Zach Apple didn’t expect to the make the United States swim team for the 2016 Summer Olympics, but that doesn’t mean he was comfortable sitting in the stands watching the qualifiers celebrate on the deck.
Making up for falling short stayed on the Edgewood High School graduate’s mind over the next five years, so much so that he changed the lock screen on his cellphone to display the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics logo.
“Something just didn’t feel right,” Apple said Thursday morning. “I was just an onlooker. Since then, it was a really big goal. It’s been an ongoing journey.”
Apple is scheduled to take the next step on that journey today, when he leaves for Honolulu, Hawaii, for two weeks of practice with the U.S team before moving on to Tokyo for the 2021 Summer Games. The 24-year-old earned three spots on the team. He will compete in the 100-meter freestyle after finishing second on June 17 at the U.S trials in Omaha, Neb. That finish also earned for him a spot on the 4 x 100 free relay team, and he also will be part of the 4 x 200 meter free relay after finishing fifth in the 200-meter freestyle in Omaha.
He wasn’t sure if the magnitude of his accomplishment had set in, primarily because of the whirlwind that developed after he qualified
“I think so,” he said from Bloomington, Ind., where he competed for Indiana University. “It’s a little bit hard to tell at the moment. I’m taking it all in. I’m excited. I can’t wait to get there.”
Making the Olympics is latest in a long string of accomplishments for the Trenton native that started with him winning Ohio’s Division I 50 freestyle state championship as a senior. He committed to Western Kentucky before switching to Auburn after the Hilltoppers’ program was suspended due to a hazing incident. After three seasons at Auburn, he transferred to Indiana.
He won a gold medal at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest on the U.S. men’s 4 x 100 free relay.
As a Hoosier senior, Apple helped Indiana win an NCAA title in the 400-medley relay and he won Big Ten championships in 200 and 400 free, 200 and 800 free relays and 400 medley relay. Also in 2019, he captured five gold medals at the World University Games, winning the 100- and 200-meter free events and helping the 400 and 800 free and 400 medley relay teams also win championships.
He seemed to be primed to make the U.S. team for the 2020 Olympics before they were postponed because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I was pretty confident last year, and then the shutdown happened,” he said. “I was geared up to make the team in ’20, and even though I had to wait another year, I was pretty certain that I would make it. After going through those years of training, things were going pretty well. I was feeling confident going into the meet.
“It was definitely a challenge,” he added. “I spent three months out of the water. I haven’t had three months out of the water since I started swimming. I got to do a lot of the stuff I haven’t been able to do, like going for outdoor hikes, but I was ready to head back into the water. I was champing at the bit. It gave me a renewed drive. It reminded me of how much I love swimming.”
After two weeks of training in Hawaii, Apple and his teammates are scheduled to leave for Japan on July 12 and spend a week at a high performance center before moving into the Olympic Village on July 19. He is convinced that Olympic organizers will have plenty of protocols in place to control any coronavirus concerns.
“I’m totally vaccinated, so that makes any concern a little easier,” he said. “I’m sure the people in charge have a plan. My job is to follow the plan – keep my mask on and stay distant if possible. I’m confident we’ll be fine.”
He’s also sure to have plenty of opportunities to check out the Olympic logo on his phone. He’s already seen it quite often as the Edgewood and Trenton communities reached out to him. He said his mom Allison is spearheading an effort to have a billboard sign made honoring him.
“The night I officially qualified for the team in the 100 free, I had 500 notifications on my phone,” he said. “It was a big thing even before I made the team. A bunch of people from my hometown were reaching out to say they were proud that I just in contention. It gave them a sense of pride that I made the team.”