Gary Hall Jr. will cheer on swimmers at US trials

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP)

Gary Hall Jr. has gone from Olympic competitor to Olympic cheerleader.

The 10-time medalist and recently elected member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame stopped by the CenturyLink Center on Thursday to check the progress of pool construction for the U.S. Swim Trials that start June 25.

His last competition before he announced his retirement came at the 2008 trials in the same building.

''When I walk in here it brings back a lot of nostalgia,'' Hall said. ''Yeah, it's an emotional experience, seeing this. I haven't been on a pool deck for a swim meet in months. I went to the NCAA championships this year. To revisit this venue and see this construction going on, it's moving.''

Construction is ahead of schedule on the competition pool in the arena and the warm-up pool in the adjacent convention hall. Trials CEO Harold Cliff said the competition pool could be filled with water on Friday.

Hall, known almost as much for his flair as for his swimming, is now an ambassador for the sport in addition to working as a diabetes healthcare consultant. He was diagnosed with the disease in 1999.

This is a big summer for him. He'll be back in Omaha next month to root for Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin and all the rest of the swimmers competing for spots on the U.S. team. In July, he'll be inducted into the hall.

In three Olympics, Hall totaled two golds, two silvers and one bronze in individual competition. He also captured three golds, a silver and a bronze as part of relay teams.

He finished fourth in his final race, the 50-meter freestyle at the 2008 trials. He walked away a contented man even though he didn't make the Olympic team.

''It made it a lot easier knowing there wasn't anything left in the sport to accomplish,'' he said. ''I don't have any regrets. That doesn't mean I don't miss it.''

The 37-year-old Hall said he only swims for recreation to stay fit. He good-naturedly cut off someone who pointed out that Dara Torres, who turned 45 in April, will be at the trials trying to make her sixth Olympic team. Her specialty is the 50-meter freestyle, same as it was for Hall.

''Gosh, I wish I had a nickel for every time I'm reminded Dara Torres is tearing it up at closer to 50 than 40,'' he said. ''I know what she's done is unbelievable. I tried at 33, and I know how tough it is as you get older, and I feel like I pushed it as far as I could.''

Nathan Adrian is now regarded as the top sprinter in U.S. swimming, a point of pride to Hall.

''I'm biased,'' he said. ''I had the opportunity to train with Nathan for a lot of years prior to my retirement. So based on that alone I would like to see him perform well.''

Phelps, who plans to retire after the London Games, will be the focus at the trials. Phelps won a record eight golds at Beijing in 2008, and Hall compared Phelps' status with that of Jesse Owens.

''Those who come and witness Michael Phelps' performance here at the trials will be telling their grandkids about being able to see him compete,'' Hall said.

Of course, Lochte beat Phelps in both the 200 free and the 200 individual medley at last year's world championships.

''He's already, based on his existing accomplishments, a legend of the sport,'' Hall said of Lochte. ''Whether or not he'll be able to fill Michael Phelps' flippers remains to be seen.''

Hall said his being voted into the Olympic hall of fame was humbling. He'll be inducted July 12 in Chicago as one of only 10 male swimmers in the hall.

''What's really important to express is that through my swimming career, I was not that guy who was singularly focused on the sport. But I was singularly focused on the Olympics,'' he said. ''That was the one meet I really cared about and would turn out for. So to be recognized by the Olympic movement really means a lot to me.''

Tagged: Michael Phelps

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