Tyler Clary Q&A: 'Gotta make the team'

AP Photo/David Phillip

OMAHA, Neb. -- The staff at Joe's Karting in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just over the Nebraska state line, probably didn't know they had a skilled off-road driver and highly frustrated elite athlete in the house Tuesday afternoon. That was where Tyler Clary headed to get his mind off a gallant but disappointing swim in the 400-meter individual medley at the Olympic trials -- the event in which he's a two-time world championships silver medalist, and one he was gunning to race in London.

Clary finished third to Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps in a sensational race and left the CenturyLink Center on Monday night without speaking to reporters partly at the urging of his coach, Jon Urbanchek. Most infuriating to Clary was the fact that he had been sapped by a viral infection for several days before the race. On Saturday, Clary told me he was congested and running a fever, but did not want to make that public because he hoped the bug would pass and didn't want to seem as if he were making excuses.

The 23-year-old from Riverside, Calif., plans to swim in Wednesday's 200 butterfly and the 200 backstroke on Friday. I caught up with him Tuesday evening:

Question: Break down the IM for us.

Answer: I thought I was doing everything right until probably about 15 meters into the second 50 of the breaststroke. My hips started to get lower in the water. And then in the freestyle, I just wasn't myself. Looking at the video, I didn't even recognize myself. I almost wish I would have said something before the race because now it seems like I'm making excuses for myself, but having a fever Saturday and Sunday can't have helped my case. It kind of sucks because I could have been right in the mix at the end of the race. It's too bad. But that being said, it's not the end of the meet; I've still got the 200 fly and 200 back, and I've got a very solid shot in the 200 back especially.

The fact that I got sick before coming out here and I'm still fighting it off is so frustrating. All these years of preparation, then having to visit doctors and take medication, and giving myself more rest than I would normally be getting, make sure that I'm healing. ... I don't see any reason I wouldn't be back to tip-top shape tomorrow. We'll see when I get in the water.

Q: Jon [Urbanchek] said it might be tonsillitis?

A: It's not tonsillitis. I was seen by two doctors, one on Friday and one on Saturday. My days of fever were Saturday and Sunday. They said it looked like a viral infection. There's not anything you can do about it but let it run its course. They gave me a normal course of antibiotics in case it was bacterial, which I just finished today. I couldn't sleep well because I was so congested. My throat felt like it had a slit in the back of it, I never had so much throat pain before. I would constantly wake up, throw a lozenge in my mouth, go back to sleep. I was gargling with probably three gallons of salt water, doing everything I could.

I don't want to make excuses at all. I had a decent swim, came out and went 4:09.9. That's respectable, but I would rather have not been fighting off a virus. I'm not saying the results would have been different at the end, but the chance is there that they would have been different and I know I would have gone faster. I didn't even watch the video last night, because all I wanted to do was warm down and go home. Watching the last 25 meters, Ryan shut it down hard. He probably could have [swum] a 4:05 if he had wanted. I don't think Ryan's beatable right now in the 400 IM.

Q: So the past 24 hours, you've just been chilling out with your family?

A: I was able to go out to dinner with my family and [girlfriend] Caroline. I was pretty down at dinner, but they kept talking me up and that helped a lot. By the time I left dinner, I was already in a better mood than before. I actually did a little kart racing today. There's a place up the street called Joe's Karting, and I got in a pair of races. Smoked everyone, by the way. [Laughs]

Q: How long do you think it'll take you to flip the switch?

A: It sucks, but it's yesterday. I've still got two races to go and it's my job to get up there -- literally, it's my job to get up there and swim. At this point, it's just make the team, gotta make the team.