When Carson Foster was just 10 years old, he was already a budding celebrity in the swimming world. In 2012, he broke the 9-10 national age group record in the 100 LCM butterfly that had been previously held by all-time great Michael Phelps.
Breaking any record with Phelps’ name attached to it is going to draw attention, no matter what age and at what level. The accompanying video to Foster’s record breaking swim, videotaped by his dad, has more than 300,000 views on YouTube. Comments on the video have since been turned off, but Foster’s name spread like wildfire once fans started to watch his races on YouTube.
Foster’s dad Jim is still frequently seen in the back row of the grandstands at swim meets, taping his three kids Hannah, Jake and Carson. As the three siblings got older, their name became more recognizable to those that followed swimming, and by 2016 all three of them qualified to swim at the Olympic Trials as teenagers.
At the 2016 Trials, Carson was one of two 14-year-old boys to swim in Omaha, where he was 43rd in the 400 IM.
“Being able to experience that at 14 and watch my idols make the team – that’s where I feel like I really started idolizing swimmers,” Carson Foster said. “Seeing them making the team and the emotion behind that…I remember when Jay (Litherland) made the team and was hugging his brothers. I was thinking maybe that could be me with my siblings some day.
“I honestly got out of my race and was like ‘dang I am done for the week, now I am on vacation! I get to hang out in the athlete zone!’ We stayed the whole week and I was just along for the ride. It is wild to think that potentially now I am in a situation where if all goes well I can find myself in that position (to make the team). I am super grateful for my teammates and coaches because it has been a super long five years.”
After making his Trials debut at 14, Foster continued to rise through the ranks as one of the top juniors. In 2017, he was the youngest member of the World Juniors team, where he won a silver medal in the 200 backstroke at age 15. In 2018, he was the subject of the Olympic Channel’s Heroes of the Future documentary series, where he was billed as “the young U.S. swimmer who broke Michael Phelps’ record.”
In 2019, he was captain of Team USA at the World Juniors and was also named co-high school swimmer of the year by this publication. With all this hype surrounding his name, he has amassed more than 12,000 Instagram followers and a verified checkmark, all before making a national senior team for the United States.
“I think all that is fun just because it is nice to get praised for swimming well but you also have to take it with a grain of salt,” Foster told Swimming World of being a swimming celebrity. “I have grown the last couple of years knowing when you’re swimming well, everything is awesome, and when you’re having an off meet, people tend to not care as much. So I’ve learned that the close group of friends and teammates that I have is with me regardless. I have grown very comfortable in that position and I am super thankful for my dad in helping my name grow because that’ll be helpful down the line.
“I think learning how to really become comfortable with my close circle and knowing that regardless how I swim, they’re going to be there for me, was crucial.”
Foster was a popular spoiler pick by many in the lead-up to the 2020 Trials when he was still a senior in high school. In 2019, he was the world junior champ in the 200 IM, held the world junior record in the 400 IM for a brief period, and was known to step up on relays for the United States.
In late 2019, he showed no fear taking on the likes of world record holder Ryan Lochte and the 2017 World champ Chase Kalisz at the US Open. And in that original Olympic season, he was ranked second nationally in the 400 IM and third in the 200 in March 2020. Foster, and a few other rising male stars, had the opportunity to be the first high school male to make the US Olympic team since six male teenagers made the 2000 team for Sydney.
But in his own words, he didn’t feel like 2020 was his year.
“I think back when everything got postponed, last year was hard with the disappointment after looking forward to it and not having it,” Foster said. “I think I knew in the back of my mind that last year…something about it didn’t feel like it was my time yet and I wasn’t as confident as I probably should have been two or three months out.”
Now Is The Time
Flash forward to now and Carson Foster is one of the favorites to make the 2021 Olympic Team. He has the top time in the United States this year in the 400 IM, and is ranked fourth in the 200 IM and seventh in the 200 free.
Foster moved to his new home in Austin, Texas over the summer months of 2020 where he got a running start on his college training schedule with Eddie Reese and Wyatt Collins, where he admits he has gotten stronger and better at training.
He was able to have a solid rookie season for the Longhorns, helping the program win its 15th national team title. Individually, he reached three A-Finals at NCAAs, including a runnerup finish in the 400 IM, and also swam on the winning 800 free relay team.
But this wasn’t enough for him. Although winning a team title was a special moment, he went right back to work to fix his individual disappointments, specifically getting beat in the 400 IM final when he had a faster time than the national champion back in October.
“I remember the first thing my mom texted me after the 400 IM was it was going to help some way at Trials. I came back and fixed all the things I thought I needed to fix and I’ve really been training towards my weaknesses in the past two months and it’s crazy how much growth I’ve seen in those areas.
“Definitely the focus has been the 400 IM the past couple of weeks but training for the 400 IM gives you everything – 200 free, 200 fly, 200 IM. I’m excited for all of them at Trials.”
Having already had the experience of racing in Omaha in the large venue, Foster is feeling more confident than ever about his second Trials.
“I think the experience of knowing what it is like walking out on the deck in prelims and seeing how it is in finals – how everything is hyped up. It adds to the pressure but knowing that going in is going to help me.
“I talked to Drew (Kibler) about this – knowing every final I want to be in at Trials…I am probably going to have another Texas guy in with me. That is a weight off my shoulders to be able to look over in the ready room and be like ‘I can race them like I race in practice.’”
The Olympic Trials is billed every quad as the most pressure packed meet in the United States. With Olympic dreams on the line in every single heat, it is a very emotional eight days, and not every favorite for the team is going to make it. With a lot of hype around Foster’s name the last five years since racing in Omaha at 14, there are expectations, but his close circle of friends has reminded him that they will still be there for him no matter the scenario.
“When you have a down meet, the last thing you want to do is talk about swimming so the people who were there for me on my down swims and the people who reached out to me after a disappointing swim… I know that they’re still there and I know that my relationship to them doesn’t depend on my performance. You know when your best friends have your back and I feel like I have a great support system. It’s taken a ton of pressure off me going to Trials.
“I’m confident in my ability to swim fast and I am content with whatever the outcome is going to be. I am very confident but also I know that I have great things in my life outside this one meet.”