Past and Present Engineers Qualify for United States Olympic Trials

L to R & clockwise: action photos of Sam Ubellacker, Wyatt Ubellacker, Edenna Chen and James Richardson all of whom have qualified for the US Olympic Trials

Cambridge, Mass. (July 3) - Four student-athletes from the MIT men's and women's swimming and diving programs, both past and present, qualified for the 2020 United States Olympic Trials which were scheduled to take place from June 21-28 in Omaha, Nebraska. However, due to CoVID-19, these four student-athletes will have to wait until next summer to compete on the national stage. The Olympic Trials are now scheduled for June 13-20, 2021 at the Chi Health Center in Omaha.

The four student-athletes from MIT who qualified for the trials include recent graduate Sam Ubellacker (Georgetown, Ky.), rising sophomores James Richardson (Mercer Island, Wash.) and Edenna Chen (Colorado Springs, Colo.) as well as 2013 graduate Wyatt Ubellacker (Georgetown, Ky.). Wyatt Ubellacker has now qualified for the Olympic Trials each of the last three times the event has been held. In both 2012 and 2016, he swam the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle.

The Ubellacker brothers qualified for the trials in the 50-meter free as Wyatt notched a time of 22.76 and Sam registered a time of 22.82. Richardson qualified for the trials in the 100-meter butterfly with a time of 54.10 and Chen qualified for the trials in the 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:10.63. Note: All events at the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games are swam in long course meters. All collegiate events are swam in short course yards.

According to swimswam.com, as of April 10, 2020, 1,213 athletes qualified to compete at the Olympic Trials. We had an opportunity to catch up with each of the four qualifiers from MIT over the past few weeks and had the chance to ask each of them a few questions.

When asked about what it meant to qualify for the Olympic Trials Edenna Chen said, "I honestly didn't expect to qualify for Olympic Trials, which I actually think made it more special to me because I was really able to enjoy the process and the sport, rather than focusing too much on the competition or stressing myself out. However, it did feel really great to show some results to everyone who supported me, and it was pretty motivating to see a lot of my hard work pay off."  Classmate James Richardson said, "I felt that this was a testament to all of the hard work done by my coaches and teammates who had pushed me to achieve my goal. I am very grateful for all that they have done for me this last decade."

Both Chen and Richardson had great first years as collegiate athletes at MIT. Richardson earned All-America honors in three events, claimed the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Championship title in the 800 free relay and set two school records. In addition, Chen, the 2020 NEWMAC Women's Rookie of the Year, claimed four All-America honors and four NEWMAC gold medals this season. She also broke the school records in the 100-breast, 200-medley relay and 400-medley relay.

MIT was one of a few Division III programs to have qualifiers for the United States Olympic Trials. In the NEWMAC, Joe Rodriguez from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy will join the four Engineers in Omaha next summer, while New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) rival Tufts University will send Division III National Champion Roger Gu to the trials in 2021. Having four Division III student-athletes qualify for the United States Olympic Trials from one program in the same year is a huge accomplishment.

Sam Ubellacker said, "The swimming program at MIT has seen a huge increase in talent and speed over the last decade. There's no doubt that this year's squad was one of the fastest in history, and it's great to see MIT swimmers not only compete at the highest level, but actually place among the best swimmers the United States has to offer." Ubellacker capped his collegiate career as a 13-time NCAA All-American and in the spring of 2020 was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-America First Team for his efforts in the pool and in the classroom.

We also asked what they are looking forward to when it comes to competing in Omaha next summer and all four Engineers shared the same excitement about the atmosphere, representing MIT and being able to swim and compete with the best swimmers in the nation. As someone who has been there before, Wyatt Ubellacker said, "Warming up and casually seeing gold medalists and world record holders. It's kind of surreal," while as a first-time qualifier, Richardson said, "I intend to savor every moment." 

Wyatt Ubellacker, one of the best sprinters the MIT men's swimming and diving program has ever seen come through the program holds school records in the 50-free, 100-free, 100-fly, 200-free relay and 400-free relay. He was a 25-time NCAA All-American, the most a single student-athlete has earned in program history, a three-time NCAA National Champion and a two-time NEWMAC Men's Swimmer of the Year. 

Another piece of the puzzle for these four student-athletes is navigating training, workouts and staying in shape, especially during this time of CoVID-19. All four have been working on dryland workouts and getting in the pool when they can. Richardson said, "I am thankful for all of the preparations that our coaching staff have been diligently working on to secure us all kinds of support for the trials," while Sam Ubellacker said, "The work I spent in season maximizing my speed and strength will certainly help my swim at trials." 

Heading into the 2020-21 season, Chen and Richardson gave us some insight on how the Olympic Trials will motivate them throughout the year leading up to June 2021 in Omaha. Chen said, "I want to continue viewing Trials as a motivating factor in how I train, especially after spending so much time out of the pool," while Richardson said, " Qualifying certainly gave me confidence in my ability and secured my passion for the sport. However, it is by no means an excuse for slacking in training now or ever. Sport requires consistent improvement and this achievement only presents more challenges which I have the opportunity to overcome."

The MIT men's swimming and diving team is coming off its 12th straight NEWMAC Championship title, while the women's swimming and diving team earned its 10th consecutive NEWMAC Championship trophy in 2020. Both squads will be looking to defending their titles in 2021 under Men's and Women's Swimming Coach of the Year Meg Sisson French. 

"We are so proud of Edenna, James, Sam and Wyatt for qualifying for Olympic Trials," said Sisson French. "To qualify for one of the biggest stages in the sport of swimming is an amazing accomplishment. It's really exciting to have four (past and present) swimmers representing MIT and Division III at this level and we can't wait for them to see the product of all of their hard work pay off in Omaha next summer!"

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