OMAHA, Neb. -- The waiting is over. The Men's 100 breaststroke event is about to begin. That's why I'm here. It's to see this race and the 200 breaststroke event later this week. I'm here as a spectator, not as a working journalist. But I figure while I'm here sitting in the nose bleed section at the Century Link Arena in Omaha, I might as well share a few thoughts about this sport I've grown to love. Something tells me someone is going to snag first place by 1/100th of a second this week.
That's a fingernail when you think about it. 1/100th of a second can mean the difference between going to London and staying home. In the swimming competitions at the trials the top two finishers in each event make the Olympic team. Just two. That's the time that separated local swimmers Megan Jendrick and Tara Kirk four years ago in the 100 breaststroke at the trials. Jendrick's 2nd place finish of 1:07:50 was 1/100th of a second faster than Kirk's third place finish. Megan Jendrick got to go to Beijing. Tara Kirk did not.
Related: More Olympic Trials coverage at KING 5's Olympic Zone
That smallest of margins - 1/100th of a second- got me thinking about something else; those American swimmers who didn't make the Olympic Trial cut by 1/100th of a second. And what about those swimmers who did, just barely, by the smallest of margins? They get to compete in the next best thing to the Olympics; the 2012 Olympic Trials. They are the swimmers you won't hear anything about this week, and yet, they must feel like the luckiest athletes in Omaha right now. Just ask Perry Sharify from Seattle. Never mind. I'll ask him. He's my son after all.
"I'm just happy to be here," says the 22-year-old senior at the University of Hawaii. "Honestly, making the Olympics or Olympic Trials was never in my dreams. College swimming was in my dreams. So this is the cherry on top. " Sharify, a walk-on his freshman year, exceeded his coach's expectations. He has the third fastest time in the history of the University of Hawaii swimming program in the 200 breaststroke. That's his best event. His next best event is what he's about to swim in a few minutes. Perry's got his work cut out for him.
He's seeded last. And last is way down there.
Perry and two other swimmers are seeded 142nd with a time of 104.69 which is the qualifying time at the trials for the 100 breaststroke event. 1/100th of a second slower, they wouldn't be swimming this afternoon. "I look at it this way. The pressure’s off, " says Sharify, who is co-captain of his team at U.H." 99 percent of us won't make the Olympics, so I'm going to try to look at this as just another meet. And have fun. "
Some people have asked me "So how much time separates your son's time from the top swimmer in this event?"
Four time Olympic medalist Brendan Hanson is the #1 seed in the 100 breast. What separates #1- Hansen from #142- Sharify? I tell people: "It is the amount of time I'll take to answer that question you just asked me. About four seconds." That's it. "Swimming is a sport of tenths of a second. 1/100th's of a second," says Sharify. He has known that since he started swimming at the age of six. “We’re all trying to drop time,” he says.
"The dream for me is being in the same competition as the swimmers I watched growing up. I'm humbled by that. I'm not a super elite swimmer. So I'm happy to be here," says Sharify. "And if I can shave a few tenths of a second or more from my best times, I'll be happy," says Sharify. "I'm going to let it rip."
Monday afternoon at the prelims, breaststroker Perry Sharify gave it his best try. It wasn't his best swim of his career. "Slow but fun," he said right afterwards. "I rushed it. I always rush my 100. I'll have a better one Thursday." His time of 105.95 meant that he beat seven swimmers in his first event at the 2012 Olympic Trials. We texted each other after the swim. I told him I was proud of him. He texted back. "Thank you. Thank you for everything." From where I was sitting in the stands, he might as well have won the Gold.
"Swimming is about bettering yourself, hopefully dropping time, and knowing that all the hard work paid off," says Sharify.
I couldn’t be more proud of my boy. In the last sixteen years, I’ve watched him swim competitively hundreds of times. I’ve screamed ‘Go Perry’ thousands of times. His mother Denise and I, and his big sister Jade, have been his biggest cheerleaders. I’ve interviewed thousands of people in my career as a journalist. Never my son, until now. It's my favorite interview of ALL time. For me, it's the ‘cherry on top’.
Perry's next swim is Thursday. The 200 breaststroke is his best event. Perry Sharify is seeded 88th in a field of 133 of the best swimmers in the country.
"When I get on the block Thursday,” says Sharify. “I’m going to do my best.