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Rio 2016 Olympic Calympian: Josh Prenot, Men's swimming, USA

The physics major set the American record for 200 Breast at the recent U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. What does he have as an encore at the Rio games?

2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials - Day 5
Josh Prenot will be a 1st time Calympian in Rio.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Josh Prenot

Sport: Men's Swimming (200 Breast)

Country: U.S.A.

Twitter: @joshprenot

Birthday: July 28th, 1993 (age 23)

Hometown: Orcutt, California (born in Sedalia, Missouri)

Cal affiliation: California Golden Bears alum (physics major, will graduate next year)

Years at Cal: 2012 - 2016

Olympic appearances: Rio 2016 is Josh’s 1st time at the Olympic games

Cal Achievements:

From Josh’s SwimSwam Bio:


During his freshman season he was named the Pac 12 Newcomer of the year after taking the title in the 400 IM. At the NCAA Championships Prenot placed fourth in the 400 IM in a school-record time, and also finished fifth in the 200 breaststroke and 200 IM earning him All-America honors.


At the 2014 Pac 12 Championships Prenot repeated his title win in the 400 IM, and moved up a spot to finish third at the NCAA Championships and set a new school record. He came in fifth in the 200 IM, and earlier in the year set a school record in that as well.


Prenot had a successful meet at the 2015 Pac-12 Championships taking gold in the 400-yard IM and silver in both the 200-yard breast and 200-yard IM, and advanced to the NCAA Championships. Prenot began the NCAA meet with a solid performance in the 200-yard IM, finished 3rd overall earning more All-American honors. On day two of the meet Prenot finished 4th in the 400-yard IM and won the consolation final of the 200-yard breast.


Prenot had his highest finish ever at the 2016 Men’s NCAA swimming Championships. Lowering Ryan Lochte’s pool record and racing to gold in the 400 IM with a time of 3:35.82. Prenot finished second in the 200 IM and the 200 Breaststroke, both times bested only by double event winner Will Licon. Prenot’s time in the 200 IM of 1:40.14 was just .1 seconds behind Licon. In the 200 Breaststroke he swam faster than the pool record of 1:49.43 finishing in 1:49.38.

You can see the improvement by Josh over the course of his Cal career. He was an important part of the Cal Men’s Swimming and Diving NCAA team National Championship in 2014. He then cap his collegiate career with the 400 IM win in the 2016 NCAA championships.

One of the best male IMer to ever swam in Berkeley (his school records prove this point), Prenot also had a bunch of A-Final finishes at the NCAA championships. It was great for him to make the transition, a quantum leap, from a top 5 finishes to finally an NCAA individual champ in his senior year.

International Achievements:

Josh Prenot competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials as a high school senior. He finished 10th, 13th, and 14th in the 200 Breast, 400 IM, and 200 IM, respectively.

Here is a list of Josh’s International success, from his Cal Bears bio:

Is a member of the U.S. National Team in the 200 breast and the 200 and 400 IM.

Brought home three medals from the 2015 World University Games in South Korea, winning gold in the 200 IM and 200 breaststroke and claiming silver in the 400 IM.

Placed fourth in the 200 breast at the 2014 Pan Pacifics and was third in the 400 IM and the 200 breast at the 2014 National Championships.

As a member of the National Junior Team, placed eighth in the 400 IM at the 2011 Summer Nationals and fourth in the 400 IM at the Junior World Championships in Peru.

The 2015 World University Games appears to be the inflection point to me on Josh Prenot’s career. After nearly 3 wins (2 golds and a silver) there, Prenot’s 2016 has seen him improved from being a finalist to being a champion.

The best is yet to come for Josh Prenot on the International stage.

More on Josh and his Rio outlook:

Since I am a proud graduate of the Cal physics department and still a physicist in my day job (maybe this explains/excuses my mediocre writing?), Josh Prenot is easily one of my favorite Cal student-athelete/Calympian ever since he is also a physics major. Personally, I also relate to how he has been consistently great but is not as heralded, until recently, because he just hasn’t finished 1st individually until this past March.

Prenot is able to balance his swimming schedule with the rigor of Cal academics or the time consuming courses like Physics Labs (he trains on Sundays by himself because he had to take Wednesdays off for lab).

Claudia Trujillo, student services manager in the physics department and Prenot’s academic adviser, says the swimmer has always been dedicated to his academic performance as well.

“Every since he came in, we have shuffled his schedule to make everything fit,” Trujillo says. “He wants to have a strong showing, academically, too.

“He’s a great example of our outstanding students. He’s studying physics, but he breaks a lot of stereotypes. He’s proof that you can do what you want.”

From a Daily Cal feature on Josh from 2015, he talked about his love for physics, or just problem solving in general.

“Just really, really interesting concepts — kind of eye-opening about how the world really works,” Prenot says. “Those are the kind of classes that I really love, just the study of how literally everything in the universe works.”

The article also talked about how Prenot chose to focus on swimming over baseball at age 13. While Josh Prenot was homeschooled, he was able to make life long friends in national and international competitions like Jacob Pebley, his eventual Cal teammate and roommate who is also a 1st time Calympian at Rio.

Treating the task of making the 2016 Rio Olympic team as a problem set problem, Josh Prenot took a calculated risk to book his spot on Team USA. With three good events in the 400 IM, 200 IM, and the 200 Breast, Prenot chose to scratch 200 IM prelim, despite having one of the top seed time, (and conceding that event to Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte) to concentrate on the 200 Breast final. Of course, the decision paid off as he won the 200 Breast at the Olympic Trials while also setting a new American record. You can watch the video of that race here.

Given how close in delta t (time) is the separations between the finalists in the U.S. Swim Trials (which often is even more competitive than the Olympics) and the Olympic berths of the top 2, it is perhaps apt to describe Josh Prenot’s quantum leap from being in the state of “a very solid U.S. National Team member” to the state of “a U.S. Olympian” at the 2016 Trials. Despite the colloquial use for a “quantum leap” to be a drastic change, all quantum effects are microscopic in nature...thus why we observe everything to be continuous rather than the discrete jumps on the quantum level.

Prenot did a 20 Questions interview with USA Swimming an year ago. It gives some great insights into Josh Prenot’s take of his college experience. Here are the highlights:

4. Why Cal for college?

Josh: I really loved the team atmosphere that Cal offered. It’s really like a family here. (Cal head coach) Dave (Durden) and Greg (Meehan, now women’s coach at Stanford) at the time, and now Yuri (Suguiyama) – those three are not just some of best coaches in the world, but the best people, too. I had it down to Cal and Georgia, because both groups of guys were really close knit.

5. And academically, you must have realized what doors Cal can open for you?

Josh: I definitely think there is appeal in a Berkeley degree. It’s hard to balance, but I think demanding this of yourself and this kind of challenge is good for you.

6. So it’s a grind?

Josh: The process itself is where the growth occurs. So if you are good enough to manage your time and do well both in school and in swimming, it will set you up for success down the road and later in life. This experience, along with managing relationships, teaches you a lot about being disciplined and making the best decision.

11. Back to school, so to speak, is there always a lot of work to be done?

Josh: Certainly, yes, but it’s also cyclical. It’s still Cal Berkeley no matter what else is going on, so there are times when I question my decision – why did I (laughs) put myself in to this? But I love to interact with professors who have gotten really sick research published. I love being in this environment.

12. To have a coach who understands a lot of what you, as a physics major, are taking, does that help a bit in terms of perspective?

Josh: It’s pretty rare to have a coach who majored in engineering, but it’s funny because it’s easy to see him as an academic figure when he has had to, for example, proctor a mid-term for me because he knows the challenges and demands.

13. What will you do with your physics degree?

Josh: I honestly have no idea what I am looking to do with it. It’d be really cool working for SpaceX or Tesla. I realize that both are Elon Musk companies so getting in would be a challenge. But I love how agile and quick those companies are; whenever they see a problem, it’s minutes, not days or months, before they are diligently pursuing a viable solution.

14. So they inspire you?

Josh: Absolutely, and obviously it’s not (laughs) only me they provide that inspiration to; SpaceX is making rocket boosters so they can be re-usable – did you see the video landing it on a barge? That is awesome! I would love to go into that, or even to go into something completely unrelated to physics if that’s where it took me. But I would also love to be a professional athlete for a while, if I can get someone to pay me to swim.

15. Do you get that vibe from Dave Durden because sometimes we chat about sets and coaching and I just sense this intellect that widens his perspective?

Josh: I think Dave definitely fosters that kind of approach and attitude. What he is so good at is creating an environment around him for people to be successful, and part of that is management – though certainly having the skill set and problem-solving abilities he has developed help. But creating that environment is what differentiates great coaches from people who just like to write sets. And it also makes it a place that’s a joy to be around.

20. You talk about your Cal teammates like they are family, what do those friendships mean to you?

Josh: They are definitely something I value, and that is really what I came to Cal for. The NCAA trophies…I’ll tell you something that happened: We got our NCAA trophies, and I gave mine to a freshman, and I could tell it meant a lot to him. After you’ve been here a couple of years, what you value aren’t the physical representations of the experience, but how it has shaped you and how these guys have helped me develop and expand as a thinker. We have six guys (from Cal) headed to WUGs, and I am going to cherish every moment I have on that trip with my brothers – and we’ll all make a bunch of new friends, too.

Josh Prenot will be one of a large Cal Men’s Swimming delegation at Rio, along side Ryan Muprhy, Nathan Adrian, Jacob Pebley, Tom Shields, and Anthony Ervin (not pictured below) along with head coach Dave Durden.

Prenot will compete in just one event in Rio, the 200 Breast. With the American record and the 2nd best time ever, he will have a lot of momentum (the metaphorical one) going into Rio. He has a good shot to improve on his U.S. Trial American Record result and challenge the World Record in addition to bring home the Gold. Should he stick with competitive swimming rather than becoming a rocket scientist at SpaceX (or maybe he will do both), don’t be shocked if Prenot makes another quantum leap and takes over the vacant spots left behind by Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte and be a 3 event Olympic medalist in 2020 Tokyo.

Best of luck to Josh in Rio and GO BEARS!