OMAHA, Neb. — In two races Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Tyler McGill posted times that were second only to swimming icon Michael Phelps.
If that pattern holds for one more race tonight, Champaign native McGill will be able to call himself an Olympian.
With a contingent of 35 to 40 family and friends on hand to cheer him on, McGill advanced to the final of the 100-meter butterfly with a pair of strong performances at CenturyLink Center.
After swimming the No. 2 time in preliminaries — 51.87 seconds — the Champaign Central High School graduate won his semifinal heat in 51.88 to again trail only Phelps on the clock.
"It's all very positive and very exciting," said Susan McGill, who watched her son advance to tonight's final. "So far, so good."
McGill didn't necessarily need to finish with the No. 2 time in either of his races Saturday to move on. But he will tonight. Only the top two in this event will represent the Americans at the London Games.
Given how Phelps is performing now, the runner-up spot might be the only one available to any other Olympic hopeful. After clocking the fastest time (51.80) in the prelims, the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 100 fly returned in the semifinals to again churn out the top time — 51.35.
For McGill, a bronze medalist at the 2011 FINA World Championships, his Olympic dream now has come down to one swim. If he can hold off all swimmers not named Phelps in tonight's medal race, which starts at about 7:20, the four-time IHSA state champion from Champaign Central will be headed to London.
"Excited. Nervous. Very nervous," Susan McGill said in anticipation of her son's most important race of his career to date. "It'll be a close race, but he'll be ready."
Susan McGill's contact with her son during the Trials has been limited, and that's OK with her. Under the circumstances, she wants to give the former Maroon his space.
"I saw him last night," she said. "He came into the area where we were sitting in the stands. I went out and said hi really quickly, trying to touch base.
"He pretty much has his own routine, so we're pretty much staying back."