Claire Curzan is one of the most exciting names in swimming right now, and she has competed in four individual events for Team USA at the FINA World Championships 2022.
The North Carolina native made headlines for the first time at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where she won silver in the 4x100m medley relay team, aged just 17. Individually, she finished 10th in the 100m butterfly.
Meet people like Katie Ledecky, Sarah Sjostrom and Emma McKeon gave her the assurance that she too could be a medalist.
A year later, she qualified for the 2022 World Swimming Championships in Budapest, Hungary, as the top two finishers in the US Trials in the 100m freestyle, 100m backstroke, 50m butterfly and 100m butterfly.
Olympics.com spoke to the water sports prodigy, who revealed why ballet has helped her swim, how she calms her nerves before races, why the media spotlight is a double-edged sword and why Lindsey Vonn is one of his sporting heroes.
LILY: Swimming at the 2022 FINA World Championships: Preview, schedule and athletes to watch
Olympics.com: A lot of people know you for your swimming exploits at such a young age and for being part of Team USA for Tokyo 2020. But tell us who Claire Curzan is outside of the pool. ..
CC : I have two parents who are both doctors so I always tried to err on the side of caution as they instilled in me the simple thing of keeping your body safe and healthy. I also have two siblings, an older brother and a younger sister. I also have two dogs that I love very much – I consider myself a dog fanatic. I will also miss them very much next year when I am at university.
In terms of school interests, I like math and science, I like to read, but writing is not my forte! So I hope to work on that when I go to Stanford. That’s pretty much me.
O: What will you be studying at Stanford, and how will that fit in with the training?
CC : The major in economics kind of jumped out at me, and then probably a minor in statistics. Swimming has always been a pleasure for me, I never really considered it a job. There’s been a lot of success from the women at Stanford over the years, so I think just being able to learn from them and take advice to see how they’ve been successful and then try to do it myself, I think it will eventually help. I love trying to push my body to its limits and seeing how hard I can work and I just love exercising and making my body healthier in general.
Eventually the swimming will end, so you’re gonna have to have another job some other time, but uh, I’m just happy that I can pursue this for as long as I can and then find something else that I like and go into it.
O: So you are a talented swimmer and a good student. What other hidden talents do you have?
CC : I would say I’m more of a water person, my family, we love vacationing in the water. We actually have a boat, so I discovered my love of water skiing, surfing, and I do a lot of snow skiing as well. So whenever I can get out of practice and take a little break, I love doing those things and I think it’s fun. Slalom is something I discovered the last time I waterskied, so I enjoyed doing it. I don’t know if you consider this talent, but I think it’s fun to try other sports and enjoy it.
O: Is it true that you train in ballet, and if so, is there anything in common between that and swimming?
CC : Yeah, I was a ballet dancer until I was 12. I think for both there is an art and a science and you have to have, and a lot of body awareness and core strength. I think ballet definitely helped me in my swimming career because I was more aware of who I was and how my body worked. It takes incredible strength to do ballet, but you also have to be graceful. So I think that translates to swimming.
O: Federica Pellegrini from Italy said she had to wake up early in the morning for her first practice, then she had massages, then another swimming session. It sounds like a grueling lifestyle. How do you find it?
CC : I truly appreciate it. Getting into the habit of getting up early and working out puts my day on the right foot. It wakes me up as I’m not normally a morning person, but it helps me start, helps me stop my exercise for the day. So it’s always good. It’s also a place to go and make my body healthier. I also see it as an outlet where I can forget all the daily struggles of school or relationships or whatever. I can just enjoy practicing and being with your friends. I think having those kind of boundaries between life inside the pool and outside helps, which means not worrying about one more than the other and I think that helps keep balance.
O: Do you have a favorite mantra or saying that inspires you?
CC : Something that helps calm my nerves before races is simply, “Keep it simple. I do it every day in training, so obviously it won’t be that different during the race. It’s just that there are a few more lights and you’re tapering off. Generally speaking, people can get caught up in time and other sorts of things, but when you cut the beatings down to the bare essentials, the most effective people are the ones who are going to win.
O: Swimmers usually follow a strict diet, but do you have a favorite cheat meal?
CC : It’s hard because I’m not really on a diet! I try to eat healthy, but when I really want something, I eat it. I think my favorite cheat meal is any dessert. I really like cakes, the chocolate cake is amazing. During meetings, it’s probably fries and a burger. I’m a sucker for good frying and an American burger.
O: You competed in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at the age of 17 and have been voted by many as one of the most dominant swimmers in 2022. How do you feel about those expectations and having that kind spotlight on you?
CC : It’s actually something I worked on a lot with my sports psychologist. Expectations are a double-edged sword. They’re great because it’s an honor to think that people think so highly of me and to have such a great future predicted for me. But it’s also more pressure for the race, which could make you lose your mind. I think I’ll just focus on my swimming and what I can control. What they say about me, I can’t control, so I’ll just enjoy it while it’s here and while I’m on the safe side. Then I will also enjoy the upcoming competitions.
I think the hardest thing for me at the Olympics was getting ahead of myself. Tokyo 2020 really opened my eyes because it was the biggest stage in the world and I built it to be more than I needed. The Olympics are a great honour, but it’s also like any other competition I’ve been in. So I now think I’m on the other side knowing it’s an honor but it’s also just another encounter so I’m now wiser now and I’m not gonna put it on a pedestal and the build in my head.
O: How could these experiences benefit you as you head towards the Paris 2024 Olympic Games?
CC : I think it’s enough to know that you’ve done it before to be able to do it again. And also, honestly, it helps to meet all these girls for the first time. It was great to be around Lilly King and all the other relay girls. Maggie MacNeil, Sarah Sjostrom and Emma McKeown are obviously amazing swimmers. When you see them through the media lens, they look like these big like indestructible people. So just being able to see them in person and race alongside them in the competition definitely helped bring humanity to them. I’m just excited to be with them again if I’m successful.
O: Athletes often draw inspiration from other athletes, not necessarily from their own sport. Which sports heroes did you have growing up and why?
CC : It’s hard because you see all these stories and your heart goes out to them all, but I think Lindsey Vonn is probably one of my idols. She was in the sport for so long and she was so dominant, but she’s also a great person and she brings out the best in people.
I don’t know if I could pick just one person in swimming, but I think the one that surprised me the most was Katie Ledecky. I saw her as this dominant female figure and she seemed almost robotic, but I’ve really gotten to know her over the past two years and she’s just the nicest person there is. I think the humility and down-to-earth quality is just amazing in someone of his caliber.