The first night of the 2014 U.S. Junior National Championships was oddly exciting. (1) In terms of absolute value, almost every single winning swim from this year’s long course juniors was slower than the winner from last year’s juniors on the same day, with the exception being the girls’ 800 free.
But last year’s meet was a very different scenario. With Junior Nationals coming much later in the summer than senior Nationals last year, there was a whole different scale of participation. This year, Junior Nationals is the week before Nationals. Last year, with a schedule forced by an earlier World Championships, Junior Nationals was held in early August while the World Championship Trials were held at the end of June. So many more of the top juniors this summer are looking straight through to Nationals in 2014, and that showed.
But there were some young swimmers who were really, really good, for their age.
(2) The obvious start of that conversation is Reece Whitley, who broke the 13-14 boys National Age Group Record in the 100 meter breaststroke with a 1:03.23. That swim won the B-Final, and beat out a lifetime best from 15-year old (3) Michael Andrew, who was 2nd in the same heat. Whitley broke Andrew’s 13-14 record.
But they weren’t the only two great breaststrokers in that age bracket. (4) Chandler Bray was 3rd overall in 1:02.87, making him the fastest 15-year old in the field – watch his 200 IM later in the meet. At the Indiana State Championship meet, he split 35.5 on his breaststroke leg, which is really, really fast. Corey Lau, who was 16th overall, is also 15.
There were other National Age Group Record scares as well. In the last race of the night, anybody who was watching the clock has to have been excited when 14-year old (5) Andrew Abruzzo started making a charge around the 1000 meter mark in the boys’ 1500 free. Abruzzo looked like he was on pace to break Jesse Vasallo’s 15:31.03 National Age Group Record that is the oldest still standing in the United States, from 1976. He wound up just missing in 15:36.03, but moved to 2nd on the all-time age group list: jumping none other than Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps used to be an absolute distance stud when he was younger.
(6) Another Phelps 13-14 time was within sights, and it’s another one that would have sent massive shockwaves around swimming. In the C-Final of the boys’ 200 fly, Max Miranda was at a 1:30.38. He’s only 14, and while he lost the pace in the last 50, his 2:02.54 moved him to 2nd, behind Phelps’ 1:59.02, on the all-time age group list.
Sticking with that theme, (7) 14-year old Madison Homovich took 2nd in the women’s 800 free, behind (8) Sierra Schmidt (the one swimmer who broke the “slower than last year trend).
Homovich was an 8:36.82. That’s almost the same time that Katie Ledecky went in the 800 free at Junior Nationals in 2011 to win the title (8:36.05), after which time Ledecky became…well…Katie Ledecky. There’s a long way between 8:36.0 as a 14-year old, and 8:14 as a 15-year old, like Ledecky was, and nobody should expect that kind of a drop, it’s still kind of fun to see the comparison. It’s as much of a reminder of just how far Ledecky moved in a single year than anything worthy of pressuring the young and talented Ms. Homovich.
As good as all of those swims were, the lone 14-year old event winner on Wednesday was (9) Easop Lee from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club in the women’s 200 fly. She swam a 2:10.40 to top that race, beating out Lauren Case’s 2:11.60.
Clearing up a mystery among our readers, Lee confirmed, in her own words today, that she is from South Korea, but that she hasn’t decided quite yet what her plans are – and at 14, there’s no reason she should have to. If she did end up swimming for South Korea she could be a game-changer for their swimming federation on the women’s side.
Scrolling through the results of that women’s 200 fly, the second-fastest time overall was all the way down in the C-Final, where (10) Hannah Kukurugya won the heat in 2:10.64.
And that’s day 1 at Junior Nationals, and quite a list of stories to live up to for day 2. They’re not the most obvious stories, but they’re secretly what we’re all hoping for at Junior Nationals – some new surprises, some new names, some new excitement that next year or the year after could stark making their way through the ranks at Senior Nationals as well.