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'I know people swimming in rivers and lakes': Team USA swimmers train however possible for Tokyo 2021

Gunnar Bentz and his teammates in Georgia have used, among other things, a water slide to simulate their dives.

Six months ago, we interviewed Gunnar Bentz after a grueling practice at the University of Georgia's Gabrielsen Natatorium. He was training hard, with teammates like Chase Kalisz, Olivia Smoliga, and Jay Litherland, as the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo drew near.

“I can’t wait," Bentz told us. "There’s six more months, but hopefully it flies by. I’m sure it will.”

Six months later, Bentz is swimming not in Tokyo, but Watkinsville, Ga., at an outdoor pool where his UGA teammates must now focus on 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it so.

RELATED: Fayetteville Olympian Christian Taylor hopeful 2021 Tokyo Games will happen, sees them as chance to 'prove myself'

“A lot of people had to call it quits and hang up that Speedo," Bentz told 11Alive's Matt Pearl earlier this week. “I had plenty of time to really go over every single aspect of what I want to do, and I realized, in 20-30 years, I’m gonna regret not swimming.”

Bentz grew up in Atlanta. He went to school in Athens. And at 20 years old, he flew to Rio and won gold with the men's 4x200 freestyle relay in 2016.

He was gearing up to compete again this year. But in late March, in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Olympic Committee postponed the 2020 Summer Games. 

Bentz and many Team USA teammates took time away from the water. Now, they’re seeking out whatever water they can.

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"I know of people swimming in rivers and lakes right now," Bentz said with a laugh. “The other week, I was at a friend’s lake house up in Lake Burton, and I just got on a float and used it as a little kick workout and kicked all the way across the lake and back.

“We’re staying strong in every way that we can.”

There's another element at play for Bentz. 

When we spoke with him back in January, he wasn't planning on swimming beyond 2020. He was preparing to try out for Tokyo, swim in Tokyo, and retire when he got home.

“I’m feeling every little ache and pain," he told us then. “I feel old, I really do. After this summer, I’m gonna be done. My swimming career’s over.”

That is no longer the case. And Bentz, at 24 years old, seems content to wait one more year to swim his final Games.

“I’m postponing real life for another year," he said. "That’s not so bad. I get to hang out with my friends and train for, possibly, another Olympics. So I’m excited to do that.”


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