Hokfelt Learns from International Debut
GW swimmer competed at World University Games
Gustav Hokfelt tried his best to play it cool.
The George Washington swimmer has competed in plenty of high-pressure meets through the years. In the lead up to last month's World University Games, he assured himself this would be like the rest.
Hokfelt quickly realized he was wrong. Standing on deck before a packed crowd in a cavernous arena in Taipei, Taiwan, he was hit with a surge of excitement he’d never felt before.
“Just being in that atmosphere was really cool,” said Hokfelt, who represented his native Sweden.
Hokfelt heads into his senior season fresh off that first taste of international competition. He placed 21st in qualifying in the 50-meter backstroke and 31st in the 100-meter backstroke.
Hokfelt lamented missing out on the finals in both events, but he expects the experience to prove immediately useful going forward.
“I think I learned a lot about myself as a swimmer from the whole thing,” Hokfelt said. “It sounds so cliché, but I actually think this will help me in the future. That’s what I’m taking away from it.”
GW Head Coach James Winchester said Hokfelt’s foray onto the world stage marks the latest step in the development of a swimmer with even bigger goals on the horizon, both in Foggy Bottom and abroad.
“Any time you represent your country and get the opportunity to travel internationally, you’re getting towards the pinnacle of our sport,” Winchester said. “For Gustav, this was a great first opportunity to represent his country and another stepping stone on his progress towards even more success.”
Hokfelt earned his spot in the World University Games via his performance at Swim Open Stockholm in April.
There, the GW captain set a Swedish national record in the 50 back, winning the event in 25.32 seconds to best a mark that had stood for nearly a decade. He was also the highest placing Swede in the 100 back.
Hokfelt spent the summer in Sweden, preparing for his international debut. He put in the hours necessary to make sure he peaked for the meet, and his practice times told him he was on the right track.
“I don’t think I took a single day off,” Hokfelt said with a grin.
In Taiwan, Hokfelt enjoyed two weeks of VIP treatment. He was impressed with the venue and athletes’ village and didn’t mind the extra attention that came along with his national team gear.
“We were swarmed with people just wanting to take our pictures,” Hokfelt said. “It was really a huge deal for them.”
At the pool, Hokfelt tried to pay attention to every detail. He said he learned a lot just by watching other world-class swimmers prepare. The decorated field included Olympic medal winners like Kosuke Hagino of Japan and Dimitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan.
“It might seem somewhat simple, but it was great to see how everything works with the food, the transportation and all of that,” Hokfelt said. “Just having that routine down is so important.”
Hokfelt said his swims didn’t go according to plan, though.
On Aug. 20, he finished sixth in his 100-m heat in 56.71 seconds. Two nights later, he placed fifth in his 50-m heat in 25.92 seconds. Neither time was good enough to advance.
Hokfelt right away pinpointed what he could improve. The arena’s high ceiling made it difficult for him to find a reference point looking up, a key to staying straight. He bumped into the lane line during both races, costing him valuable time.
“You learn you’ve got to be able to deal with anything that’s thrown at you,” Hokfelt said.
Now, Hokfelt is back at GW and eager to finish his college career in style. He set program records in the 100 and 200-yard backstrokes en route to wins at last year’s Atlantic 10 championship. He also swam on four gold medal relay teams there to help the Colonials capture their first conference title.
Hokfelt has his sights set even higher this time around. And his trip to the World University Games only added fuel to that desire.
“Because I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, it just motivates me even further,” Hokfelt said. “Now, I’m more excited than I’ve ever been for a college season. With (two-time A-10 Most Outstanding Performer) Andrea (Bolognesi) being gone, someone else has to step up. I’m hoping that it’s me this year.”
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