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Credit: Michael Chien , Michael Chien

He narrowly missed swimming in the 2012 Olympics. This time around, Brendan McHugh is determined to achieve his dream and punch his ticket to Rio for the 2016 Games.

McHugh, a former Quaker swimming standout, will first compete in the FINA World Masters Championships in Kazan, Russia, which are set to begin July 24. It presents another opportunity for the breaststroke specialist to race against top levels of competition prior to the 2016 Olympic Trials.

“I think it’s actually a higher level than the Olympic trials, because the Olympic trials are just Americans,” he said. “World Championships are essentially the Olympics on years that there is no Olympics ... every country [sends] their top two guys. It’s just one of the highest levels of competition out there.”

Earning multiple selections to First-Team All-Ivy and Academic All-Ivy lists, McHugh broke several Penn swimming records in his collegiate career from 2009-12. After his Penn graduation, McHugh competed in the Olympic Trials hoping to swim for the United States in London. Needing to place eighth or better in the 100 meters, he narrowly missed the cut by 24 hundredths of a second, placing 10th with a time of 1:01.04.

That fall, the Classics and Science, Technology & Society major enrolled in law school at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

“I was definitely always gonna go to law school, it was just a matter of when. Because I did pretty well in trials, I had a chance to make the national team. [I feel like] if I had gone to another meet and raced a little faster, I would have made the national team.”

That decision was influenced by a fractured scaphoid — a small bone in the wrist — that McHugh broke in a friendly basketball game. The injury would likely have prevented him from swimming in the next Olympic qualifier.

At first volunteering to assist in coaching the Washington and Lee swimmers, it wasn’t long before McHugh jumped into the pool himself. He trained alongside the Generals and filled his entire weekdays with nothing but schoolwork and swimming. Despite so much on his plate, McHugh proved adept at managing his time.

“It wasn’t that much harder than, I would say, being a student-athlete at Penn was, being a hundred percent honest. It was maybe just a little harder,” McHugh said.

During his summers while at Penn, he interned at Philadelphia law firms and trained at the Greater Philadelphia Aquatic Club. Last summer, McHugh surprised most of the swimming field with his performance at the 2014 National Championships.

At the 2014 U.S. Open in Irvine, Calif., McHugh set the Open record with a 27.10 time in the 50-meter breaststroke in the preliminary round. He later finished off the title with a 27.24 time, besting 100- and 200-meter breaststroke specialist Kevin Cordes, who was expected to win.

After the world championships conclude, he will represent the United States in two FINA World Cups in August, in Moscow and Paris. He will then return home, where his only focus will be the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

His final Olympic training push will occur back on Penn’s campus. He plans to serve as a volunteer assistant coach for Penn swimming, a role that will allow for McHugh to train with the team with a focus on the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, since the Olympics do not have a race in the 50-meter.

Since he will now have had the opportunity to swim in the national and world championships, it is easy to focus on his main goal of swimming in the Olympics. He says the Olympics are the only thing he has not experienced in competitive swimming.

“I’ve kind of done everything in the sport other than that, and right now it’s the one and only goal.”

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