Aaron Peirsol is one of the coolest athletes in any sport. He recently took timeout between flights on his way home from the women’s NCAA Championships for 20 Question Tuesday with Bob Schaller. Peirsol debunks rumors about his shopping habits, explains his plans for life in a far away land, and explains the importance of putting forth his best effort every time he hits the water.
1 You were USA Swimming’s Swimmer of the Year for 2005. Isn’t it odd to have that happen after such a great Olympics?
Aaron: I consider myself as still improving – vastly. There are things I need to fix, and I have a long way to go to improve. Right now I’m getting a lot stronger in every sense of the word.
2 Okay, but how about talking about your year for us in the pool? How did you go so fast in a post-Olympic year, especially considering your 2004 Olympics were so outstanding?
Aaron: I don’t know. I’ve never really seen an Olympic year as being an end-of-a-season thing, or an end-of-four-years or end of anything. You try to get better. I don’t put much stock into taking a break and coming back in two years in time for the Olympics. When I want to be done with the sport, I’ll be done with it. There’s no point in waiting around for that special moment to occur once every four years. The way I look at it is that if tomorrow I swam that one race I felt I could never swim again, I could hand in my suit. I don’t have to do that race at the Olympics. I just want that one swim I can look back on and be proud of, and then, that’ll be enough for me.
3 Your sister Hayley just won the 1,650 at NCAAs and was part of Auburn’s incredible championship Saturday, knocking off defending champ Georgia. What was that like?
Aaron: I was there! Man, it was surreal. I knew Hayley was swimming well all year. A couple of years ago she had gone through a little funk, so I wanted to see her at NCAAs. I needed to be there. I wanted to be there, I mean. I was so glad to see her swim like that. Watching her race, I was just so proud of her. To win the way she did, it was like you will yourself past someone in a sense, and that’s the kind of win that is most rewarding. She definitely earned that win. I’m just so proud of her.
4 Tell us a little about your new place in Costa Rica?
Aaron: It’s beautiful. We have a place about an hour south of town. Where we’re at, there are no paved roads and very little running water. We’re building on our land there now, and it’s looking pretty cool.
5 I hear you are a big designer shopper now?
Aaron: I think you have some wrong information… (Pause) Oh, that whole thing (laughs) with the bag. (Aaron got Hayley a Marc Jacobs bag for a gift). I remember that now. Mom picked it out.
6 How seriously do you take your role as a spokesman for open waters?
Aaron: You don’t want to look back years from now and say, “What did we do (to our environment)? This is something we could’ve gotten around. We could’ve found another way…”
7 So are you more interested in environmental awareness?
Aaron: Yes. Sometimes, people are a little single-minded in what they do and what they want, as far as the environment goes. They don’t give a well-thought out plan to what effect it will have long-term.
8 I guess every fan has their favorite Olympic moment. Mine is when you were disqualified (and later reinstated) in 2004. Your reaction to that was so awesome, something kids everywhere can learn from. Where did that class and dignity come from?
Aaron: I definitely get that from my parents. Everyone is a product of the people they are raised by, or grow up with. That said, once your values are instilled, the rest is up to you. Specifically to the question about that moment at the Olympics: Under the circumstances, I knew I had won and done nothing wrong. As long as the guys in the race felt the same way – that I did nothing wrong – then if I don’t get the medal, yeah, it’s a bummer, but I knew I’d be just fine. So I just headed to the warm-up pool because I knew I had done nothing wrong. It wasn’t the medal I was going after, it was the swim that I had, and I was very proud of that. Of course (laughs) it was nice they reviewed it and I received the gold.
9 Speaking of sports moments, your Texas football team beat USC for the title. Are you a fan?
Aaron: Oh yeah. Man, that was pretty cool. That was a sweet game to watch all around
10 What’s Vince Young, the Texas QB like? He’s gotten some bad press for allegedly not scoring well on a test he took at the NFL Combine?
Aaron: He’s a bright guy, and anyone can tell that by the way he plays the game. I mean, I’m no football guru, but I watch it. I remember some NFL guys talking at the Rose Bowl, and someone asked them if Vince was ready for the NFL, and they started laughing, “Yeah, you’ve got to be kidding,” was their answer. He walked out on that field that night, knew what had to be done, and did it – did it all, and did it well. I really respect him for that.
11 So are the UT faithful celebrities like Lance Armstrong and Matthew McConaughey big UT supporters? I mean do they support all sports, not just football?
Aaron: Actually, I’ve seen Lance a few times. Obviously he’s a great athlete. But the celebrities – football is the common denominator, but it’s great to see the team get that kind of support.
12 Has it dawned on you what a special time it’s been at Texas with all the great swimmers there right now – yourself, Ian, Brendan and the others?
Aaron: Well, you look at the way we’ve done things over the years… you build up this certain camaraderie and support for the people you swim with. You build that confidence that you belong there, that you belong with the best. We realized that many years ago when we were a lot younger, so it became a matter of, “How far can we push it?” We get together on a relay, and it’s not, “Can we win?” but “How much can we win by?” That’s our mentality for the relay. We’re all very different personalities too, which makes it kind of cool. We all have something different to bring to the table, and we’re all very effective individually. So that also makes it pretty unique.
13 What’s something special Ian does besides cars and playing his guitar – can he cook?
Aaron: Yeah, Ian’s a great (laughs) little cook. He does this barbecue thing and has this smoker outside.
14 What about Brendan Hansen?
Aaron: Brendan goes fishing more than he goes swimming right now. He and Neil (Walker) and Ed go fishing and hunting a lot. Brendan is done with school so now has more free time.
15 Now that you are making a good living swimming, has money changed you?
Aaron: No. I mean, maybe it’s changed me, but not for the worse. You have different responsibilities, but nothing too drastic. I’ve never swum for the glory. You do this, and it’s pretty cool to make a living and have an impact doing the sport you grew up in.
16 How cool was your China trip?
Aaron: Dude, China was awesome. It was one of my best trips in a long time. It was a very different, eye-opening experience. I know I’ll be going back. I recommended it to all the guys.
17 Sounds like you got a lot out of it, correct?
Aaron: Yeah, are you kidding me? For sure. It wasn’t just seeing the venues for 2008, it was about the culture, and that was so cool. Beijing is actually a pretty westernized city, but the rest of China isn’t as much. The rest of the country, the parts I was fortunate enough to visit, were just great.
18 China’s a big swimming country now more than ever, isn’t it?
Aaron: Oh, man, yes! I should say China will field some of the best swimmers in 2008 at their Olympics. They will put on a show, I’m saying that right now.
19 Do you look over your shoulder at who is chasing you in your events?
Aaron: I’ve never been the kind to do that. The guys I compete against now, like Michael (Phelps) or Ryan (Lochte), these aren’t even their main events. But I’ve never been the kind to do that, even when a meet is coming up, or whatever. You go out, do your best race, and that’s it.
20 What’s it like to be the best in the world at something?
Aaron: It’s cool. I mean, to set a record, to win gold and be the best – that’s something no one can ever take away from you.