Michael Andrew grappled with sleep on the eve of a new frontier of a swimming career already distinguished by the unprecedented: turning professional at age 14, training in a two-lane pool at the family home in Lawrence and seizing countless age-group records.
He was jittery, yes, before his first U.S. Olympic swimming trials.
But reflecting some intense mental training in recent months, he alchemized that into something more resembling anticipation than anxiety as he drifted off.
“ ‘How am I going to react after I go under a minute?’ ” the 17-year-old kept telling himself as he visualized becoming the youngest person ever to do so in the 100-meter breaststroke.
So even when he became nauseated in the morning and momentarily wondered if was going “to lose before I got in the water,” he simply decided his sudden purge was not because he was overcome by nerves.
It was because he was agitated by the combination of eating eggs and drinking the beet juice made by his mother, Tina.
“That’s what I’m going to say,” he said, smiling. “Mom may think differently.”
Whatever the case, Andrew navigated the moment remarkably.
First, he set a world junior record by zooming in in 59.96 seconds, which was fifth overall in the heats to advance to the semifinal round Sunday night at the CenturyLink Center.
Then he broke that record by going 59.85 (fourth overall) to advance to the finals Monday in the first of his five scheduled events here — the one he says has “the biggest gap” for opportunity, with only one of the top five competitors from the 2012 trials remaining.
“I never grasped how powerful the mind is … ,” he said. “If I’m not going to enjoy it, what’s the point of being here?”
The mindset and tone for the event, the week and maybe even his future was set earlier in the day after his inaugural performance in a marquee event considered by some to be the most challenging swim event in the world given Team USA’s dominance of the sport.
In a corridor of the arena moments after the early swim, Andrew’s father and coach, Peter, was speaking with a reporter when a swimming official approached.
They’d need Michael’s swimsuit, she said, to verify it was within the rules of the sport’s governing body, FINA, as part of an application for recognition of the world-record.
Who was to know they’d need his next suit before that one probably was even dry?
For all the promise Michael Andrew has shown, such a day served as something of a vindication after a largely stagnant year-plus as his father shook up his training regimen.
And because Andrew is steeped in the independent and innovative coaching of his father and home-schooled by his mother, who also serves as his massage therapist, skepticism resurfaced about the incubator he seems to live in.
As if, Peter said, they’re “fruitcakes,” diabolically conducting “some kind of experiment.”
Now, Peter Andrew will concede that point to a certain degree as he acknowledges the trial-and-errors of coaching a son who is enormously dependent on his judgment.
Since qualifying for the junior world team last year, Michael has been learning to cope without having his father on deck with him to pray and “make sure he feels loved” before he goes into the water.
“It’s getting easier to deal with each time,” Michael Andrew said.
As for things they can control, Peter says he has had key realizations of where he went awry with the training regimen — including learning in recent months that less can be more.
“Michael is really the same as Eric Liddell in ‘Chariots of Fire:’ He runs fast because that’s his way to worship God,” he said. “That is his expression of worship. He loves to swim, he loves to race.
“I think the biggest mistake I’ve made in his training (is to stop) racing all the time: train more, race a little less. I think it’s been the biggest mistake in the last year-and-a-half.
“It’s the same as that horse, Secretariat. … He loves to race. The racing is his training, and the better racer is the racer who’s training all the time. So shame on me. … It was a bad, bad decision.”
But the father is puzzled and hurt by those who assume from a distance that they are making a robot of Michael, who clearly is an engaging, well-adjusted and radiant young man.
In fact, much more so than many swimmers of his age being cultivated within the system.
“People compare us to Todd Marinovich and the family, how I’m in the bubble and it’s all training and swimming,” Michael said, referring to the so-called Robo Quarterback. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I love what I do. I love traveling. I love getting to talk to you guys (and) meet new people.”
From Peter’s perspective, what they do is to make the most of gifts from God in the form of their son and daughter, Michaela.
“The world’s so tough if you don’t have parents who love you and guide you and discipline you,” said Peter, who was a diver in the South African Navy and whose wife’s athleticism might best be understood from her time as “Laser” on the show “U.K. Gladiators.”
It’s their responsibility, he said, to teach values and encourage independence and to nurture his talents.
“He loves to swim: If he loved to do something else, we’d do whatever to (help him),” he said. “We happened to build a pool. So?”
Further considering the point and his admiration for who his son has become as a person, he added, “He loves on people, and that is what the swimming is about, actually: We always question, ‘What is our why?’ And it’s to care for people, because if you don’t have that, then what do you have?
“So what, you win? It means nothing.”
If he should win a spot in the Olympics on Monday, they will revisit if he’ll compete in the other four events he’s scheduled to compete in this week.
They may cut one or two.
They may not.
“If he makes it,” Peter Andrew said, “then he becomes dangerous. Because he becomes free.”
Especially knowing now that he can tame his nerves — or at least make them work for him.