AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Swimmers around the country are squeezing in their final training, ahead of the Olympic trials later this month. The dream of making the U.S. swim team gets a lot of swimmers out of bed for predawn practice. But at least on the men's side of the pool, the well-established superstars leave little room for others. Blake Farmer, of member station WPLN in Nashville, has the story of one hopeful.
CHARLIE HODGSON: All right. Let's go on 60, Kote. Ready, go.
BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Kote is the 20-year-old in the pool - Dakota Hodgson. And speed-walking to keep up, stopwatch in hand, is his gray-haired coach and father, Charlie Hodgson.
CHARLIE HODGSON: Twenty-nine, 2-4.
FARMER: Dakota makes the butterfly look much easier than the complicated stroke it is; arms swinging in tandem, coordinated with an undulating kick that rolls from his chest to the tip of his toes. Dakota left Auburn University's swim team in 2010, to train full time. John Morse, with the Nashville Aquatic Club, says he's put in the work and has a shot at going to the London games.
JOHN MORSE: It can happen, and that's the beauty of it.
FARMER: Over the decades, Morse has sent more than 40 swimmers to Olympic qualifying meets. Most recently, though, the long-shot odds have only gotten longer for his male swimmers.
MORSE: I mean, you've got Ryan Lochte, and you've got Michael Phelps. And they're, arguably, the two best swimmers in the world. And they're very versatile, swim all kinds of events. But they take up a large number of slots on that Olympic team.
FARMER: Each event has just two openings. And Dakota has put all his eggs in one basket: the 200-meter butterfly.
Who else is pretty darn good at the 200-meter butterfly?
DAKOTA HODGSON: Augh. Michael Phelps, who just happens to be the best swimmer in world history. So that's nice. So in the 200 butterfly, there is just one spot, essentially.
FARMER: Dakota had the privilege of racing the world record holder for the first time, earlier this year.
(SOUNDBITE OF SWIM COMPETITION)
FARMER: Phelps surges to the front, leaving the commentators to gush.
(SOUNDBITE OF SWIM COMPETITION)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Michael Phelps has got the perfect butterfly.
DAKOTA HODGSON: I'm like, all right. I'm just going to pretend he's just any other person, and try and beat him. But he beat me.
FARMER: Dakota still managed a distant third. He knows the odds remain against him. But the Olympics have always been the goal, says his dad, who helped coach the 1984 team.
CHARLIE HODGSON: This is kind of a dream, or a plan, since he was a child.
FARMER: Charlie Hodgson says his son started showing promise at age 9. By that time, in the early 2000s, Michael Phelps was already breaking records. Hodgson says Dakota, too, can be a competitor.
CHARLIE HODGSON: He just had this special ability to really race well, keep his composure. And nobody can beat him on the last part of a race.
DAKOTA HODGSON: I just get another adrenaline rush. I have another gear to go into, and I just - I go for it.
FARMER: In the trials, Dakota is realistically going for number two. It will still take the race of his life - and then some.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)
FARMER: Today, he's working up to race speed, one length of the pool at a time.
CHARLIE HODGSON: OK, good job. Looks like we haven't recovered yet.
FARMER: Dakota still needs to shave off four seconds, in a sport where winners are often separated by hundredths of a second. But if not this year, everyone's odds are set to double in 2016, when the giant wake of Michael Phelps is expected to have left the pool.
For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.