Actor Timothy Olyphant is best known for his Emmy-winning work in the FX series, Justified. Besides his knee-weakening good looks and his gift for acting, he claims swimming had a major impact on him to this day.
Olyphant was born in Hawaii but moved to Modesto as a toddler. There while growing up, he became involved in youth swimming, eventually swimming in the finals of the 1986 U.S. Nationals in the 200 Individual Medley. His performance there garnered the attention of USC swimming coach Peter Daland.
Fate takes over
During his recruiting trip to USC, he visited the school of architecture and was told that if he intended to swim that there was no way he could balance the responsibilities of both. He remembers noticing an art gallery on the floor below the architecture school, and asking if he could be a fine arts major and swim. So arts major it was and actor he is. Olyphant would swim all four years for USC placing 11th and 14th at the Pac 10 Championships. Considering the depth in the Pac 10 at the time, he had some skills.
Show me the…that’s someone else’s movie
Regarding the choice to go into acting versus continuing to pursue swimming, he notes that “Bruce Jenner was a millionaire and Mark Spitz is a dentist” so not the right sport for the money. Also not the right sport for a future after college if you are not an olympian. Olyphant did coach for some time at Irvine Novaquatics, one of the top-ranked swim team programs in the country. So somewhere in this world are a group of now adults who can watch Justified and say “Hey, there’s Coach Tim!”
He coached and waited tables to get by until he made the decision to go to New York to explore other options, stand up comedy and acting. It was there that he attended acting school and began his acting career. In life’s fine sense of irony, his success in acting has led to him driving his kids around, walking his dog, and now, sitting by his pool – safely covered, of course.
Appreciating the grind
When reflecting on some of the parallels of competitive swimming and acting, Olyphant states that even though you love something, like he loved swimming, there are times that it’s just the last thing you want to do. On certain mornings as you look at the unheated outdoor pool and think, no way, you do it anyway and eventually you settle into the grind.
That grind is the same no matter whether it is in a pool in Southern California or on the set of an award-winning television series. Sometimes you just don’t want to, but you dive in and let the process take over; then boom, off you go.
Olyphant also credits his competitive swimming background with helping him in his ability to stay lean. Though now he hits the weights as a part of his fitness regimen. The work ethic that made him a champion swimmer and the lessons learned in the pool are still right there.