National Sports

Gabrielle Rose proves age is just a number as she competes in US swim trials at 46

INDIANAPOLIS — Gabrielle Rose is realistic about her goals. She knows a third Olympics is out of reach.

That’s OK.

This time, she’s swimming for an even higher cause.

At the age of 46, Rose is by far the oldest athlete at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials — earning her place among more than 1,000 entrants exactly two decades removed from her last appearance.

“I’m just hoping to show people you can do more, you’re capable of doing more,” said Rose, who represented her native Brazil at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the U.S. at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

“You can have more energy, you can have more strength than you thought was possible,” she went on, the passion building in her voice. “I want women in particular to not be afraid to be strong, to lift weights, to take care of themselves and just know that they can have a lot more in the older chapters of their lives.”

Rose is an anomaly at the trials, to be sure, but hardly looks out of place.


Competing in the heats of the 100-meter breaststroke, against seven swimmers who were all less than half her age, Rose glided to the wall first Sunday in a personal-best of 1 minute, 8.43 seconds — the first time she’s broken the 1:09 barrier.

She finished with the 11th-fastest time overall in the preliminaries, advancing to an improbable spot in the evening semifinals.

“That was my big stretch goal,” Rose said, still beaming more than an hour after she climbed from the temporary pool in Lucas Oil Stadium. “I was really, really nervous because I just wanted to have the swim that I thought I was capable of. It came out this morning, so I’m really, really pleased.”

She went even faster in the semifinals, but her time of 1:08.32 was 10th overall — two spots away from qualifying for the final Monday.

Swimming is a young person’s pursuit, to be sure, but a handful of athletes at the U.S. trials are defying the odds.

There’s 39-year-old Matt Grevers, a four-time Olympic gold medalist who got the itch to swim again when he heard the trials were being held in the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. He started training and managed to hit the qualifying time in the 50 freestyle.

There’s 35-year-old Brandon Fischer, who has never made it to the Olympics but can brag that he’s matched Michael Phelps by competing in the U.S. Olympic trials for the fifth time. The Californian is swimming the 100 and 200 breaststroke in Indy.

“I still have aspirations to be an amazing, great Olympian, like all these other great Olympians we’ve seen throughout history who left their mark,” Fischer said. “At the same time, you have to pull back. You know this is the fifth time. You’re just grateful to be here.”

After failing to make the U.S. team at the 2004 trials, it appeared that Rose’s competitive swimming career was largely over. She got into coaching, became a mother and focused on the less-stressful Masters circuit to stoke her competitive fires.

Last year, after surprising herself by setting a personal best at the Masters spring nationals, she decided to make another run at the Olympic trials.

“I wasn’t expecting to have a lifetime best at 45,” Rose said. “So I’m like, ‘Let’s see what’s possible.’ It happens to line up with the Olympic year and Olympic trials. I’ve absolutely loved going back to my roots as a professional athlete and just knowing that this is like a special time in my life, just to see what I’m capable of.”

More than she ever could’ve imagined, it turned out.

When she spotted her time on the scoreboard, her face broke into a huge smile. The crowd of more than 17,000, which included her 10-year-old daughter Annie, recognized what an extraordinary moment it was, serenading her with an immediate standing ovation — and then another as she walked across the deck.

Its wasn’t her third Olympics, but it sure felt like it.

Among those who finished behind Rose were Sarah Bennetts, who just completed her freshman year at UCLA.

“It’s crazy that she can race that fast,” Bennetts said. “When I’m 46, I’ll probably be sitting on the couch watching the Olympic trials.”

Fischer, who was bullied as a child and felt out of place in the rigid, demanding world of his younger swimming days, rediscovered his love of the sport as he moved into his 30s.


He says his times now are faster than ever, even as he juggles swimming with his job at the secretive Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The Masters circuit — which he had once brushed off as nothing more than a bunch of washed-up old-timers — turned out to be perfectly suited to his philosophical, inquisitive personality.

“The culture is very different,” Fischer said. “The people are all adults. They all have jobs. They all have marriages, have kids, have careers. They just want to go swim in the morning, have some fun, and go to the bar afterward.”

For Rose, the chance to compete at one more trials came along at a perfect point in her life.

But she knows it’s just a diversion.

She has one more event, the 200-meter breaststroke.

Her plans after that?

“I’ve got to get back to real life,” she said, breaking into another grin.