As part of an ongoing look into the non-revenue sports at USC, we're doing a series of one-one-one interviews with prominent Trojans in some of the other sports around campus, like swimming, track and field, and tennis.
Today, we have men's swimmer Clement Lefert, a 22-year-old junior who's made waves in his first year with the Trojans. Lefert started off his career with a bang, winning the first event — in the 1000-yard freestyle — of Pac-10 tournament season last November, and he has continued his success throughout this season. He specializes in the freestyle and butterfly strokes.
At the NCAA Championships going on this weekend on the campus of Ohio State, Lefert has earned All-American honors as part of USC's 800-yard free relay team and finished third in the solo 500-yard free. Lefert is a native of Nice, France and a participant in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He addressed adjusting to living in the United States as the first member of his family to do so, the obvious language barrier, the differences between American and European swimming, and being a part of the USC swim team:
Question: Tell me about your journey in the swim world from France to Los Angeles.
Lefert: I competed in Beijing in 2008 and in Rome in the World Championships last year, and then it was tough for me to keep studying and swimming at the same time in France. In France, people either just swim or just study — they don't do both. And so I made the decision to come to the United States.
Question: I'd imagine it'd be hard to spend 21 years in one country and then suddenly adjust to a completely new one. How quickly were you able to adjust to USC and the team atmosphere?
Lefert: I felt comfortable very fast, because the team was very nice with me. It's very nice to be a part of a team. When I was in France, I used to swim by myself, more individual. College swimming is more like a team thing, you know? You support the others, they support you. Everyone is cheering, and it's very nice. But our daily schedule is very tough. First, it was funny. When the coaches used to give us training instructions, I couldn't catch some of what they said, and when the swimmers are speaking very fast in the locker room with slang words and jokes, I was lost. And then like, month after month, you begin to get some words and you just get used to it. They look at you because you do a bunch of things different, and I look at them because they do a bunch of things different. It's crazy at first, but I think it's good, because I brought them something good and they brought me something good.
Question: Have you ever thought about focusing on swimming and doing school later? On that note, what are your goals in swimming?
Lefert: Yes. If I was a big star, I would do it. Like if I could earn millions of dollars, I would do it, but not lots of people in swimming earn millions. I feel like I need a diploma and I need a job after, there is no real choice for me. My main goal is to make it to London in 2012. And we'll see what happens there. I need like an intellectual activity, like going to class or a job. Just swimming, it's kind of hard. You just wake up in the morning, go swimming, play PlayStation or Xbox, sleep, and go swimming again. You just get crazy after a few years. I like to go to class and have normal relationships. It's good for keeping yourself in society, you know. When you're a high-level athlete, you're not part of society.
Question: Training with USC, is it easier or harder than what you were used to?
Lefert: It's way different. I spend a lot more time in the weight room here, and I never used to go to the weight room at all in France. There is different ideals about swimming. In Europe, it's like, you have to swim a lot. Here, it's like, lots of weight room and everything you do in the water has to be very fast.
Question: What about the coaching? The swimmer-to-coach ratio at USC is probably a lot different from what you were used to in France. Has that slowed your progress at all or made it harder in practice?
Lefert: That was the first thing I thought when I came here, because I had my own personal coach at home. I thought, 'Oh, they're not going to correct me on technique and stuff.' But after two sessions, every single little mistake, the head coach tells me how it's not good, you have to do this, you have to do that. I don't know how they do it, but they have eyes for everything. It's great.
Lefert concludes his initial season with the Trojans this weekend at the NCAA Championships. His next meet will be the French Olympic Trials in April, from which he hopes to qualify for the European Championships.