"I hate walls. I hate turns," says northern California native Haley Anderson. An unusual statement to say the least from the reigning NCAA champion in the 500-yard freestyle, a gut-busting four-minute swim that requires 19 flip turns.
But the personable 20-year-old has good reasons for her dislike of walls and turns. She is one of the world's fastest open water swimmers.
"I feel more relaxed in the open water. I love the open water. I like getting ready for anything in the open water. I like the need to be ready to adjust to conditions, currents and the competition. I grew up near a lake [Folsom Lake] in northern California. My sister and I would always walk over for a swim. You can just swim and swim without worrying about walls or turns."
Her ease in open water is one of the things that helped her qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
"Haley showed such composure at the Olympic Qualifier [in Setubal, Portugal]. She was tactical, patient, relaxed, and focused," said her coach Catherine Vogt. "She showed speed when it was needed. I told her to stay in the front pack, take good feeds, and adjust if anything didn't go according to plan."
Although open water races typically play to her strengths, they also provide more time and opportunity for negative thoughts to creep in.
"During the open water, I have time to doubt myself with lots of negative thoughts. During the first 5K, I was thinking, 'Oh my goodness, I need to work my way up the pack.' But as I started to work my way up the pack, I get more and more positive. It is like a natural progression."
If she can keep her mind in the right place, her speed can take care of the rest—especially in the closing laps of the two-hour marathon swim in London.
Haley possesses two characteristics that will prove valuable as she circles the Serpentine six times in the Olympic 10K: size and speed. Haley's lengthy frame and fast turnover will be assets she will call upon as she comes barreling toward the finish. She will need to draw on both in order to claim a spot on the podium.
"Haley has been preparing all year," recalled Vogt. "Even with NCAA championships, she has continued to stay focused on her dream. One step at a time, preparing with cold water swims, good pool training and racing."