Richard Funk: 'I don't think I deserve to' swim at Rio Olympics

Richard Funk entered the Canadian Olympic swim trials in April favoured to win the 100- and 200-metre breaststroke and walked away empty-handed. Now he's trying to cope with his new reality.

Breaststroke star slowly moves on from failed Canadian trials

Richard Funk had his Olympic dreams shattered in April when he failed to qualify for the Rio Summer Games in the 100- and 200-metre breaststroke at the Canadian swim trials in Toronto. "I'm probably good enough to compete at the Olympics, but I don’t think I deserve to," says the 23-year-old Edmonton native. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images/File)

This is the second in our series, "Shattered Dreams." The first focused on marathoner Dylan Wykes' bad luck and injuries. Come back to our Olympic site in the coming days for more stories that look at the heartbreak associated with narrowly missing out on Canada's Olympic team, and how the athletes are coping and learning from the experience.

By Doug Harrison

Whenever Richard Funk hears or sees anything to do with the Rio Olympics, he's overcome by an indescribable feeling.

"It's almost, emptiness," Funk said over the phone, three months after the 23-year-old swimmer failed to qualify for next month's Summer Games at the Canadian Olympic trials in April.

His feelings are understandable, considering the breaststroke star was favoured to qualify for Rio in the 100 and 200 metres but fell short in both events at Toronto's Pan Am Sports Centre.

Funk led the way in the 100 preliminary heat, clocking one minute 0.66 seconds, just 0.40 off his best time from last summer's world championships in Kazan, Russia. But in the final, the Edmonton native touched the wall second in 1:00.92, behind Calgary's Jason Block.

It's the only meet that I've swam at where I've performed poorly.- Richard Funk on failing to qualify for Rio in the 100- and 200-metre breaststroke at Canadian Olympic trials

Ashton Baumann, the son of double Olympic gold medallist Alex Baumann, won the 200 in 2:10.69, the only man in the final to go under the Olympic standard of 2:11.66. Funk was third in 2:13.46, well off his best time of 2:11.51.

"Looking back, it's the only meet that I've swam at where I've performed poorly," said Funk, who entered his first competitive race at age 9. "What I've been able to rationalize is that I'm probably good enough to compete at the Olympics, but I don't think I deserve to."

On the first and third days at trials, Funk simply didn't feel comfortable in either race.

"It felt like a bigger deal than anything I had ever done," Funk, a 9-time NCAA All-American who claimed 7 Big Ten Championship titles while attending the University of Michigan, said from his Toronto residence. "The truth of the matter is, it wasn't. I've swam in bigger competitions and more pressure-packed situations, I think.

"Something just felt off [at the Olympic trials]. Breaststroke is such a technical stroke [that] if you're nervous or feel pressure, a lot of things can go wrong." In the course of a minute, things can turn against you.

"It's 0.4 [of a second] between having this conversation and a better one," he added.

Funk, who moved to Toronto this past January to train with coach Ben Titley at the High Performance Centre, took time at trials to reflect on his performance. From there, he competed at the Arena Pro Series in North Carolina before swimming at meets in France, Barcelona and Italy.

"Just because my dreams didn't pan out," Funk added in a choked voice, "I still got to experience those of people I care about."

The experience put swimming in perspective for Funk, a graduate from the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, who is hoping to attend medical school in the fall at the University of Alberta.

'We're much more than swimmers'

Talking with friends, in particular housemate Zack Chetrat, has helped Funk move forward. Chetrat, who won a bronze medal in the 200 butterfly at last summer's Pan Am Games in Toronto, also failed to qualify for Rio and has since left the sport.

"It's such a small part of life. We're much more than swimmers," said Funk. "If you talk to anyone about Zack Chetrat, they'll say he's a great friend who does a lot of work for others, with charities. People aren't defined by just what they do in the pool.

For now, Funk is eyeing the British Swimming Championships later this month, Canadian Swimming Championships in Edmonton from Aug. 4-7 and FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships from Dec. 6-11 in Windsor, Ont.

"I just want to take advantage of the opportunities while I still can, and try to repay [my coaches] for still believing in me," said Funk. "Trials didn't go in my favour … and obviously you're not going to move on overnight. I don't know how long it's going to take."