While many of his peers will spend their summers worrying about getting their drivers licenses or just kicking back on the beach, Amadeusz Knop will be competing against some of the best swimmers in the nation.
The 16-year-old Venice High star set the goal of representing the United States on his sport’s biggest stage when he was just an 8-year-old competitor at the Venice YMCA.
“(Becoming an Olympian) is just always something I’ve wanted to do,” said Knop, who will be competing in the first wave of the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 200-backstroke this weekend in Omaha, Nebraska. “I don’t want it for fame or anything like that.
“When I was little I said that I wanted to be one and it’s stuck with me. It would complete my life if I were to become (an Olympian).”
Knop’s mother, Ela, got him into swimming at a young age and it wasn’t long before he started to surpass his peers.
“I always knew Florida was very famous for swimmers,” said Ela Knop, who emigrated to the United States from Poland with her husband Christopher in 1992. “Everyone has swimming pools, everyone has swim teams. It was something to do for children, but also great competition for him.
“Myself being a swimmer, I taught him very quickly when he was little. He just has that athleticism in him because my husband is an amazing soccer player and circus performer. When he started swimming, I could see it right away that he was good.”
The rising-junior was a versatile member of the Indians’ swim team this past season — finishing fourth in both the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke while also racing a leg in the 400-free relay (5th place) and the 200-medley team (9th place) at the 4A state meet.
“He definitely has that natural ability, but he also is such a hard worker,” Venice swim coach Jana Minorini said. “He takes critiques and he is so driven. You put him up to a challenge, he accepts it and is able to excel at it. He’s very interested in learning more and hearing suggestions.”
It was a close call for Knop to make it this far.
To qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials, Knop had to pick his best event — the 200-backstroke — and beat the qualifying time of 2:02.99 by May 30.
As the high school season ended, however, and winter turned to spring, Knop was still in search of the time he needed.
Then, he had a breakthrough — completing the 200-backstroke in 2:02.48, two weeks ago in a meet for the Sarasota Sharks swim team— making the cut with just a few days to spare.
“It’s one of the first major stepping stones for me,” Knop said of qualifying for the trials. “Prior to this, I was on the edge and I was thinking, ‘Wow, these people are turning in really fast times and I’m kind of stagnant. I’m improving just a little bit.’
“Once I made the cut, though, I was like ‘I can do this. I can maintain this throughout my life and I can achieve greater things in the future.”
Knop will be competing in the first wave of the Olympic Trials — with roughly 600-700 other competitors — and can advance to the second wave from June 13-20 if he finishes among the top two in his event.
“It’s just an experience for them to do it, see it, get excited and continue their drive for the next three years,” Minorini said. “Like, ‘Now I know what to prepare for. Now I have a new goal to set.’
“It’s definitely great for swimmers to get their feet wet and see what they can do.”
In previous years there would be just one qualifying event, but U.S. Swimming chose to break it into two waves of competitors — to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and open up more spots for younger athletes, like Knop, to gain experience.
Along with Knop, 10 other swimmers from the Sarasota Sharks Gold Medal swim team will travel to Omaha this weekend as each looks to advance to the second wave.
But even if Knop can’t get past the first round of qualifying races he won’t be giving up on his dream anytime soon.
“It’s a little intimidating (racing the best swimmers in the nation), but I just like to put that aside because this is such a good opportunity for great racing,” Knop said. “I’m looking at the benefits rather than being afraid.
“I get to race people who are within hundredths of seconds of me and I think that will drive me to reach my limits. I’m really excited.”