Late Sunday evening, fourteen year old swimming phenom, Michael Andrew, signed his first endorsement deal, officially making him the youngest swimmer in United States history to turn professional.

Andrew hasn’t been fourteen long. His birthday was April 18th, and just last weekend in Iowa City he became the fastest 13-14 year old in the 50 long course meter freestyle in American history with a 23.47. That’s the 11th National Age Group (NAG) Record he holds, and he’s broken 32 NAG Records since he started making waves in the pool.

Andrew’s 50 free time ranks him 59th in the nation among all elite males. A few female swimmers, similar in age, rank higher, but women have historically developed faster than men in the sport of swimming. It’s highly unusual for boys to crack the top 60 in the country at 14 years old. The next-closest ranked 14-year-old boy is #167.

The young swimmer might be one of the best 14-year old athletes in the history of the sport, but he’s also been one of the most discussed. His product endorsement, the youngest ever signed by an American swimmer, will only serve to further increase the buzz, mystique, and hype surrounding the talented young swimmer.  With only one exception among the male ranks, Michael Phelps, the path to elite swimming in the United States has traditionally taken swimmers through the collegiate ranks. With this decision, Andrew will now be ineligible to swim either in high school or NCAA collegiate competition.

Andrew has signed with P2 Life, a high-performance nutrition supplement manufacturer. Terms of the agreement are confidential.

The Deal

Pic_of_Michael_Signing_1st_Contract

Michael Andrew while signing his first ever endorsement deal, which officially makes him a professional athlete.

P2 Life, a high-performance nutrition supplement manufacturer, has signed 14-year old swimmer Michael Andrew to a historic endorsement deal. P2 Life adds this endorsement to one already existing with United States Masters’ Swimming (USMS) at the opposite end of the age spectrum.

“We looked around at the NCAA, and we decided that this is a road that we want to go down together,” his coach and father Peter Andrew said on Sunday when we spoke via phone (as the pair were on their way to go fishing). “And as far as high school, we’re home schooled so there’s really nothing to miss out on there.”

“We don’t really think it puts pressure on Michael, it’s still just swimming,” Peter said, as Michael chimed in the background with a “I like pressure.”

“I mean he wants to swim in the Olympics and he has goals, but it really doesn’t change anything for us except you get some free stuff,” Peter continued.

Andrew has been the source of much intrigue over the last four years, where he’s had 32 national record breaking swims.

Tina Andrew, Michael’s mother who for now is acting as his agent, says that they only will work with companies that they believe in, and after they joined the Grand Prix Series they started receiving warnings about the risks of supplements, and P2Life was certified to be safe. In other words, they used P2Life before the endorsement was even a possibility.

With this decision, Andrew will now be ineligible to swim either in high school or NCAA collegiate competition.

The Precedent

Swimmers and other Olympic athletes turning pro in high school isn’t totally unheard of. Michael Phelps signed his first endorsement deal on October 4th, 2001 with Speedo, which was a few months after his 16th birthday. Gymnastics all-around individual Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, is believed to have endorsement deals well into the millions at 16-years old as well.

The difference is that when Phelps went pro, he was already an Olympian and a World Record holder, and Douglas was the best gymnast in the world. Andrew is maybe the best age group swimmer we’ve seen since Mary T. Meagher, but when compared to the rest of the professional ranks, he’s still got a long climb to go.

“My wife and I, before I settled, we spent 8 years travelling, and I think there’s a lot of great travelling opportunities around the world, and I’d love to see Michael have that chance,” Peter said. “There’s a lot of great meets in Europe, and we’d love to go race in Japan, and I think my wife and I learned more from travelling than from anything else we did.”

In this country, however, most professional athletes have to wait until they’re at least 18 to cash in on their talents, especially with age restrictions in place in leagues like the NBA and the NFL. Swimming has no such restrictions, and as an individual sport the market for going pro relies almost strictly on whether or not a sponsor is willing to pay.

This is even further true given where his parents come from; in most of the world outside of the United States, there is no reason to preserve amateur status for the sake of college scholarships. As soon as you make the Junior National Team and your training gets subsidized, or someone offers you something in exchange for your swimming, you’re a professional.

Here’s a list of young athletes who have gone pro at similar ages, and most (with the exception of Meilutyte) without much in the way of Olympic glory.

  • Ruta Meilutyte, 2012 Olympic Champion in the women’s 100 breaststroke, signed an endorsement with Arena earlier this year at 15.
  • Freddy Adu, an American soccer player, signed his first professional contract with MLS at 14 years old in 2003.
  • Andrea Jaeger, an American tennis player, turned pro in 1980 at 14 years old.
  • Michelle Wie, an American golfer who turned pro at 15 years old in 2005.
  • 12-year old Mauricio Baldivieso played his first professional soccer match in Bolivia at 12 years old in 2009.
  • 13-year old Peruvian Fernando Garcia played his first professional soccer match in 2001 at 13 years old.
  • Ricky Rubio, a Spanish basketball player, competed in Spain’s ACB professional basketball league at 14 years old in 2005.
  • Ryan Sheckler became a professional skateboarder in 2013 after winning gold at the 2003 X Games
  • Joe Nuchall is the youngest player to ever play in a Major League Baseball game, pitching two-thirds of an inning for the Reds in 1944 when he was only 15.

The Training

The potential is there for Andrew. According to his mother, Tina Andrew, he currently stands 6’4″ and weighs 178 pounds. His father is a former high-level swimmer and Navy diver from South Africa, and stands 6’6″ or so himself; his mother, Tina, is a gifted athlete, and actually used to be a gladiator on British Gladiators once upon a time (the equivalent of American Gladiators in the U.S.) Michael is taller than your average 14-year old, but it wouldn’t seem that he’s done growing either.

Michael Andrew, 14 year old swimming phenom

Michael Andrew, 14 year old swimming phenom

Andrew trains with his younger sister, Michaela, in a two-lane indoor pool their father built-in the back yard. The focus is on the outside-the-box training principles of Dr. Brent Rushall, which preaches basically exclusive race-pace training (to oversimplify it). Michaela (who lately has cooled on the swimming and focused more on other sports) and Michael are joined frequently by visiting swimmers who want to learn more about their unique training methodologies, as well as a pair of local high school swimmers (one, who is a high school quarterback going to Stanford who is thinking about walking on to the swim team.)

“Michael has massive, massive abilities, but he’s gotta be enjoying it, or else we’re not going to do it anymore,” Peter said. “Sometimes with Michael, I find myself getting frustrated because he’s not making a time that I want him to be making, like any coach would, and I have to catch myself, because my relationship with him as a son is what’s most important.”

The concept is based on Dr. Rushall’s concepts of training how you’ll race, with a lot of high intensity training. As Michael himself explained it, “when you do too much yardage, it trains that 2a muscle, but we’re really working on that 2b fast twitch muscle. When you race a lot in practice, you make those neurological connections, and your body just knows what to do.”

A typical day will see about two hours of training, broken into three 40 minute sessions.

The initial reaction to this training is “Todd Marinovich,” the infamous child-prodigy experiment from the ranks of the NFL. As a young athlete, Marinovich underwent intense focus on his training to become a pro athlete under the guidance of his father Marv Marinovich, who once asked “How well could a kid develop if you provided him with the perfect environment?”

The Andrew family has certainly gone out of their way to give Michael great training opportunities, but his training feels simultaneously similar and different than that of the young Marinovich. It’s the same sort of very scientific, very technical training, and from a very young age having more attention and more very specific detail than most kids are used to. Michael spends no more time training than your average top-tier USA Swimming club swimmer. This past fall, he actually played on a local football team (he was the kicker, and was perfect on extra points for the season.)

Another similar example is baseball phenom Bryce Harper, who earned his GED two years early so that he could play pro baseball two years earlier. He’s had one of the brighter beginnings to a pro baseball career as we’ve seen in the last decade.

The next evolution of the training is working on Andrew’s pacing. Specifically, in their first few USA Swimming Grand Prix Series experiences, was that Michael got caught up trying to go out with the big name swimmers. “He’d go out too fast, try and follow Ryan Lochte and those guys, and there’s no way he’ll be able to hang on coming home with them,” Peter said. “I think he’s really getting the pacing, and that’s going to be big for his 100’s.

“My goal is to be no more than two seconds apart on the two halves of my 100,” Michael explained of his race strategy, noting that in his last meet he overshot that a bit, going 27-27 en route to a 54.

“That shows that he’s at least getting the idea, though the outcome wasn’t what we wanted,” Peter chimed in.

As Michael stepped out of the car to start the day’s fishing, Dad and coach Peter, playing a dual role, suddenly got a bit less technical. “Ya know, to be able to spend so much time with my son, and have success, and hopefully get to travel the world with him…that’s the greatest thing I could ever ask for.”

The Records

Below is a complete list of all of Michael Andrew’s National Age Group Record breaking swims.

Those times listed with an asterisk (*) now belong to someone else.
Those times listed in bold are Andrew’s records as they stand now.

(Note that this only includes swims recognized by USA Swimming. He broke the record in the 50 free for 11-12’s at least one other time, but the meet failed to file the proper sanction paperwork)

10 & under

  • 50 yard free, 24.60, January 16th, 2010 – Lawrence, Kansas
  • 50 yard breast, 31.78, February 6th, 2010 – Brown Deer, Wisconsin*
  • 100 yard IM, 1:01.31, February 6th, 2010 – Brown Deer, Wisconsin
  • 50 yard back, 28.58, February 7th, 2010 – Brown Deer, Wisconsin*
  • 50 yard free, 24.47, February 7th, 2010 – Brown Deer, Wisconsin
  • 50 yard fly, 26.59, February 13th, 2010 – Rochester, Minnesota*
  • 100 yard back, 1:00.86, February 20th, 2010 – Pierre, South Dakota*
  • 100 yard free, 54.10, February 21st, 2010 – Pierre, South Dakota
  • 100 yard breast, 1:08.53, March 5th, 2010 – Aberdeen, South Dakota*
  • 50 yard free, 24.46, March 27th, 2010 – St. Paul, Minnesota
  • 50 long course meter backstroke, 32.85, April 2nd, 2010 – Cedar Valley, Utah*
  • 50 long course meter backstroke, 32.72, April 10th, 2010 – Cerritos, California*

11-12

  • 50 yard free, 22.08, November 18th, 2011 – Columbia, Missouri
  • 50 yard free, 21.85, December 3rd, 2011 – Fishers, Indiana
  • 50 yard breaststroke, 28.09, December 3rd, 2011 – Fishers, Indiana
  • 50 yard butterfly, 24.05, December 3rd, 2011 – Fishers, Indiana
  • 100 yard IM, 54.66, December 11th, 2011 – College Park, Maryland
  • 200 yard breaststroke, 2:13.33, January 7th, 2012 – Independence, Missouri*
  • 50 long course meter freestyle, 25.50, February 12th, 2012 – Raleigh, NC
  • 50 long course meter butterfly, 27.26, February 12th, 2012 – Raleigh, NC
  • 50 long course meter freestyle, 25.15, March 3rd, 2012 – Jenks, Oklahoma
  • 50 long course meter freestyle, 25.09, March 25th, 2012 – Ft. Collins, Colorado
  • 50 long course meter butterfly, 26.22, March 25th, 2012, Ft. Collins, Colorado
  • 100 yard breaststroke, 1:00.19, February 26th, 2012 – St. John, Indiana*
  • 100 yard free, 47.95, March 9th, 2012 – Topeka, Kansas
  • 50 yard breaststroke, 27.46, March 10th, 2012 – Topeka, Kansas
  • 50 yard butterfly, 23.70 March 11th, 2012 – Topeka, Kansas
  • 50 yard butterfly, 23.65 March 11th, 2012 – Topeka, Kansas
  • 100 yard breaststroke, 1:00.07, April 13th, 2012 – Clearwater, Florida*
  • 100 yard IM, 54.14, April 13th, 2012 – Clearwater, Florida
  • 100 yard IM, 53.86, April 13th, 2012 – Clearwater, Florida

13-14

  • 50 long course meter freestyle, 23.47, June 1st, 2013 – Iowa City, Iowa (pending recognition)

Video of Michael Andrew’s 23.47 50 meter freestyle NAG record:

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