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Former McCallie School star and current University of Michigan swimmer Sean Ryan won a gold medal in the 2013 World University Games in the men's 1500-meter freestyle in 2013 in Kazan, Russia.

Sean Ryan is going to the Olympics.

By finishing fourth in Monday morning's 10-kilometer open-water race at the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, the McCallie School graduate and five-time All-American at Michigan has secured a spot in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"It's kind of surreal right now," the 23-year-old Hixson native said Monday afternoon by cellphone. "I thought this was a far-reach kind of goal a year ago. But I put in lots of hard training. That last 2,000 meters I was just hoping I could hold on."

He held onto the second Olympic spot for the United States in the 10k because Jordan Wilimovsky, who won the U.S. Nationals in April, won in a time of 1 hour, 49 minutes, 48.2 seconds. The Netherlands' Ferry Weertman was second at 1:50:00.3, followed by Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece at 1:50:00.8 and Ryan at 1:50:03.3.

By Olympic rules, the only way one country can have two participants in the open-water 10k is for both to finish in the top 10 in the initial qualifier. A second qualifier in 2016 will be held to fill out the final 15 spots for Rio.

"When I saw Sean coming up (from behind), I knew if he was there with me we could do this together," Wilimovsky noted of those final 2,000 meters.

Sean's parents, Margret and Eugene Ryan, were there cheering their son after reaching Kazan on Saturday following a 25-hour trip from Chattanooga.

"There are so many emotions at this point," Margret wrote in a post-race email. "Stunned. Thrilled. Excited. Disbelief. We were apprehensive during the race, but Sean managed to pull it off. He was still shaking from excitement when he was finally able to come find us and give us a hug."

Ryan finished 25th in this same race four years ago in China. But as his McCallie coach Stan Corcoran noted this past weekend, he was a 19-year-old swimming against 25- and 26-year-olds back then. This time around he was a veteran who woke up Monday to perfect open-water conditions.

"Every other day we've been here the water's been choppy," said Ryan, who arrived in Russia two weeks ago to acclimate himself to the course. "But today it was pretty calm. It was still a tough race. Lots of great competitors. But the last 50 yards I felt pretty good. I knew my destiny was in my hands. I only had to worry about myself."

For Corcoran, who with fellow local masters swimmer Jimmy Welborn introduced Ryan to open-water swimming several years ago, watching Ryan qualify through an Internet feed was especially rewarding.


"Could you hear me screaming?" he said upon reaching a representative of this newspaper at 7 a.m. Monday, a few minutes after the 2010 McCallie grad touched the wall. "Because I was pretty loud. This is the first time I've had an Olympic swimmer when I was his main coach for a time. It's quite a thrill. Just think, it's a year and a month before Rio and Sean's already in."

Nor is Ryan's big week necessarily done. Following two training sessions today, he may be entered in Thursday's team race, in which two men and one woman from each country swim five kilometers. Ryan previously has teamed with Andrew Gemmell and Ashley Twitchell to earn a gold medal in that event.

"It's a time trial," he said. "Each swimmer does a 5k. You're not swimming against other teams. Just the clock."

Despite receiving "too many texts to count on my fingers and toes" from family and friends following Monday's race, Ryan isn't spending much time reveling in his accomplishment.

"I'm not celebrating too much because there's still work to do," he said. "I'm on what we call 'honor code' right now. We're still trying to win the team championship here. But it's every swimmer's goal to one day make the Olympic team. Going to Rio is a dream come true."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at