Peter Vanderkaay never dreamed he would have a chance to go to
the Olympics. Before coming to Michigan.

“I definitely never thought that I would be in this
position, growing up,” Vanderkaay said. “Now that I
came to Michigan and things started to pan out differently,
it’s definitely a goal now.”

What has panned out differently for the sophomore swimmer has
been three individual NCAA titles this year in the 200, 400, and
1,500-meter freestyle. Vanderkaay will now compete in all three
events at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Long Beach, California
starting on Wednesday.

“I’ve definitely had a lot of success since
I’ve been (at Michigan),” Vanderkaay said.
“That’s probably made the difference in believing in
myself that I could possibly make the (Olympic) team.”

Michigan swimming coach Jon Urbanchek brought Vanderkaay in from
nearby Rochester Adams High School as a distance swimmer —
one of the strengths of the Michigan program under Urbanchek
— but Vanderkaay has branched out into the shorter 200 and
400-meter freestyle events.

“Traditionally, I came into Michigan swimming
distance,” Vanderkaay said. “I like the 1,500 a lot,
but I’m starting to like the 200 and 400 a lot better also. I
don’t really have a favorite, probably whatever one I’m
swimming best.”

Vanderkaay’s attitude may be advantageous as the
competition at the trials will be fierce, especially in the
1,500-meter freestyle.

“The competition in the 1,500 is very tough,”
Vanderkaay said. I think I have gotten a little bit better at the
200 and 400. In the 200 they are going to take the top six
(competitors) for relays, so that might be my best
chance.”

An NCAA title doesn’t guarantee anything for Vanderkaay at
the Olympic Trials, where he will face stiff competition from
professionals and former Olympians. It is possible that Vanderkaay
will have to face U.S. Olympic poster boy and swimming phenom
Michael Phelps in the 200 and 400-meter freestyle races. Phelps is
the hottest name in swimming and is aiming to tie or break Mark
Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in one Olympics. Phelps
has turned professional and holds the highest endorsement deal in
swimming history with Speedo. He has yet to announce which races he
will compete in, so it is unknown if Vanderkaay will race against
him.

Vanderkaay isn’t worried about the competition as much as
he is focused on himself. Now that he has the chance to make the
team that has team, that has become his number one goal.

“I would love to make an individual event, but if I make
it onto the relay (team), I would be just as happy,”
Vanderkaay said. “I can’t be mad if I put up good times
and don’t make it. As long as I improve, I guess I
can’t complain.”

Since the NCAA Championships in March, Vanderkaay has been
training hard with other Wolverine Olympic hopefuls —
sophomores Chris Dejong and Davis Tarwater, senior Dan Ketchum and
senior Jason Coben will compete for spots on the U.S. team while
juniors Andrew Hurd and Chuck Sayao will attempt to make the
Canadian team — under the supervision of the Michigan
coaching staff.

“I’ve just been training very hard,”
Vanderkaay said. “Everyone has a goal and we’re all
just training and supporting each other.”

Vanderkaay’s preparation has also included a three-week
trip to the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs for
intensive training.

Now that his training has risen to meet his newfound lofty goals
and expectations, Vanderkaay remains humble about the opportunity
to be an Olympian.

“I would really be honored if I made the team to represent
Michigan, my family, myself as best as I can. It would be a great
honor to represent the country as well.”

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