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Nathan Adrian has been a stalwart on the relays for Team USA for so long that his absence would have been felt significantly by his teammates and fans if he...

Nathan Adrian has been a stalwart on the relays for Team USA for so long that his absence would have been felt significantly by his teammates and fans if he hadn’t qualified for the World Championships last summer.

Adrian, an eight-time Olympic gold medalist who has earned 34 international medals in his career, once again anchored the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay to a victory in 3 minutes, 9.06 seconds in Gwongju, South Koria over second-place Russia, 3:09.97, and Australia, 3:11.22.

Reaching the top of the podium once again likely brought with it different emotions than years past for hte 2006 Bremerton High graduate and former state champion. Adrian was diagnosed with testicular cancer seven months ago and underwent surgery to remove one of his testicles and treatment that kept him out of training. He returned to the pool for his first competition in May. 

Nathan Adrian smiles as he is presented a gold medal at the World Swimming Championships Sunday in Gwangju, South Korea. Adrian and his teammates, Caeleb Dressell, Blake Pieroni and Zach Apple combined to win the 4×100 men’s freestyle relay in 3:09.06.

“It’s very different,” Adrian said in a post-race interview online. “I’m very grateful to just be here, grateful to just be racing. It beats the heck out of being at home waiting for test results or another surgery.”

Adrain teamed with Caeleb Dressel, Blake Pieroni and Zach Apple as the foursome led the race from the start. Dressel gave the Americans the lead with an opening split of 47.63 seconds while Pieroni and Apple went 47.49 and 46.86. Apple’s time gave Adrian a comfortable lead, and despite the challenge from Russia’s Evgeny Rylov, Adrian turned on the speed and raced to the wall. 

“I’ve looked up to this guy for so long,” Apple said. “He’s over 30, nothing stops this guy. He’s had cancer, he’s still anchoring our relays and he’s been there for all this time.”

“We need him, it’s pretty simple,” interjected Dressel.

Adrian said the race came down to execution.

“I think Caeleb hit the nail on the head, it wasn’t about the first leg, the last leg, it was about all four of us combined. We knew that we have something special, especially leading into next year with this group fo guys and the group that we have left in the U.S.”

The win also means the U.S. team earned an automatic qualification to the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. 

Known as Mr. Reliable, Adrian proved that once again Sunday despite limited training before the championships.

“It’s not anything anyone’s prepared to deal with — sitting down with a doctor and learning you have cancer,” Adrian said in a story by John Lohn of Swimming World Magazine. “Fortunately, mine was treated with just surgery. The good thing is swimming brings me back to home base. Being on the block with three excellent, excellent swimmers that threw down great legs for me, getting me in the spot that I was — that’s home. That brings me away from the cancer stuff.That brings me away from the anxiety that this might come back at any time, so that was huge for me.”

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