I first met Lotte Friis as a fan. I had stood in the stands, with my big Danish flag, waving it furiously as she battered her American opposition at the 2011 Duel in the Pool. Afterwards, I approached her cautiously and asked for a photo.
Three years later I found myself negotiating a contract to have her change her Danish club representation to the team I coached. On her next trip back home, she was in the water for practice.
Friis will not live long in the memories of casual swimming fans. That's a shame. Her best performances came races where Katie Ledecky did even better. She was an uncommonly brave swimmer, something that was in stark evidence even at her low points.
Friis was bitterly disappointed by the 2012 Olympic 800. As a coach, I wouldn't have been. Lotte Friis swam to win. She knew the only way to beat Ledecky was to stay in the race. There was no sense in waiting for the final sprint- that wasn't how Lotte Friis won races.
But while her pool racing was brash, outside of the water she was almost too kind. She deserved to have a big ego, but didn't. She was a tremendous ambassador for the sport of swimming and a good teammate. She was a superstar that knew how to instantly dismantle your awe of her.Friis' seemed to me habitually under-appreciated. She had to deal with a tabloid press (and even coaches) that celebrated her success but weren't shy about calling her "fat" when they wanted to insulate themselves from any disappointing performance. Oh, and they criticized her stroke for good measure, as if somehow a person could be woefully out of shape and lack any kind of skill, yet break world records.
When I think of Lotte Friis' swimming career I'll always remember her 2013 duels with Ledecky. A lesser swimmer would have been shaken by the London final. Friis was older, Ledecky was ascendant. It should have been a blowout.
It wasn't. Friis hung in the race until the final 100m. She went all fifteen rounds of a championship bout with perhaps the heaviest puncher in swimming history. Like the name of her book, Lotte Friis was a fighter.