At age 46, Gabrielle Rose clinched a spot in June’s U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Indianapolis, the city where she made the Olympic team in 2000.
She is older than any Olympic Trials swimmer since at least 2004, and possibly all of modern history. She supplants Dara Torres, who at age 45 placed fourth in the 50m freestyle at her last trials in 2012.
Rose qualified for the 2024 trials in the 100m and 200m breaststrokes over the weekend.
She clocked a career-best 1 minute, 9.42 seconds in the 100m, then swam 2:31.68 in the 200m to beat that trials qualifying time by one hundredth of a second.
For Tokyo, it took 1:05.28 and 2:21.75 to make the Olympic team, but for many swimmers, competing at trials is a goal.
“I love that it’s this opportunity to really pursue your potential and see what you’re capable of,” Rose said of targeting the qualifying times. “I knew that having a big goal would allow me to see my best potential.”
Rose competed at the Olympics in 1996 (for Brazil) and 2000, but never in a breaststroke race. Her best finish was seventh in the 200m individual medley in Sydney.
Rose bid to make the 2004 Olympic team, but came down with mononucleosis leading up to the meet before placing eighth in the 100m free. The top six made the team for relay purposes.
She retired shortly after and has raced at the masters level for much of the last 19 years, including while pregnant with daughter Annie, who was born in 2014.
Rose made the Olympic Trials a goal after this past April’s masters nationals, which were held in a 25-yard pool rather than an Olympic-size 50-meter pool.
That meet came two weeks after Rose realized a years-long quest to restore the only Olympic-size pool in her birthplace of Memphis. The aquatics complex is named after her dad, the former Holiday Inn CEO Mike Rose, who died in 2017.
At masters nationals, she swam records for the 45-49 age group in the breaststrokes with times that she said converted within range of Olympic Trials qualifying times for a 50-meter pool.
She compared her goal to make trials to her decision in 1997 to switch nationality from Brazil to the U.S. as a rising Stanford sophomore. At the time, Rose, a dual citizen with a Brazilian mother, called it “the ultimate challenge” to make a U.S. Olympic swim team.
In targeting the 2024 trials, Rose has trained six days a week in Southern California, with the aid of coaches Scott Hubbard and Erika Hansen-Stebbins, a 1988 and 1992 Olympian.
That includes Tuesdays with the younger swimmers whom she coaches at Alpha Aquatics in El Segundo, California. She also makes weekly trips to swim with former longtime USC coach Dave Salo’s pro group. Salo coached Rose to the Olympics in 2000.
“It’s lighter, it doesn’t feel as high stakes,” she said by phone Monday morning. “I’m fitting into a busier lifestyle where I’m not really the priority. My daughter is and work. So I just have perspective, and I’m able to appreciate and seize every day with a different level of desire and intention.”
Rose was already planning to attend June’s Olympic Trials with her daughter. Now, she must prepare to race them with Annie in the crowd.
In 2000, Rose was in tears in the Indiana University Natatorium pool after making the Olympic team by 15 hundredths of a second as runner-up in the 200m IM.
She had been seventh in the semifinals, then overtook future 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin in the final. That race was held immediately after the men’s 200m butterfly final, where a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made the Olympic team as runner-up.
Next year’s trials will be one mile southeast of the Natatorium at the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium.
Rose hopes to compete at elite meets leading up, having re-entered the drug-testing pool for top-level swimmers for the first time in nearly 20 years. She joked that she used to have to input her whereabouts for testing via fax machine. Now, it’s done on an app.
“Masters swimming has been like a lifeline for me,” she said. “I just enjoy the camaraderie and community and staying connected to the water.”