As the 2015 FINA World Championships progress in Kazan, Russia, UC Berkeley’s Tom Shields stands primed to make his own big splash in the pool. As the 2014 Phillips 66 national champion in both 100m and 200m butterfly, the 24-year old member of the US National Team and American record holder will swim for the podium in those events as well as the men’s 4×100 medley relay. Examiner spoke exclusively with Shields on Aug. 4 shortly after he safely advanced to the 200m butterfly final to get the low-down on what he learned as a Cal student, how Michael Phelps has influenced his career as a pro swimmer, and how he plans to unwind after worlds wrap up.
SW: As a competitive swimmer, what drew you to Cal?
TS: Winning a team NCAA title. I had dreamed of that for a decade so throughout the recruiting process I was looking for a place in California that had the best shot.
SW: What have you learned from being part of Cal’s swim program?
TS: Everything. From humility to pride, acceptance to rejection, and from commitment to compartmentalization, our team has taught me to handle a variety of situations that I would not have learned otherwise. We have focused on building a group of successful people in and out of the water, and that doesn’t always translate to times or money, but to character. On the back of one of our shirts while I was at Cal was a tenet of the Haas School of Business, which reads “student always”. Whether it’s from someone who is currently on the team in Ryan Murphy, who hasn’t been in quite some time in Tony Ervin, or who is now a million miles away nowadays in Graeme Moore, the people that we have built and are building continue to teach me everyday.
SW: Are you enjoying your Worlds experience in Russia?
TS: Yes! We had a great camp and working through this meet! Ryan [Lochte] and Katie [Ledecky] have carried us through the first two days and I am excited to get my shot.
SW: You’re scheduled to compete in three races. How are you feeling?
TS: Okay! Really ready to hit the water, and anxious watching my teammates compete [laughs].
SW: I was looking over some race data and saw that you’re tied for the fastest qualifying time in the 100 fly. Do you prefer underdog or favored status?
TS: I do not really know what to say. Obviously Michael [Phelps] would’ve had top spot had he been here, and I do really wish he was, but I guess my preference to where I’m placed going into the race isn’t the number I’m focused on [laughs].
SW: I’m sure people ask you about your pre-race rituals all the time, but I want to know what you do to de-amp following competition.
TS: This year I am going to train in Scotland for a bit and have some R and R with my wife!
SW: Do you have goals for your time in Kazan?
TS: I think medalling and winning is on everyone’s mind, as it should be, but here I really want to help my team be the best it can be, and being a rookie that means figuring out how to do that [laughs].
SW: When it comes to sports and competition, I think the Olympic Games is really the paragon of excellence. What would it mean to you to earn a trip to Rio next summer?
TS: It would mean a lot, but also isn’t that different to me personally. I want to be the best on the biggest stage possible, [but] I obviously do not get to decide where that is.
SW: USA Swimming recently released a list of the most influential swimmers and coaches. Who’s been your biggest inspiration in the sport?
TS: Michael hands down. As a flier, he changed the events in ways that we are still learning about. Outside of him, Ian Crocker, [Milorad] Cavic, Misty Hyman, David Berkoff, Pablo Morales, Aaron Peirsol, Eric Diehl, Troy Dalbey, Joey Hudepohl, and last but probably the most influential on me and the sport is Duke Kahanamoku. As far as coaches go I have to give a shout out to Rick Graves, Laurel Hill, Arturo Sosa, Jeri Marshburn, Greg Meehan, Bill Rose, and of course Dave Durden and Yuri Suguiyama.
SW: Michael Phelps had an entire spread dedicated to what he eats during a single day. What does Tom Shields eat on the average day?
TS: What’s available. I do take nutritional supplements and make vegetable shakes everyday. [They] would be the only special things of note.
SW: Before I go, back to Cal. You’re a religious studies major, which I find really interesting. Why did you choose that particular field and what do you plan to do with the degree down the line?
TS: I have no plans for what I am doing once I retire as a professional swimmer. I guess I majored in it because I found it super interesting. I also went to a lot of Bible school growing up and therefore did not have to re-read a lot of old manuscripts that I had already seen. Old texts, myths, and religions have always fascinated me, though I prefer learning about them to writing papers and trying to make thoughts and arguments regarding their effect or meaning — this being the essence of my time in religious studies.