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Rio de Janeiro • With a towel casually draped over his right shoulder and speaking in near-perfect Spanish, Long Gutierrez explained in detail what his bio-engineering studies at Cal-Berkeley entail.
Standing behind the metal railing in the mixed zone of the Olympic Aquatics Stadium Thursday, the former Brighton High swim star competing for Mexico explained to a journalist that his dream has always been to represent the country of his birth in a final at an Olympic Games. He already knew less than 15 minutes after finishing seventh in his 100-meter butterfly heat what he needed to improve on if he was to make that next step at the next Olympics.
As the interview with the 21-year-old Cal Golden Bear continued, a familiar voice was piped through the speakers in the mixed zone. While Salt Lake City's 16-time prep All-American went on discussing his Olympic debut, Michael Phelps got the surround sound treatment. The 21-time gold medalist, the owner and CEO of the men's 100-meter butterfly explained his thoughts on his own preliminary race that ran 12 minutes after Gutierrez's first.
But Gutierrez carried on, not missing a beat. The seventh-place finish (53.34 seconds) squashed his goal of making it to the semifinal round Thursday night to possibly race against Phelps. The immensity of the moment initially hit the former Bengal when he stepped into ready room. Nerves hovered. They weren't calmed until he walked out onto the platform to approach the blocks. It was to be like any other race, he tried to convince himself: "Down and back. Just do it."
Before he launched himself into the pool that has since added to the legend to the likes of Phelps and Katie Ledecky, Gutierrez heard chants of "Mexico!" behind him. He turned around to see who it was. It's those moments that the Utah high school record holder several times over is choosing to store in his memory. Born in Mexico City, Gutierrez immigrated to the U.S. with his parents when he was 2 and was raised in the Salt Lake City area.
"With that bad of a swim," he said with a wide grin, "I just know I can be better. For me, it's kind of a driving point."
Three weeks ago during an invitational event in Los Angeles, Gutierrez swam a 53.30 without tapering off from his usual rigorous training regimen. That, he said, is the most frustrating part of the result Thursday. His first swim is never his best, either.
Last month he was told he would be competing in the 200-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly here in Rio. To get the two freestyle events done and dusted would have been ideal to set up his 100-meter butterfly. Instead, five days before he boarded a flight to Brazil, he was informed by officials that he would only dive off the blocks in the butterfly.
"It pissed me off quite a bit," he said. In frustration, Guiterrez called his mom to vent. Instead, she told him that in four years in Tokyo, to qualify for as many events as possible.
"It's my first Games it's something completely new to me," he said.
Gutierrez has less than three days left in Rio. He and other Mexican Olympians take off on Sunday afternoon. That doesn't mean he won't find plenty to do. He's already made plans to watch Cal teammate Ryan Murphy swim and catch other events, if possible. Upon returning stateside, he'll return to Berkeley, where he will take two weeks to stay out of the water.
What's on the docket for those two weeks? Hang out with friends. "Just have fun," he said. Fall semester starts Wednesday.
And there's one more thing. Gutierrez gets to follow through on the guarantee he gave his mom when he was 10-years-old: A tattoo of the Olympic rings. There are two designated tattoo parlors in Berkeley where Cal's Olympians get the identical tattoo symbolizing their feats.
They'll be imprinted forever on his right bicep.
"It's the only one I'm going to get," he said.
Men's 100-meter butterfly, heat three
1. James Guy, GBR, 51.78
2. Wen Zheng Quah, SIN, 52.08
3. Luis Martinez, GUA, 52.22
4. Henrique Martins, BRA, 52.42
5. Liumbomyr Lemeshko, UKR, 52.51
6. Qibin Zhang, CHN, 52.84
7. Long Gutierrez, MEX, 53.34*
8. Marcos Macedo, BRA, 53.87