glory in 2028 remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure — he will never forget the experience of competing at this year’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Indianapolis, nor will he ever forget what it was like to watch his peers pursue their Olympic dreams, as well.

As for Zuchowski’s economics exam, he fared well.

“I did all right,” said Zuchowski, an economics major at Stanford. “I got an A in the class.”