Saugus High alum sets sights on 2021 Olympic goals

Saugus High graduate Abbey Weitzeil swims during a workout at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center in June in preparation for the Rio Olympics. Weitzel won several medals as part of relay teams in Rio. Dan Watson/Signal
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Nowadays, it’s pretty hard to know what to expect. 

On May 21, the 2020 Summer Olympics were canceled.

Abbey Weitzeil, a two-time Olympic medalist and National Swimmer of the Year winner for Cal was in her Berkeley home, when the announcement was made. 

Although disappointing, it wasn’t a complete surprise for the record-setting swimmer from Saugus High.

“I kind of had an inkling that it was going to get cancelled, just because (the National Collegiate Athletic Association) had been cancelled, and everything was just starting to get cancelled,” Weitzeil said. “I feel like everyone kind of knew that it was gonna happen for a while so it wasn’t like a blatant shock.”

Then on July 17, the International Olympic Committee announced that all the venues were secured for Tokyo games in July 2021.

Then just five days later, Time reported the IOC president as saying the games wouldn’t be possible if COVID-19 rates weren’t improved by next year.

Regardless, Weitzeil will be preparing in the pool for a chance to make the team — whenever the games may be. 

“There are tons of things that are happening right now that are unexpected,” Weitzeil said, “so I was not by any means sure that it was going to or not going to happen. So when it was announced, it was a relief to hear honestly.”

Weitzeil earned a pair of medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio; a silver in the 400m free relay and a gold in the 400m medley relay. She was just 19 years old then.

Weitzeil was named female athlete of the year all four years at Saugus high school and a four-time CIF champion whilst setting national records in the 50y and 100y free. 

Kevin Nielsen, swim coach at the Canyons Aquatic Club, said that while he didn’t have the privilege of coaching Abbey for an entire season, he would occasionally coach her when she returned home for winter and spring break.

“Canyons Aquatic Club is extremely proud of Abbey and her accomplishments,” Nielsen said. “Most importantly, we take pride in her willingness to give back to the team and community.”

Michael Bechtoldt, Weitzeil’s coach from 2010-2012 at Canyons Aquatic club, coached Weitzeil for two seasons, but said the moment he remembers most is in April 2011, when she began to realize a junior national title and the Olympic trial time were within her reach. He also noted her drive. 

“Once I told her that, she was highly motivated,” Bechtoldt said. “The best words that would describe her are focused, determined and super competitive, like beyond what most kids have. It’s almost like she hates losing more than she likes winning.”

Bechtoldt added he’s seen her grow into a great team player, and looks forward to seeing her on the medal stand individually at the next Olympics.

Weitzeil was named UC Berkeley’s most outstanding swimmer for the 2018-19 season and was finalist for the 2019 Honda Award presented to the top female swimmer in the country — in what ended up being her final full collegiate season.

Unfortunately, her senior swim season at Berkeley was cut short due to COVID-19.

After the season, she was planning to participate in this summer’s olympic trials in hopes of making the 2020 team, but amidst all the sudden changes, she has had to adapt to a new way of training.

“Right now, I’m commuting to different pools, whatever is offered at different times, so I don’t really have a straight-up schedule,” she said. “It’s just getting in the water when I can at different places, so I’m hoping that our pools here can open soon though. I’m lifting in the garage, so just hoping our facilities can open up soon.”

Weitzeil said that aside from trying to find open pools to practice in, the hardest part has been not knowing what is going to happen, and when things are finally going to go back to normal.

“I mean everyone’s been in the same boat for a while. I think everyone handles it pretty differently,” she said. “I’m just trying not to dwell on the fact that I am not training as much as I normally would be, especially at this time of year where I would’ve been hopefully at a training camp right now.”

Outside of the scheduling challenges, Weitzeil also shared how she’s finding opportunities with her time, also. She’s recently picked up some hobbies to keep herself busy, including golf, hikes and more time with her friends.

“I just do something that I don’t normally have the time to do when I’m tired from training,” she said. “Just taking up things small like that and taking advantage of having a full day of open time and not having double (training) days.”

Despite the changes around her, Weitzeil’s mindset has not changed a bit. She’s setting out to accomplish the same goals she’s had in place for 2020 — especially now that she has experience with international competition.

“Obviously, I have the goals which never change: making the team next year, which is not set in stone for anyone; and coming home with another gold medal would be amazing,” she said.

“But one of my goals that I didn’t reach last time was to individually medal in an event, and I think that is easier said than done for sure, but I think just having more experience under my belt that it’s a possibility.”

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