Huntsville’s Conners Going to Olympic Trials June 25
By P.M. BLACK
Diving into the United States Olympic Trials on June 25, Huntsville native Cameron Conners (center in photo above) figures he’s in perfect shape in more ways than one.
The former Randolph High School 2009 State Meet record holder in the 100-yard breaststroke initially qualified for the Olympic Trials as a member of the Huntsville Swim Association (HSA). After just completing his sophomore season at the University of Alabama, the 19-year-old swimming sensation is now qualified in two events, the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.
With new personal bests in both events at the last two SEC Championship meets, the 6-foot, 172-pound athlete continues to shine at the right time.
“The good thing about that is I know that I haven’t plateaued out yet,” Conners said. “A lot of the really fast people plateau out at a certain point and they either get faster or just give up. I’m not at the point where I’ve plateaued and am struggling to find things to fix.”
Even though most people don’t know this soft-spoken area athlete is going to the Olympic Trials, many children are educating their parents to the fact their friend is making major waves in the swimming world.
“Cameron was the co-head coach at Mountain Springs Pool last summer in the Rocket City Swim League (RCSL),” explained his father, Rex Conners. “So many parents have told me about how he still goes out of his way to talk to all the little kids. The other day, one of the girls on the HSA team came up to my youngest daughter and told her she knew Cameron Conners. And my daughter smiled and said she did too. The girl told her that she knew him better and my daughter finally told her that he was her big brother.”
One of the reasons for the adulation is even these young athletes quickly realize swimming is not an instant gratification sport.
Actually, Conners says his Olympic Trials surge might not have been possible without the help of HSA coaches Brooke Pate and Matt Webber.
“Coach Brooke Pate was the coach when I was on my transition from cross country to swimming,” explained Conners. “Coach Brooke, when I came over here to HSA, he was very patient with me at first. I was actually pretty bad when I rejoined HSA. I was in the slowest lane, barely made the intervals on freestyle training and he was patient with me and looking back I think that was important. He was also very encouraging.
“Coach Matt Webber started coaching here when I was a senior in high school. I had never done weights. I had never done doubles. He helped motivate me to come out and practice like I should.”
Conners began swimming at age 4 and competed in the summer league for Greenwyche Community Pool. He points to winning the RCSL City Meet 25-yard breaststroke at age 8 as one of his early highlights. He says wanting to do well in the prestigious City Meet was his first motivation to swimming year-round.
In high school, he also turned his focus to cross country. Conners was a team member on three state cross country championships at Randolph and also named All-State.
“The decision he had to make on which sport he was going to play was left to him,” said HSA Head Coach Webber. “He took ownership of the decision and we let him know as long as he did that, he’d be happy with it. When it came to training and meets, it was the same thing. He accepted the tools we gave him in order to work hard to be successful, but in the end it comes down to him, or any athlete, to come in with the right attitude and to also do the work.
“In the three years that I’ve been here, of the swimmers I’ve worked with, as far as a kid who came in every day with their best, it would be Cameron,” Webber added. “It’s sort of fun to see that example for these younger kids because they see that and they see firsthand what works. That’s big.”
Now at Alabama, Conners is teammates with two other area swimming stars: Phillip Deaton and George Wong of Madison. The trio, along with Tyler Espy, still hold the HSA 400 Medley Relay team record set at the 2010 Southeastern Championships.
“Cameron was my roommate this past season at Alabama,” said Wong, who also still holds the HSA 50-meter freestyle team record. “We’ve been through a lot together, a lot of tough practices. He’s a hard worker. He’s come a long way. It has really paid off for him to get to the Olympic Trials and that’s an inspiration for me, something I also aspire to as well.”
Even though Conners is not working on any major repairs, the two-year letterman at Alabama is always looking for improvement. The swimming phenom says he is only happy for a few seconds after achieving personal goals, before his mind turns to what he could have done better. He knows the breaststroke is an extremely difficult stroke to master. Conners points to the start as a pivotal part and feels the intensity magnify the instant he enters the water.
“I still think I have a lot of work to do on the pullout after I enter the water,” Conners said. “A lot of it is body position in the water and how you utilize the butterfly kick with the breaststroke pull. Some people do it before and some utilize it after the pull. As long as you’ve started the pull and separated your hands, you can do the butterfly kick one time. I tend to do the kick right at the beginning.
“A lot of the stroke is about flexibility, which I don’t really have,” he added. “I’ve learned that it is very important to have ankle flexibility which I am decent at in that area. It helps you set up your kick because the breaststroke kick is more of a sideways type thing. Most people try to go too wide when they first learn the stroke because they’re told you’re supposed to look like a frog. Really, the thing for breaststroke is keeping your hands narrow as much as you can while still getting power.”
The Olympic Trials are June 25 through July 2 in Omaha, Neb. Conners’ top times are 55.13 in the 100-yard breaststroke and 2:00.11 in the 200 at the 2012 SEC Championships. The Olympic Trials cut standards are 1:04.69 in the 100-meter breast, 2:20.79 in the 200.
“When I first got my cut and found out I had the time, I was really surprised,” Conners said. “Just the thought of being there with all those people you hear on the news like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte is kind of mind-blowing because my first cut was with HSA the summer before I went to college. I’m still really looking forward to chasing all those really fast people.”