The SportsPickle Interview: Josh Prenot, Olympic Silver Medal-Winning Swimmer
Josh Prenot won Silver in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games with a time of 2:07.53. He is a 23-year old Cal-Berkley student majoring in Physics, the U.S. record holder in the 200m breaststroke and has the second-fastest time in the event in history. Now, he is doing what all people do upon achieving great success: he’s being interviewed by SportsPickle. (And, yes, this is a real interview.)
DJ Gallo: You set the American record in the 200m breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Did you go to Rio expecting to medal? What was your feeling right when you turned around at the end of your race and saw you’d be on the podium? And, most importantly, are you an elite swimmer? Do you think an Olympic medal makes someone elite?
Josh Prenot: Every time I go to a competition I believe I have the ability to win my events, so I came to Rio expecting to be in the hunt. When I realized I had earned a medal, my only emotion was elation: I flew down here to earn a medal for the US, and it felt incredibly good to be able to accomplish that goal. As far as being elite, if we’re even having a conversation about whether Joe Flacco is elite or not you have to concede that every swimmer with an Olympic medal is elite. (No offense to Joe Flacco.)
DJG: All the lead up coverage to Rio was that the Olympics would be a mosquito-infested hellscape surrounded by poo water. But it seems to have gone as well as any other Olympics. Were you initially concerned about going? Did you pack extra bug spray or take any precautions? How has the whole experience been?
Josh Prenot: I think the media always pushes a bunch of scandal/trouble storylines in the months leading up to any Olympics just because there’s not really much else to talk about after the Stanley Cup and NBA Finals are over. The conditions were actually much better than I expected — Rio did a good job! I had a medium level of preparedness, so I packed extra bug spray but did not freeze my sperm. Overall, the Olympic experience was awesome. I loved being in the village with all the other athletes; that sense of community is so cool.
DJG: Of the current four swimming strokes used in competition, which one is the dumbest? It’s the butterfly, right? No one actually swims like that in real life.
Josh Prenot: I actually have a hot take here: backstroke is the dumbest. With all three other strokes, you can see where you’re going, but it’s not possible to look forward while swimming backstroke. Dumb.
DJG: Do you think the doggy paddle should be in the Olympics? Is it not the people’s stroke?
Josh Prenot: Well, freestyle is in the Olympics, and I guess you could do the doggy paddle in a freestyle event if you wanted. Katie Ledecky could probably do that in the first half of her races and still win.
DJG: Jerry Seinfeld had a bit about how winning Bronze is better than Silver because Bronze means you at least got something and Silver means you just missed out on Gold.
However, as you may know, Jerry Seinfeld is a 62-year old comedian and not a world class athlete and possibly may not reflect the feelings of athletes on this. Where do you stand on the Silver-Bronze debate?
Josh Prenot: I’ve actually been asked this a lot so I’ve had some time to think about it. Being a physics major makes me a numbers and measurement guy, and by every measure I can think of I’m better off than the bronze medal guy. I swam faster, I got to stand higher up on the podium, my medal earns me more prize money, and personally I think silver looks cooler. Obviously I would be happier with gold, but I’m pretty stoked on silver.
DJG: The IOC provided 450,000 condoms to the athletes at the Rio Games — more than 40 per athlete. Isn’t this a bad idea? Shouldn’t the world’s greatest athletes be encouraged to create the super-humans of the future? It’s the unathletic losers in the stands and those of us back at home watching on TV who should be given birth control, no? Perhaps this question borders too close on supporting eugenics. If so … did you do anything cool with your absurd amount of condoms? Make balloon animals? Take them home to give them as Christmas gifts?
Josh Prenot: The most disappointing thing about the Games was the fact that there wasn’t anything Olympic about the condoms. No Rio 2016 logo or rings on the wrapper or anything. The condom vending machine was conveniently located right by the entrance to the dining hall (most crowded place in the village) so athletes could discreetly get their 40 condoms. Some people stood there twisting the dispenser knob for several minutes at the beginning of the Games just to stock up for two weeks of village life.
DJG: The hardest part about being a competitive swimmer — perhaps outside of all the early-morning training, hard work, dedication and sacrifices in your personal life — is wearing the tiny swim trunks. How long does it take to get used to those and, most importantly, getting over concerns about how cold water could affect the appearance of your, you know … rudder?
Josh Prenot: Another hot take here: those suits are actually pretty comfortable and it’s a bummer that it’s not culturally acceptable to wear them at the beach. I’m pretty sure we all (swimmers) would, but since I don’t enjoy looking dumb in public I’ll stick with boardshorts for now.
DJG: You are a Physics major at Cal-Berkeley. Do you think understanding physics helps you as a swimmer? And have you ever had any physics discussions with Ryan Lochte?
Josh Prenot: Carl Sagan said that science is much more a way of thinking than a body of knowledge, and I think that way of thinking has absolutely helped me improve as an athlete. Every workout is an experiment during which I gain information about my swimming, which I can then use in the next workout to gain more information, etc. going about the process with that mindset has really helped me nail down my race strategies.
I think Lochte is a Lagrangian mechanics guy whereas I’m more of a quantum information guy, so we haven’t had much communication about physics.
DJG: What’s all this about Russians not liking memes?
Josh Prenot: A Russian swimmer who has tested positive twice for banned substances got called out by one of our swimmers. Our girl, Lilly King, ended up beating the Russian in the Olympic Final after some pretty heated trash talk. So, just like any sane person would do, I instantly got on Twitter and Crying Jordan’d the Russian.
In the following days, I got about 2000 tweets/comments from Russians who were very angry about it.
(Btw I loved that short origins video you did on the Crying Jordan. Honestly I think Russians just don’t understand it and they think it’s racist or something, because they were seriously pissed off at a meme. Super bizarre.)
DJG: In addition to swimming, you played baseball growing up. Does swimming have Unwritten Rules or a Code like baseball? If not, should swimming? Fans might like it if there were brawls over a guy wearing his swim cap backwards or something. And what’s the general philosophy on peeing in the pool?
Josh Prenot: There is somewhat of a Code in swimming, but it governs lane etiquette in the warmup pool so fans don’t really ever see it in action. There was actually a brawl last summer at World Championships where Chinese swimmer Sun Yang hit a Brazilian female swimmer in the warmup pool because he thought she violated the code. Peeing in the pool is actually encouraged. You’d be hard pressed to find a swimmer who is against it. There’s got to be a pretty ridiculous amount of urine in any pool that hosts a competition.
DJG: Do you think Michael Phelps will swim again? And, if not, isn’t it a tragedy waiting to happen if someone accidentally bumps him into a pool or body of water?
Josh Prenot: He’s said he’s done swimming before, so if he accidentally enters a body of water I think he’ll change his mind.
DJG: Do you plan to return for the 2020 Games in Tokyo? Does medaling make you more motivated in your swimming career, or is there a sense that: “Awesome. I medaled. Anything else from here on is cake.” And, last but not least, is America elite?
Josh Prenot: I would love to swim in Tokyo! My ultimate goal in sports was to become a US Olympian, so anything on top of that was cake. That being said, I don’t want to stop just because I’ve experienced some success on the Olympic stage — I want more. I know I can still improve a lot as an athlete, so that’s what I plan on doing. I want to earn some more medals for the US in international competitions, and I’m looking forward to working hard at that goal. Lastly, the USA won 33 medals in swimming while the next most successful country won just 10. #elite