For the Missy Franklin's, Michael Phelps's and Ryan Lochte's of the world, the U.S. Olympic Team Trials are simply a necessary step in the process to get to the big dance every four years.
But, let's face it ... with only about 50 spots on the Olympic team up for grabs, the trials in Omaha, Neb., are the pinnacle of amateur swimming and to be part of that is something any up-and-coming athlete would put high on the resume.
In 2016, there are several Boulder County athletes getting that chance. The door is only open for a certain amount of time in one's career, and Fairview's Sandra Freeman and Knights alum Miles MacKenzie are hoping to make it a long-lasting memory just in case it's the only time they get to compete.
Freeman, made her trials cut in the 400 individual medley last summer, and the anticipation has only built since then. Really, she's been driven to get in that pool since the 2012 trials when she was a spectator.
On Sunday, the first day of competition at the CenturyLink Center, her vision will be realized.
"I actually went and watched the trials four years ago, and it was just an amazing experience. I didn't expect I'd even come close to making it just four years later," said Freeman, who helped the Knights to a girls team title in February. "Seeing the trials, it's different than any other meet. So much more emotion than anything else, going through everyone in the stands and in the pool.
"I just remember watching the 400 IM back then and thinking this was the coolest thing ever. It would be amazing if I could swim if this meet and it's been a goal of mine since."
As could be expected, the training between the state championships and now has been a little different for Freeman compared to a normal spring and summer. She'll be fully resting this week, but there have been plenty of extra duties in and out of the pool to get ready for this moment.
"I definitely wanted to be in the best shape of my life by the time May was here, so before that we ramped up the training. I've definitely been doing more exercises on land, you know, lifting and core training just to get a little bit stronger," Freeman said. "That's contributed so much to my work in the water. I've been working with this meet in mind."
Freeman isn't alone in the pool in the 400 IM when it comes to Boulder County representatives — former Boulder and Centaurus swimmer Haley Rowley (now at Colorado State) will swim that along with the 800 freestyle and 200 backstroke.
Monarch grad Amanda Sanders (University of Denver) also qualified to swim the 100 and 200 breaststroke.
For MacKenzie, now 20 and a junior at the University of the Pacific, the prestigious event comes at a time when he feels in peak shape. He'll be one of the busier locals having qualified in three sprint freestyle events (50, 100, 200).
Those qualifying marks came just this month at a meet in California. With lofty collegiate aspirations, too, the former Knight also sees the meet as a possible springboard for his remaining time with the Tigers.
"I feel like it's a great time for me right now, being right in the middle of my college career and I'm very excited to go," MacKenzie said. "This year for me was one where I went from an OK swimmer in our conference to being one of the better swimmers. Making trials is a huge confidence booster and it's one of those things that maybe will help me make more of an impact on a national scene.
"I'd love to get to the NCAA's as an individual qualifier, and the trials is one of those things that remind me of why I swim."
Also competing on the men's side is former Silver Creek athlete Tyler Lis (200 backstroke).
Overall, more than 1,800 athletes will compete from Sunday through July 3 in front of expected crowds of 14,000 or more. Several sessions of finals swims will be shown live on NBC and its band of networks through the week.
"It's only here once every four years, and in reality it's one of the greatest American competitions," MacKenzie said. "Most swimmers only get one chance at it."