By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Football, it’s been said, is a game of inches.
Swimming, one could argue, is a sport of seconds.
Or in the case of Auburn junior Luis Carlos Martinez, fractions of a second.
In December, while still a teenager, Martinez qualified for the Rio Olympics in the 100 butterfly by one one-hundredth of a second.
Now 20, Martinez will represent his country, Guatemala, in Brazil.
“When I turned 16, I said, ‘This is what I want to do. I want this. I’m going to go to the U.S. and I’m going to swim for a college team and train as hard as I can to make the Olympics, with the A qualifying standard, which is the hardest qualifying standard.’ So I set that goal, and I accomplished it by one one-hundredth of a second, but I did it,” Martinez said.
He earned his qualifying time at the Winter Nationals in Wash., finishing third. The winner was 18-time gold medalist Michael Phelps, an experience that proved to Martinez he can compete on the biggest stage.
“Thankfully, I already raced them before. It’s not like this is my first time and I’m just going to be overwhelmed by how many fast people there are, but also, I will be overwhelmed,” he said. “You never get used to it. You see so many people who are very, very fast. Older than you, stronger than you, more experienced than you. And you know that you have to trust your training, and just keep it together.
“While this is Olympics, I’ve trained my entire life for this. For 51, 52 seconds of race. If you think about it as just another meet, even though, it’s not just another meet, it will help. That usually helps me.”
Martinez finished eighth in the 100 fly at the SEC Championships. At the NCAA Championships, he was 30th.
“For any swimmer, the first goal is drop my time,” he said. “If I drop my time, I’m going to be in a really good position to semifinal. And anyone who is in a good position to semifinal is in a good position to final. Depending how much I drop my time, that’s going to be the result. I’m really trying not to think about the result. Of course, my dream is to final. That’s the top of the sport. But I think I’m in a really good position to semifinal.”
Martinez, who is being coached in Brazil by Auburn associate women’s head coach Lauren Hancock, is already eyeing a return trip to the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo.
“Of course, Olympics is different, but not so different than NCAAs for example. You’re going to get nervous in big meets. It doesn’t matter what, and I think Olympics is just the top. So, knowing that I can stay focused in Olympics will definitely help me learn so much that I can apply in college swimming, and maybe four years from now, in another Olympic games.”
But first, he will have two more seasons to swim for the Tigers after returning from Rio.
“This place is just amazing,” Martinez said. “The facilities, the coaches have so much experience, and they want to transfer it to you. They really help you and having teammates who are really fast, we have really fast people here. It helps me just push myself to the limit and finally helped me achieve my goals. Auburn definitely is a big part of this.”
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) August 2, 2016
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer