2018 served as a turning point for American Nic Fink in his swimming career. After a letdown year where he wasn’t able to qualify for the Pan Pacific Championships or the 2019 Worlds, he knew a change was in order. He was swimming well in workouts, and had full faith that his coach Jack Bauerle had the plan for him to succeed moving forward. But something wasn’t clicking when it came to how he performed in competitions, picking up some advice from his long-time girlfriend.

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“I always got worked up on the outcome of races,” Fink told FINA. “Having to be top two, having to do this to qualify for funding and sponsors, and all that stuff. That comes with the sport of swimming, but Melanie Margalis was like, ‘yo dude you need to learn how to relax.’ Because every day in the water in training, you’re relaxed and I was swimming well, but I would go to meets and tighten up a little bit.

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"Yo dude you need to learn how to relax."
By Melanie Margalis to Nic Fink

“Not that I was swimming bad or underperforming but it wasn’t the same. It was like rewiring your brain to be more relaxed and be in control of everything you do as opposed to worrying about the outcome or worrying about how you’re supposed to finish to make teams and make money. It’s nice to be more experienced now and know that stuff is secondary to being happy and having fun.”

His new approach to racing helped him reach the pinnacle of success in swimming - qualifying for the Olympic Games in the 200m breaststroke in 2021, where he finished fifth overall.

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Since then, Fink won six medals, including three gold, at last year’s FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Abu Dhabi, the first major international medals of his career.

“That was a really fun meet,” Fink said of last year’s Short Course Worlds. “I had a really good time being with Team USA again and enjoying every step of the way…putting expectations in the pool is fine but a happy swimmer is a fast swimmer, and I’m going to go out there and be a leader for Team USA and try to help everyone else win medals, too, because that’s what it is all about on trips like that.”

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In the summer of 2022, he was crowned the FINA World Champion in the 50m breaststroke in Budapest, along with a bronze in the 100m breaststroke. And most recently, he won triple crowns in all three breaststroke races at the FINA Swimming World Cup, just a few points away from winning the overall crown.

The new approach to racing he adopted in early 2019, as well as racing so often has helped him be at his best consistently. His race day routine hasn’t changed much in the last ten years, but how he approaches the race in between his ears has been the biggest factor in his late career success.

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“I’ve spent the past ten years figuring out what I need and what my body needs and how to react to everything,” Fink said of his race day routine. “It’s nice to be at this point in my career where I kind of know I feel a certain way in warm up, I do this, or if I feel a certain way stretching, I do something else to rectify that. It’s kind of nice being aware of everything that’s going on in your body, in your race, and in your head and being able to adapt and adjust to whatever you need to.”

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After finally getting that Olympic monkey off his back in 2021, Fink feels that everything else he is achieving in his career is just ‘icing on the cake.’ During the final stop of the Swimming World Cup in Indianapolis, he expressed contentment that if his career were to end suddenly, he would be at peace with it, knowing what he has already accomplished.

“I’ve had a really great career and am lucky to have been all the places I’ve been, and met the people I have. It’s definitely relaxing knowing I can finish this weekend really well and make a lot of money and be super excited about that, but if I tweak my ankle it’s fine. It’s all fine - it was a fun past three weeks, and it doesn’t matter. It’s freeing.”

Approaching the end

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After making the Olympic team in 2021, Fink went back to school, enrolling at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, about an hour and a half from the University of Georgia, where he swam for ten years.

Fink is preparing for life after swimming, whenever that may be, by getting his Masters degree in electrical and computer engineering, which included an extra four graduate-level courses on top of his training. As a professional swimmer, Fink had to re-learn how to balance school and swimming to be at his best and stay on top of his coursework.

“It’s been a lot of work. I think last fall was a shock to the system when I hadn’t taken a class in five years and I went back,” Fink said. “Having a couple of semesters under my belt has helped a little bit but it has been a lot of work. A lot of times in between sessions, I won’t nap, I’ll watch lectures and go back and study and work on assignments. Thankfully I know how to work ahead a little bit - I’m usually a big procrastinator but in these types of situations I’m pretty good at getting work done on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday so I can focus on swimming Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

“I’ll be happy in December when my degree is up and I can figure out what to do next.”

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With the 16th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) 2022 falling in the middle of Georgia Tech’s final exams week, Fink was able to plan ahead - taking courses without a final exam in lieu of a final project, therefore Fink can have his mind at ease when he is racing in Melbourne.

“I was telling professors, ‘I want to take your class but I also don’t want any finals and I have to be gone for three weeks, and I hope you’re OK with that.’ And usually they are! Surprisingly, they don’t care as long as you don’t fall behind and keep up with your work. And I’ve been doing the best I can in that realm.”

Being one of the best breaststrokers in the world takes a lot of training, which Fink has in the bank, so at age 29 he isn’t doing the same amount of volume in the pool as he was a decade ago. Fink has been training for over a year now with coach Mike Norment at Georgia Tech, who Fink praised for his flexibility to his graduate school demands.

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Instead of the usual three-four doubles per week that the Georgia Tech athletes may do, Fink is maximizing himself at one to two doubles per week, which has helped him stay sharp this year when he went nine for nine in races at the World Cup across three weeks of racing.

“(Mike Norment) has been great and really flexible with me because my schedule is crazy, and he knows when I show up, I’m giving 100% of my work and I am taking care of myself outside of the pool,” Fink said.

“He is definitely flexible in how he trains me and how we communicate. It has been really good. He will also dish me off to the other coaches because he does a lot of the sprint stuff and he has been really helpful. I also like to stay sharp in the 200 and he is really on top of it and I’m really lucky to have him as my coach now.”

Looking ahead to next week’s Short Course Worlds in Melbourne, Fink will be swimming all three breaststroke races where he will certainly be the gold medal favourite in all three after what he did at the SwimmingWorld Cup.

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As for which is his best race? The 100m was where he qualified for his first Worlds team in 2013, the 200m was where he qualified for his first Olympics in 2021, and the 50m was where he won his first World title in 2022.

Last year in Abu Dhabi, Fink was the world short course champion in the 50m and 200m breaststroke, and picked up bronze in the 100m. In Budapest, he was the long course World champion in the 50m and the bronze medalist in the 100m, and was fifth in the 200m.

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“It’s definitely a good question - it’s something I wonder myself from time to time,” Fink said.

“I think I have definitely developed a knack for swimming the 50 and the 100. I think those are more of my favourites now even though the 200 used to be my favourite. The 200 is really awesome to swim at the end of the year whereas the 50 and 100 are fun to swim all year round. I won’t try to disrespect the 200 too much because it’s also played a big part in my career. It’s what I was able to swim in the Games. I try to treat them all equally but more recently I’ve turned my attention to the 50 and the 100. The best is whatever is more successful at that meet.”

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