How good is Connor Jaeger? One only needs to take a quick look at his swimming resume to understand how dominant the senior from the University of Michigan has been both at the collegiate level and on the international stage, but in order to truly appreciate Jaeger’s achievements, it is necessary to review how Connor elevated himself to the level of excellence he displays every single time he jumps into the pool.
During his freshman year in Ann Arbor, Michigan head coach Mike Bottom had Jaeger dabble around in a variety of events throughout the year. The 200 butterfly, 200 IM, 400 IM, and even the 50 free occasionally popped up in his schedule, and it wasn’t until the Ohio State Quad meet between Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Northwestern about four weeks before Big Tens were scheduled to begin that Jaeger delivered his first truly impressive in-season time in a freestyle swim (he would go a 1:38.8 in the 200 free in a speedo). At conference that season, Jaeger would contribute a 1:36.55 split as the third leg of Michigan’s winning 800 freestyle relay, but his individual performances still did not quite reflect the typical shock and awe now normally derived from witnessing the New Jersey native swim. Jaeger would take 13th in the 500 yard free (4:22.45), 27th in the 200 free (1:38.23), and 32nd in the 200 yard butterfly (1:50.31). He would not compete at that year’s NCAAs individually, and Ryan Feeley would take his place on the 800 yard freestyle relay.
After years and years of training for the 400 IM and the 200 butterfly, Jaeger was given the opportunity to convert his training to a more distance-oriented approach, and this is when everything began to click. With Coach Bottom working closely with Jaeger to help him switch from one training path to another, Jaeger gradually developed into the swimmer who ceaselessly amazes every time he gets up for a championship swim. At the 2011 USA National Championships, he reported a 1:51.79 in the 200 meter free, a 3:53.45 in the 400 free, and a 2:02.35 in his 200 butterfly, all of which were Olympic Trials cuts and personal bests. Carrying this momentum into his sophomore season with the Wolverines, Connor made a statement early in the season with best times in the 200 free (1:36.86), 500 free (4:15.94), and 1650 free (14:55.70) at Michigan’s mid-season meet at the Hawkeye Invitational. Those swims would just serve as a teaser for his competition though, as Jaeger would continue to dazzle in his championship performances. He swam a 1:34.19 leg on Michigan’s pool record-setting 800 freestyle relay (6:16.26), and he also took the conference title in the 1500 free in a 14:43.64 (also a pool record). In his other two individuals, he scored a pair of runner-up finishes in the 500 free (4:15.70) and the 200 free (1:34.10), both behind Michigan teammates.
Jaeger wasn’t satiated with this conference swims though, and continued to improve at that year’s NCAA championships. He would set a personal best in the prelim session of the 500 free (4:13.67), before taking 5th at night and he would also take third in the fastest 1650 heat in history with his 14:35.14 effort (both Georgia’s Martin Grodzki and Stanford’s Chad La Tourette would dip under the previous NCAA record in this race).
After such a phenomenal sophomore season, everyone’s eyes turned to Jaeger as he continued to make headlines leading into the 2012 Olympic Trials. In an event that he had only swam a handful of times previously, Connor grabbed the crowd’s attention when he mistakenly flipped to a 14:59.97 in the preliminary session of the 1500, and did an extra 50 meters or so before being stopped. As if his sub-15:00 swim wasn’t impressive enough in its own right, Jaeger challenged Andrew Gemmell (currently out of Nation’s Capital Swim Club) for the full 1500 meters in the final session, and took 2nd barely behind the Delaware native in a 14:52.51. As most of our readers know, Jaeger would go on to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London, and would take 5th at the Games in a 14:52.51, thus sealing his status as the next big distance product out of the United States.
Jaeger’s return to collegiate action in the 2012-13 season was no less spectacular than his previous one, and he continued to tack on to his already sterling NCAA resume. He captured Big Ten titles in the 500 free (4:13.44) and the 1650 free (14:34.87), and added a 7th place finish in the 400 IM (3:47.07) for good measure, and also contributed a 1:34.14 split in the 800 free relay that would set a new school record (6:13.70). A month later, he would also win individual national titles in the 500 (4:10.84) and the 1650 (14:27.18), both ahead of Texas’ Michael McBroom, and he would also add an 8th place finish in the 200 free (1:33.83). His 1:33.38 200 free leg on the 800 free relay helped the Wolverines grab second overall to Florida, and Jaeger’s swims were heavy contributions towards Michigan’s triumphant national team title.
Jaeger was selected to swim at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain in the 400 meter free, 800 meter free, and 1500 meter free, and he furthered his international image even more with top 8 finishes in all three events. His first experience on a Worlds team was highlighted by a bronze medal in the 400 (3:44.85), though he would also take fourth in both the 800 and the 1500. Jaeger completed the 2013 summer season holding the US Open record in the 800 meter free (7:46.78), a record which he still holds 8 months later.
Connor Jaeger’s collegiate and international career has been tremendous to watch over the years, and it is relatively safe to say that he will likely pioneer new waters for American distance swimming for years to come. Jaeger enters this year’s Big Ten conference meet as the top seed in both the 500 free (4:14.05) and the 1650 free (14:39.02), and he is the only swimmer within the conference with NCAA Automatic Qualifying times in both of those events, so it is unlikely we will see the senior relinquish his stranglehold on those events this year at the conference and probably even the national level. Jaeger has lived up to the expectations placed upon him as the latest in a long line of legendary distance products for the Wolverines, and as he will be swimming in front of a home crowd at Canham Natatorium starting tonight, it is very likely that we won’t need to wait until NCAAs to see Jaeger have jaws dropping once again.
Best Times (SCY/LCM):
100 free: 44.38/52.26
200 free: 1:33.83/1:47.60
500 free/400 free: 4:10.84/3:44.85
1000 free/800 free: 8:56.34/7:44.26
1650 free/1500 free: 14:27.18/14:47.96
400 IM: 3:45.50/4:27.51
200 fly: 1:46.40/2:02.35
School Major/Degree: Mechanical Engineering
Favorite Event: 500 Free, 800 Free Relay
Favorite Hobby/Hidden Talent: Surfing, though I haven’t done it consistently for a couple of years now
Favorite Movie: The Departed
Role Model Growing Up/ Person You’d Like to Meet: My Father, and I wish I could have met Eric Namesnik
Favorite Food/ Pre-Race Meal: Chicken Parmesan, Olive Garden, what else do we eat?
At what age did you become involved with swimming? How did you get into it?
Started swimming “competitively” at 5 years old for my beach club, Surfrider, on the Jersey shore. Races were 12.5 yards long to a floaty noodle in the middle of the pool.
What is your favorite collegiate swimming memory and why?
So many great memories. Winning Big 10s my freshman year, beating Texas for the first time my sophomore year, the huddle I did with Sean Ryan and Ryan Feeley before the 1500m final at Olympic Trials, watching the boys break the NCAA record last year in 200 Medley, winning the team title. All of these experiences were products of people acting selflessly and fighting for the person next to them. It’s a powerful thing to witness and be a part of.
Last year, Michigan put on an absolutely dominant show both at Big Tens and at NCAAs both in individual events and in the relays, including a new NCAA record in the 200 medley relay. Can you provide some insight on what some of they key factors were to such an incredible season last year? Did you guys have an NCAA Team Title in sights the entire year?
The year started with a belief that we would be better than we were the year before. With the transfer of Zack Turk, a great freshman class, and a mid-season pick up of Anders Nielsen, we continued to believe as the year went on. None of those things won us the meet on its own, but it was the belief that came with it that changed the game. The dream may have been an NCAA Team Title, but I wouldn’t say it was the goal. The goal was simply to be better.
Our readers need no introduction to your international success over the last two years, including your top 8 finish at the 2012 London Olympics in the 1500 and your 3rd place finish at the 2013 World Championships in the 400 meter free. How has your international success helped you approach your collegiate swimming career or has there been a mutually beneficial relationship between the two?
The two definitely help each other. One thing that both have taught me is to never underestimate your opponents. When I stood on the blocks this summer in Barcelona there wasn’t a single person in my heat that had cared I was an NCAA champion. When I stand on the blocks next week at Big10s nobody is going to care about what I did this summer. You’re just another person with a lane and the race is on.
Over the last few years, you and University of Texas alum Michael McBroom had a very competitive rivalry both during the NCAA season and also when you raced at the club and international level. How has having an exceptionally talented rival such as Michael helped you elevate your performance level at all levels of swimming competition?
I’ve definitely looked forward to my races with McBroom these past couple years. When we aren’t racing each other I know we are checking results and seeing how the other did. We went back and forth a couple times this summer and became good friends in the process. When he broke the American record this summer in the 800m I was really excited for him, but in a weird way felt like we did it together.
Distance swimming has seemingly always been a strong point for the Wolverines for several decades now. In past interviews, you have mentioned how you did not switch over to the distance freestyle events until the end of your freshman year. Could you explain what the training atmosphere has been like throughout your college career, as you have had immensely talented distance products such as Sean Ryan and Ryan Feeley to push you along the way?
It was great to join the distance group my sophomore year and have such accomplished distance swimmers like Sean and Feeley to train with. Training with them that year gave me the confidence that I could be competitive in the mile. They both believed in me so much too, and it really went a long way.
What/who do you think has been the single most important catalyst to your swimming career?
Without a doubt it was coming to Michigan. The culture of hard work and “all in for the Team” mentality that already existed here has pretty much directed every decision I have made since coming to college and without a doubt has sculpted me to the person I am today. Learning that it isn’t just the guys winning events that have an impact on the team and that everyone needs to beheld accountable to do their job. Everyone is needed to win a championship, and not just the guys traveling.
Do you have any plans/commitments following the completion of your collegiate career?
Finish my undergraduate degree December 2014 and continue swimming with Club Wolverine at Michigan. Continue to enjoy, love, and appreciate my time in Ann Arbor.
What should we look forward to from Michigan as a whole at this year’s Big Ten Championships?
Everyone is excited to be hosting what is possibly the deepest conference in our home pool at Canham Natatorium. A lot of alumni will be in town and it is going to be a great time having the whole family back on campus. You can count on us fighting like hell to make Michigan proud.