Walsh Sisters Weather Long Wait To Share Olympic Dream

Gretchen Walsh Alex Walsh Gretchen Walsh qualified for her first Olympics, while Alex Walsh will represent Team USA for a second time. ~ Photos courtesy of Team USA

Alex and Gretchen Walsh have traveled to meets around the world together as elite swimmers. This summer, however, the sisters will get the opportunity to compete in the most visible pool in their sport.

Both qualified for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris later this month. They will be two of five current or former Virginia swimmers to represent Team USA, joining Kate Douglass, Paige Madden, and Emma Weber in red, white, and blue. A sixth UVA team member, Aimee Canny, qualified as well with South Africa.

For the Walsh siblings, it’s a moment years in the making. Gretchen Walsh punched her ticket first by winning the 100 butterfly at the U.S. Olympic Trials, while older sister Alex had to wait six long days to claim her spot with a second place swim in the 200 Individual Medley. By that point on the last day of the meet, Alex Walsh knew her sister and UVA teammates already had locked in Paris so the pressure was on.

Once she touched the wall and secured her own roster spot, the sense of relief and excitement kicked in.

“Going with Gretchen is just a dream come true,” Alex Walsh said. “I had so much confidence in her that she was going to be able to make the team so when she did that the second night, I knew I just had to uphold my part of the goal and obviously waiting several days is not ideal for that, but I’m really happy and I think more than anything I’m just really happy to have this whole experience with her because it is once in a lifetime and being part of sibling duo is something I never take for granted. So I’m excited.”

While the wait for the 2024 Olympics lasted days, the real wait was much longer.

As the duo developed into elite swimmers first in Connecticut and then in Nashville, those Olympic dreams started to form. Alex broke three 11- and 12-year-old age group records in 2014. Gretchen became the youngest swimmer to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and broke the national record for 13- and 14-year-old age group in the 50 freestyle. Both became members of the U.S. Junior National Team.

Their first real shot at the Olympics lined up to be Tokyo 2020. Those games, of course, ended up postponed due to the international pandemic. When the event finally rolled around in 2021, Alex qualified in the 200IM but Gretchen did not qualify in any event. To make matters worse, pandemic restrictions meant family members couldn’t even be in the stands.

Alex went on to win the silver medal in Tokyo, but three more years were added to the shared Olympic dream. After Gretchen qualified for Paris, setting a new world record in the 100 in the process, she did finally get to celebrate the title of Olympian with her sister. Alex met her in the building for a giant sibling hug.

“Just hugging Alex after that race, it’s just a full circle moment again,” Gretchen Walsh said at the Olympic Trials. “Back in 2021 watching her make her first ever Olympic team was a dream come true for me as a sister – I’ve never been so proud. And to just have that feeling be reciprocated. She was more upset than me that I didn’t make the Olympics last time. I just think that says a lot about our relationship. We definitely rely on one another, we relate to each other, we support one another, and on a high level, high stakes meet that’s so stressful, it’s nice to have a sibling on the deck just there to give you just a smile or a nod that you’ve got this.”

A few extra days passed before the sisters finally shared that special qualifying moment. Alex finished second in the 200IM in 2:07.86, which removed any drama as she was nearly 3 full seconds ahead of third place. After working on “easy power” in the butterfly in recent years, she said she was happy that split but hopeful of dropping more time in Paris.

Maybe having Gretchen there with her will help. Virginia and Team USA women’s coach Todd DeSorbo said he would be happy for either Walsh to make the Olympics even if they weren’t sisters because they are amazing people to coach. And while he didn’t want to speak for the duo, he also shared a similar sentiment about Alex’s disappointment for Gretchen in 2021. He said this must be a special moment after how hard 2021 was to stomach for Alex.

“I think for them, it’s very special,” DeSorbo said. “To do anything at a really high level or accomplish anything like this as sisters is probably the most amazing thing that could ever happen to them. I say that because I know how devastated Alex was when she made it for Tokyo and Gretchen didn’t. I think she was more upset that she didn’t get to go with her sister than she was happy that she was going. So now three years later to be able to go again and both of them accomplish it and be able to go together, to them I think it’s the greatest thing that could ever happen in sports for them together at the same time. They’ve been on relays together where they’ve won National Championships and set NCAA records, but this is entirely different.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *