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NJ Swimmer Connor Jaeger Returns To Olympics With A New Focus

By Peter Schwartz
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Four years ago, Connor Jaeger was just happy to be an Olympian.

After qualifying for the United States Olympic swimming team, the Fair Haven, New Jersey, native made his way to London with no pressure whatsoever, and his objective was to enjoy the experience.

Jaeger finished sixth in the 1,500-meter freestyle at the London games and did not medal, but the trip was well worth it, in his opinion.

"I was there to basically just soak it in," said Jaeger. "It was the first national team trip that I ever qualified for. It was a surprise to make it. I was like, 'Hey, you're here and basically just prove to yourself that you belong here.'"

Four years later, it's a completely different story.

Jaeger qualified for the Rio Games in June and will go to Brazil with a new mindset. With loftier goals than he had in London, he'll compete in the 400-meter freestyle and the 1,500-meter freestyle, an event in which he holds the American record.

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This time around, the objective is to stand on the podium with a medal or two around his neck.

"Yes, definitely hoping to add to our country's medal count," said Jaeger. "That's definitely a goal."

Jaeger's road to becoming an Olympian began at Rumson-Fair Haven High School, where he excelled both in the pool and in the classroom. He was All-State in the 200-yard freestyle in 2010 and owns five Shore Conference records. He accomplished all of that while also making the honor roll.

From there, Jaeger went to the University of Michigan and was a two-time NCAA champion, seven-time NCAA All-American, six-time Big Ten champion and the 2013 University of Michigan Male Athlete of the Year.

Connor Jaeger
Connor Jaeger competes in a heat for the men's 200-meter freestyle during Day 2 of the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebrask, on June 27, 2016. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Jaeger, 25, will have plenty of support while he's in Rio. His parents will be there along with his girlfriend and some of his friends. He now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but he's certainly a celebrity back home in Fair Haven.

"They're supporting me, and that's awesome because I have a lot of pride of being from where I'm from," said Jaeger. "To have those people supporting me means a lot."

Anyone who visits Fair Haven will know there's a member of the U.S. Olympic team from the community. The sign outside the local library reads, "Congratulations to Connor Jaeger-2016 Olympian."

"I've gotten pictures from my friends or from my friends' parents of the library," said Jaeger.

While many Americans will get to know Jaeger during the Olympics, they are already very familiar with one of his teammates: Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals.

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Jaeger and Phelps first met four years ago, and Jaeger's respect for him only grew from there. In addition to everything that the 18-time gold medalist has accomplished, Jaeger is impressed with how focused Phelps is.

As it turns out, Phelps is also willing to let Jaeger pick his brain.

"It's been great to be with him at training camp," said Jaeger. "I've asked him how he handles this or handles that, and he's willing to share and happy to share."

Jaeger heads to Rio with an impressive body of work since his first experience as an Olympian.

He finished in first place in the 1,500 meters at the 2014 U.S. nationals, won the silver medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle at the 2015 World Championships and the gold medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle.

Then at this year's Olympic trials, he finished first in the 400-meter and 1,500-meter freestyles, the two events he will participate in at the Rio Games.

Connor Jaeger
Connor Jaeger celebrates after finishing first in the final heat for the men's 400-meter freestyle during Day 1 of the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 26, 2016. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

"I'm really looking forward to something that I've been working on for four years," said Jaeger, who took up the sport at age 9 and swims 15 kilometers a day, six days a week.. "I think that the relative competition in the world is that they're both really competitive events in the world, and we're going in there just being optimistic and hoping I'll be competitive in both."

While Jaeger and other U.S. Olympians are focused on winning medals, there is the concern of the Zika virus. The athletes are taking precautions, but since it's winter in Brazil, some believe the media has blown the concern out of proportion.

"I don't know if mosquitoes will be as big of a problem or as big of a deal because of that, which is very fortunate," said Jaeger. "We're bringing a lot of bug spray. What else can you do?"

Jaeger got his feet wet (no pun intended) in terms of Olympic experience four years ago. Medal or no medal this year, he still has a title that nobody can take away from him.

"I get to say I'm an Olympian for the rest of my life, and I get to go and just race hard," he said.

Don't forget to follow Peter on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow Connor Jaeger @conjaeg as well as @USASwimming.

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