Senior Gustav Hokfelt will extend men’s swimming and diving’s NCAA Championship appearances to a three-year streak when he competes in three events this week.
He will swim in the 50-yard freestyle – a race he deemed a warmup – Thursday and look to leave his mark on the national stage as the program’s fourth-ever participant in the competition.
Over the course of the four-day event, Hokfelt will also compete in the 100-yard and the 200-yard backstroke races Friday and Saturday, respectfully. All of the races will take place at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center in Minneapolis.
The Stockholm, Sweden native said qualifying for the NCAA competition has been a goal of his since he arrived in the United States his freshman year.
“The more I progressed, the closer I saw myself going toward NCAA,” Hokfelt said. “It’s very exciting that I was actually able to make it.”
Hokfelt’s showing is his first time at the event during his four-year GW career. For the past two seasons, he watched his former teammate – 2017 graduate Andrea Bolognesi – qualify in both his junior and senior seasons.
“It’s an honor,” Hokfelt said. “To show that Andrea was not an anomaly for the program, that the program is able to produce NCAA qualifiers consistently.”
The top 16 swimmers in each qualifying round will advance to the final races of the meet. The top eight finishers in the final races will earn First Team All-American status.
The qualification, which he secured earlier this month at the Atlantic 10 Championships, capped off Hokfelt’s best year yet and his final season in Foggy Bottom.
He was named Most Outstanding Performer at the conference championships, where the team took first place for the second consecutive year, and he set four conference records and broke his 100-yard backstroke record three times in the meet. His time of 46.02 seconds in 100-yard backstroke in the opening leg of the 400-yard medley relay was his qualifying time for the NCAAs – and a new A-10 record.
He holds four individual program records and is part of four record-holding medley teams. Seven of Hokfelt’s eight records were set in this season alone.
“I always knew that he had that in him,” assistant coach Birkir Jonsson said of Hokfelt’s A-10 performance. “But just to see him do it is great.”
Jonsson said it’s been exciting to watch Hokfelt improve over the years. He has shaved three seconds off his 100-yard backstroke split since his freshman year. In 2016, he earned A-10 All-Conference Second Team honors as a sophomore and A-10 All-Conference First Team after his junior year.
“Coming to GW, he was a fairly good swimmer and very eager,” Jonsson said. “Just seeing that whole process with him over the last four years has been phenomenal.”
Prior to beginning this year’s competition, Hokfelt changed his offseason routine, he said. In September, he competed in the World University Games in Taiwan, representing his home country. He placed 21st in the 50-meter backstroke qualifying round and 31st in the 100-meter backstroke.
To be in top form for the Games in August, Hokfelt trained throughout the summer and came into the meet with his fitness already tuned. By the time GW started its action in the pool in the following months, he was already in mid-season shape – which he said helped him succeed this year.
“I’ve put myself in the position to work hard,” he said. “I took care of the sleeping aspects and all that not fun stuff and I stayed relatively injury free as well this season, which helped a lot.”
But now that the rest of the team has finished its season after clinching second place at the CSCAA National Invitational Championship March 10, Hokfelt has been preparing for the meet alone in the Smith Center pool. Although the extra attention from coaches is an “upside” to the individual practices, he said the absence of his teammates in the lanes next to him is noticeable.
“Swimming alone really makes you realize how much you need the team and how much the team has helped me,” Hokfelt said. “How much that team spirit during practice really helped you work harder.”
Preparing for the three races, Hokfelt said he has mainly focused on the 100-yard backstroke – his strongest event – Friday.
In the 200-yard backstroke Saturday, Hokfelt said he will attempt a risky alteration to a more aggressive swimming style – acknowledging that it may be the last race of his career.
“The thinking has been that there’s not that much to lose, it’s the last day,” he said. “I might as well go for it.”
Although Hokfelt does have goals in mind for the competition – including setting new personal records in each event – he said he won’t be too focused on them when it comes time to race.
“I’m going there with an intent to just swim as well as I can,” he said. “We’ll see how far that takes me.”