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Senior freestyler Adam Powell has aspirations to compete in the 2012 Olympics after a finishing up his season and degree here at Columbia.

Everyone who plays sports has dreams. Many involve winning championships, collecting medals, and playing the sport at the highest level. For most, however, the dream ends without being fulfilled, often after high school or college. Adam Powell, a senior on the men's swimming and diving team, isn't ready to let his dreams slip away without a fight. Powell is planning on taking a year off after graduation to attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in the 50 meter freestyle. If you've walked around Morningside Heights, you probably recognize the name Adam Powell. Powell's grandfather was Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a former New York City congressman whose name graces Seventh Avenue north of Central Park. Powell has been carving out quite a name for himself at Columbia as well, and has already etched himself into Columbia swimming history. Powell is the school record holder in the 50 free (19.72 seconds) and 100 free (43.91 seconds) and is part of the school-record holding 200 medley team (1:29.81 minutes). Powell qualified for the NCAA Championship in the spring for the 50 free with the 18th fastest time in the nation, but failed to make it out of the preliminaries. Powell has been swimming since he was a child, although it's fair to say the Olympic Trials were not always on his mind. "When I was seven, I joined the town team," said Powell, who hails from Pound Ridge, N.Y. "The town summer swim team was the cool thing to do." "I joined because it was an extracurricular activity," Powell said. "I usually went to the same park for summer camp, so now I went to camp and had practice afterward." Powell enjoyed the sport and joined his first club team that fall when he was eight years old. But despite his fondness of the water, Powell didn't swim competitively over the summer even though swimming is a year-round sport at the highest levels. Powell continued to swim and was on his high school's swim team, but club teams provided the most competition and training for him as he got older and better. "It's all about the club team," Powell said. "High school plays a part, but swimming consumes your life long before high school." Powell was always a good swimmer but didn't start to show his true potential until his sophomore year of high school. "Before that, I just liked to swim," said Powell. "At the end of my sophomore year I grew. I was always a tall kid, when I was a freshman I came in at like 6'1 but I grew to 6'5. That combined with hitting puberty and gaining muscle played a big part." As Powell improved, swimming became a bigger and bigger part of his daily life. "Swimming became my exclusive focus and I started to take training more seriously," Powell said. It was around this time that he made a change that would change the trajectory of his career. "I started as a backstroker, but I started to swim freestyle around then," said Powell. As he blossomed, Powell set his sights on swimming competitively in college, and colleges set their sights on having him swim for their teams. "Over 75 coaches called," Powell said. "It was almost every other night." But there was one group of schools in particular that were intrigued by Powell and his potential. "July 1 before your senior year is the first day to call, and the first two schools to call me were Harvard and Princeton." Columbia wasn't far behind, and Powell was drawn to Morningside Heights for a number of different reasons. "I liked the fact that it was in the city and that it was close to home," said Powell, who was ultimately deciding between Columbia and powerhouse Virginia. "I chose Columbia because I thought I could accomplish the same goals in swimming and academics at Columbia, and I felt I wouldn't have to sacrifice anything." Powell, who swims the 50 free, 100 free, and 100 backstroke, had a strong sophomore campaign, breaking the 50 free record, and then breaking it twice more that year. Powell's junior year was even better, and was spurred in part due to an increased training regimen over the summer. "I made changes between sophomore and junior year," Powell said. "I started swimming year-round and I saw the improvement right away. I saw the benefits of full time training." Powell's improvement since he stepped foot on campus was also noticed by his head coach Jim Bolster. "Adam's improvement since he arrived on campus as a freshman has been steady and significant," the head coach said. "The most obvious improvement is the amount of time he has dropped in his three events, but I believe he has made even greater strides in his approach to swimming." Of these changes, Bolster said, "In high school Adam could just show up and win. He did not train much nor did he spend any extra time other than the 20 plus seconds it took him to swim his race thinking about swimming. He knew he was fast and that he would win and he was comfortable with that. In college I think Adam has come to realize that his natural skills only take him so far; if he wants to win at the highest levels he must train and think at the highest levels. As a result his attitude towards training and his training habits, his weight room routine, his nutritional practices, and his understanding of the need for a year-round perspective have all contributed significantly to his time improvements." Powell broke the school record for the 100 free as a junior, and went undefeated in the 100 free and 50 free all year. Powell was the Ivy champion in both events. Powell was also named to the Mid-Major all-America first team once, the first-team all-Ivy twice, and led the swimming and diving team to a third place finish in the Ivy League—the team's best finish in years. Powell has gotten off to another strong start this year, as he is undefeated in both the 50 and 100 free, and set pool records in the two events earlier this year. Powell won three events this past weekend at the Big Al Invitational, including another victory in the 100 free where he won easily with a time of 43.77 seconds. Powell also won the 50 free and the 100 backstroke. Powell has set his sights firmly on the Olympic trials for the London 2012 games, despite the fact that he has never been to an Olympic trial—having missed the cutoff for the 2008 games by two-tenths of a second. "First off, it's the year after I graduate, and I would be doing a disservice by not going after it for one more year," said Powell when asked of his motivation. "Secondly, I think I have a legit shot at making the team. And finally, I've never had a full year to focus exclusively on swimming." Powell will train at Columbia after the swimming and diving season ends in March, and will then train out of his home. "I met a coach during my sophomore year, and I'll train with him in Rockland, N.Y.," Powell said. In the meantime, coach Bolster is fully supportive of Powell's lofty goals. "We think Adam's Olympic aspirations are great and a natural outcome of all the improvements he has made since arriving on campus," Bolster said. "To make Olympic trials he will have to continue to work hard acclimating to swimming meters. The longer pool puts a premium on technique over power and Adam does not have a great deal of meter/long course training and racing experience." "The quality that makes Adam one of the best Ivy swimmers is his insatiable desire to be the best/fastest," continued Bolster. "Adam likes speed! He likes it when people talk about someone being 'the fastest.' Right now he is the fastest in the Ivy League, but Adam will not be satisfied until he owns that moniker at the national level. If he wins a national title he will put his name in the conversation for an Olympic team spot." When it comes to Olympic swimming, however, there is only one name that comes to mind: Michael Phelps. "He sheds a lot of light on our sport," Powell said. "That goes without saying." But Phelps had publicly expressed a desire to become a sprinter for the 2012 Olympics. Will Powell have to face off with Phelps for a spot on the team? "Thankfully, he doesn't swim the 50 free," Powell said. "I don't think the 50 is something he would do, I think the 100 is." No matter what happens in the future, Powell has found his passion in the pool. "The 50 free is the reason why I swim," he said. "It's a short burst of adrenaline, two laps, 20 seconds. All-out max effort. I like the idea of going fast, generating the most power and speed." If Powell's speed measures up in the years to come, he may just be walking in the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic games.

Men's Swimming and Diving