At the 2008 Olympic Trials, then-University of Virginia freshman (and ACC rookie of the year) Matt McLean calmly stepped atop the starting block of the 400-meter freestyle semifinals, knowing his dreams of Beijing came down to just one race.
The Sterling, Va., native came into qualifications seeded 17th, but only the top two finishers would qualify for the Olympic Games in Beijing.
As he readied himself for the starting sound and the four-minute race, McLean knew he needed the swim of his life to even reach the finals. It didn’t happen. He finished ninth, in 3:52, just missing a shot at the finals.
But that was four years ago.
Since then, McLean has graduated from UVA with a degree in sociology and along the way amassed a swimming resume with an “Of Note” section that nonchalantly lists the following: 15-time All-American, 17-time ACC Champion and ACC record holder in five events.
At the 2012 Olympic Trials, McLean was atop the block of the 400-meter freestyle, four years older and entering as the second seed and defending national champion in the event -- a heavy favorite to punch his ticket to London.
Three minutes and 49.96 seconds later, the race is over. McLean finished in second in his heat. Just like four years prior, the top eight would qualify to swim in the finals, but only the top two would make the trip to the Olympics. The rest of the meet was out of McLean's hands.
Going into the final heat, McLean was sitting in sixth place. All he needed was for three swimmers not to beat his time and he was guaranteed a spot in the finals.
Then the unthinkable happened -– his time was beaten not once, not twice, but three times. Yet again, McLean was on the wrong side of the final eight.
But all hope was not lost. McLean had one more shot, albeit a long one.
He had also qualified for the finals in the 200-meter freestyle. As always, the top two would swim in the Olympics in the individual 200-meter freestyle, but the finals included both Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. As expected Phelps and Lochte took first and second.
In addition to the 200-meter individual event there is also a 4x200 meter relay -- a final chance for McLean. He had finished fifth in the 200-meter finals and was on the bubble for making the team.
After six days of waiting and wondering if he headed to London or headed home, McLean got the call -– he had been added as a member of the 4x200 meter freestyle relay team and was going to the 2012 Games.