2012 Olympic Champion in the 200m backstroke
2013 World Championships Bronze medalist in the 200m backstroke
2014 Pan Pacs Championships Bronze medalist in teh 200m backstroke
2014 National Champion in the 200m backstroke
Like many Olympic swimmers, Tyler Clary was first introduced to the sport for the sake of water safety. “My family went to the river a lot when I was a kid and my younger brother and sister were always there,” the Riverside, Calif., native explains. “My parents decided that if anything crazy were to happen and all of us were to end up in the water, my mom would grab my sister, my dad would grab my brother and I had to learn how to swim.”
He spent most of his age-group years with FAST (Fullerton Area Swim Team), the same program that developed Olympic legend Janet Evans. “She was my first swimming idol,” Clary says. “She amazed me with how she attacked her races and how she consistently beat swimmers who were chemically advanced,” referring to Evans’ victories over steroid-abusing swimmers from East Germany at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
He began to realize his potential when he made his first national team trip to the inaugural 2006 Junior World Championships in Rio de Janeiro, the eventual site of the 2016 Olympics. “I won both I.M. events and did very well in a couple of others – third in the 200 free and 200 back,” he says, running down his meet results. “I also took home the male performance-of-the-meet trophy. That’s when I thought, ‘maybe I can be really good at this.’”
Not long after, Clary headed east to the University of Michigan. He arrived in 2007, the tail end of the Bob Bowman era and was later coached by Jon Urbanchek and finally, Mike Bottom and Josh White.
At NCAAs his freshman year, he had a “terrible” prelim in his best event, the 400 I.M. “I wasn’t able to make it happen that morning, for whatever reason,” he recalls. “I swam so much faster at night. I think I would have gotten third with my time had I made the A-final. I was mad at myself for that.” (Blog post about Clary’s IM advice: The Decathlon of Swimming)
That experience led Clary to take a long, hard look at his warm-up regimen. “After that, I started working on a routine that I know will get me ready to go out and swim. And I’ve done it pretty much ever since.” He stormed back to win the event as well as the 200 back as a sophomore. “It all worked out that year, “ he says. “I wasn’t a rookie at everything anymore. I knew what to expect and made the most of it.”
As Clary was graduating from Michigan, USA Swimming was building a post-grad training center at FAST, his age-group home. “It was natural to go back, he explains. “They had probably the best mid-distance training program I’d ever seen in one place. It was as impressive as the sprint group at SwimMAC. We threw down crazy amounts of yardage, but it was all quality work. That was very useful to me in London.”
FAST’s post-grad program folded in the winter of 2011 and Clary headed back to Ann Arbor, where he stayed through the 2012 Olympic Trials. He made the London squad in the 200 back and 200 fly.
One of Clary’s favorite Olympic memories was the team’s training camp in Vichy, France. “We swam in a pool with a stainless steel bottom so you could see your reflection as you were swimming,” he says. “It also magnified the sunlight so you got tanned from every direction. “
But Vichy paled in comparison to what came next. “The opening ceremony was life-changing,” he exclaims. Because the ceremony falls on the eve of the first day of pool competition, most swimmers skip in order to rest their legs. But luckily for Clary, his events fell later in the schedule, allowing him to partake in that spectacle.
After a “solid” 200 fly, Clary began preparing for the race that would change his life, though he went into it with somewhat modest expectations. “I honestly thought I was fighting for a silver or bronze medal. I thought Ryan was going to run away with it. But I kept up with him through the 150 mark, did my last kick-out and I noticed I was gaining on him. I had never done that in my career, so I decided to come home with every ounce of energy I had left and I touched everyone out. It was insane.”
Next, he looked over at the clock and realized he had just set an Olympic record (1:53.41). “I was the fastest person to ever swim the 200 backstroke at the Olympics. That’s pretty wild.”
Backstroke legend Aaron Peirsol took him aside later that night, explaining, “You don’t really realize the magnitude of what you’ve just done and it won’t hit you for another six months to a year.” To which Clary confesses, “I still don’t’ think it’s hit me.”
In March of 2014, Clary decided he needed a change in his routine. “I wanted to show everyone I was taking racing seriously by finding a program that would not only allow me to become a better swimmer, but also to further develop my dream of becoming a race-car driver.” And there was no better place to do both than Charlotte, home to USA Swimming’s other post-grad center (SwimMAC) and NASCAR.
What’s the biggest lesson he’s learned in the last decade? “Don’t ever count yourself out. If I was able to do it despite being shorter than the ideal swimmer and not from the best area, that means that you can too.”
Clary uses his competitive drive outside of the pool through motorsports and other hobbies, but his first love has always been the water and teaching others how to improve. He is excited to help other swimmers take their racing to the next level with the Fitter and Faster Swim Tour!