With U.S. Junior Nationals, NCSA Junior Nationals and the brand-new Futures Championships on tap for the coming week, there’s no doubt National Age Group (NAG) records will be a hot topic of conversation. With the next month or so likely to bring with it a healthy wave of new NAGs, SwimSwam decided to take a look at the current record book for the oldest NAGs on record.
Though it feels like the record book is being rewritten on a weekly basis by the rising younger generation, there are still a surprising number of ancient NAG records still alive and kicking. Since it’s long course season, we’ll focus in on the long course records only. Here are the 10 oldest long course NAGs still on record:
#10: Amanda Beard’s 13-14 100 and 200 breast (1996)
Records: 1:08.09 (100) & 2:25.75 (200)
Race video here
We’ll lump a few of these together when similar events belong to the same athlete in the same year. Both of these Amanda Beard records came at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, when Beard became the second-youngest Olympic medalist in American history.
Challengers? Beard’s marks haven’t been threatened since Allie Szekely in 2012. Short course NAG record-breaker Alexis Wenger just aged up to the 15-16s. These records appear safe for the time being.
#9: Beth Botsford’s 11-12 100 back (1994)
Future U.S. Olympian Beth Botsford was already placing in national finals as a 12-year-old back in 1994. By 15, she’d win gold at those same 1996 Games, a high-water mark for talented American youth.
Challengers? Both Regan Smith and Alex Walsh set short course NAGs, and Smith got to about a second off Botsford’s long course mark. But both are now 13 and competing at Junior Nationals this week.
#8: Anita Nall’s 15-16 200 breast (1992)
This record came dangerously close to falling to Beard, but despite her great 1996 Olympic time, Beard was never able to wipe Nall’s 15-16 mark off the books. When Nall set this NAG record, she also set the World Record while winning the U.S. Olympic Trials. Nall would take Olympic bronze in the event.
Challengers? Aspen Swim Club’s Emma Cain would have a shot (2:29.1 as a 14-year-old), but she competes for Great Britain internationally. Other than that, no American swimmer in the age group has cracked 2:30 since 2010.
#7: Dee Brown’s 11-12 200 and 400 frees (1991)
Records: 2:03.38 (200) and 4:19.48 (400)
Nowadays, you don’t see 12 & Unders swimming at Junior Nationals, period, but in 1991, 12-year-old Dee Brown was actually the Junior National champ in the 200 free, and set a NAG record that would stand for the next two decades and counting. The 400 might be more impressive: No one has come within two seconds of Brown’s record from 1992 onward, and the closest challenger to her was also from 1991, in Leeann Gathings.
Challengers? Future world champ Missy Franklin would come within a tenth of Brown’s 200 free record in 2008, but since then, the record has stood unchallenged. Claire Tuggle broke the 10 & Under records in both the 200 and 400 free – a promising sign – but she’ll need to drop 11 seconds in the 200 and 17 in the 400 to rattle the marks.
#6: Chas Morton’s 11-12 100 fly (1983)
One of the greatest age group swimmers of all-time, Chas Morton has just a single long course NAG left to his name. That 58.74 in the 100 fly seems almost untouchable, though, as only two other 11-12s have ever broken a minute in the race.
Challengers? Scarlet Aquatics’ Dare Rose is one of those sub-minute swimmers, and he dropped from a 1:01.5 to a 59.8 just a few weeks ago. Rose has until late 2015 before he ages out of the 11-12s, but this summer might be the last chance he gets to go after the long course version of the record. Same goes for former 10 & Under record-killer Winn Aung, who one-upped Rose with a 59.5 just last week. Aung has even less time, though, as he ages up within a few weeks.
#5: Mary T. Meagher’s 15-16 100 and 200 flys (1981)
Records: 57.93 (100) and 2:05.96 (200)
Race video here
American Olympic legend Mary T. Meagher set a pair of butterfly records that have lasted well over 30 years, and still don’t appear to be in any danger. Her times from the 80s would still be world class today – her 200 fly would sit 4th in the 2015 World Rankings. On top of that, both of these times stood up as the world records for nearly two decades, and together, are considered among the most impressive performances in the history of swimming.
Challengers? Even an elite talent like Katie McLaughlin couldn’t rattle Meagher’s records. NCAP’s Cassidy Bayer has some intriguing potential, though. She’s been 59.3 and 2:09.1 at the age of 15, and has more than a full year left in the age group.
#4: Mary T. Meagher’s 13-14 200 fly (1979)
Stepping down an age group, Madam Butterfly originally set this record as a 14-year-old at the Pan American Games, where it was also her first-ever world record. Meagher would lower the record twice the next month at U.S. Nationals, eventually landing it on the 2:07.01 that still stands today. Like the previous two, this swim would still rank among the world’s upper tier decades later.
Challengers? This one might be even more likely to hold up. Bayer wound up just about two seconds off the record in 2014, and that was the closest anyone has come to dethroning Meagher in the 13-14s.
#3: Sippy Woodhead’s 13-14 200 and 400 frees (1978)
Records: 1:58.53 (200) and 4:07.15 (400)
Partial race video here
Another American swimming legend, Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead won three gold and two silver medals at the 1978 World Championships, setting NAG records in the 200 and 400 frees in the process. Like Meagher, Woodhead would see her international medal totals hurt by the 1980 Olympic boycott, but returned to eventually earn a medal (silver) in 1984.
Challengers? Another record that barely survived a youthful Missy Franklin. Franklin came within .18 of the record in 2009 and is the only other 1:58 in age group history. The closest recent contenders were both ineligible foreign athletes who train in the United States: Korea’s Easop Lee and Canadian Taylor Ruck.
#2: Bobby Hackett’s 15-16 1500 free (1976)
In 1976, a 16-year-old Bobby Hackett finished second at the Olympic Games in a 1-2 American sweep. Hackett’s 15:03.91 will turn 40 years old next year as the 15-16 National Age Group record – if it can survive this summer’s charge of young distance men.
Challengers? Future Olympian Larsen Jensen came the closest to this one in 2002, going 15:04.83. A few talented 16-year-olds have a few months left in the age group, but they’ve got their work cut out for them to erase Hackett from the books. Matthew Hirschberger has been 15:19.23, and Sean Grieshop 15:22.03. They both have until late 2015 to approach the record before aging out.
#1: Jesse Vassallo’s 13-14 1500 free (1976)
Hackett misses holding the oldest NAG record on the books by the narrowest of margins. Just a month before the Olympics where Hackett set the record, he finished second at Olympic Trials in 15:12.75 to make the Olympic team. Missing the team just a few spots back was 14-year-old Jesse Vassallo, who went 15:31.03 out of prelims to set a 13-14 NAG record. That record will turn 40 next June, almost exactly a month before Hackett’s does.
Vassallo was born in Puerto Rico and spent the first 10 years of his life there, before his family moved to the continental U.S. to launch a new branch of the family business. But when Vassallo wanted to represent Puerto Rico at the 1976 Olympics, the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee rules blocked him because he hadn’t lived on the island for a full year leading up to the Games. Between that debacle and the 1980 Olympic boycott, Vassallo never got the opportunity to swim in the Olympic spotlight until 1984, when he represented the United States and missed a medal. In 1980, though, he made a statement swim anyway, bettering the Olympic gold medal times in the 200 and 400 IM while swimming at a domestic meet happening at the same time as the Olympics. Vassallo is also considered one of the pioneers of the underwater dolphin kick, honing the now-essential technique well before it caught on as a major facet of the sport in the 1980s.
Challengers? Germantown’s Andrew Abruzzo came within 5 seconds of the record last year, but is now aged up to the 15-16s. Even Michael Phelps could only trail Vassallo’s record by just over 8 seconds. It would take a massive drop or a shocking new talent for Vassallo’s record to vacate its throne as the oldest NAG on record anytime soon.