A competitive swimmer from a young age, Tony Blake won the Illinois state championship as a 10-year-old. That’s when he set a goal to qualify for the U.S. Olympic swim team.
One of his cousins, Hayes Jones, won a gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games in the 110-meter hurdles. So Blake sought to follow in his cousin’s footsteps.
For the next 10 years, Blake’s entire life revolved around swimming and Yale University recruited him as a standout member of the class of 1993.
At Yale, Blake’s dream of making the Olympics seemed attainable. His coach labeled him a “superstar.”
As a freshman, Blake passed Yale’s top senior in a practice lane—a violation of protocol. The senior was angry, but Blake replied, “I don’t care who you are, if you aren’t going fast enough, I’m going in front of you.”
In his sophomore year, Blake helped Yale finish 10-3. As a junior, he led the swim team to a 9-1 record.
But Blake saw his Olympic aspirations fizzle. At the U.S. Open Swimming Championships during his junior year, his performance just missed the mark.
Crushed, Blake struggled to cope. “This was the first time I wanted to do something and couldn’t do it,” Blake recalls. “I just didn’t want to swim anymore.”
By his senior year, however, Blake returned to the pool in a big way. His coach convinced him to stay on the swim team, and he wound up helping Yale earn a share of the Ivy League swim title in a triumphant race against Harvard and Princeton.
By continuing to swim, he lifted his team to victory.
— Adapted from “Changing Lanes,” L. Jon Wertheim, www.si.com.