As 2011 winds down, and swimming as largely at a lull, now is a good time to reflect on the year that was. This was an exciting, interesting, and enthralling 2011 season, and that was all just the warmup for the 2012 Olympic year.
Every season, when I write these yearly reviews, I remember how much was truly packed into one season of swimming. For anyone who doesn’t think that swimming can hold their attention that well compared to the mainstream sports, check out the list below for all of the highs and lows and drama that the sport faced.
We’ll split our review up into quarters (so as to allow a small distraction every day this week from the Holiday hubub). First, let’s check out what happened in January through March.
- 2010 ended, and 2011 began in the throws of the Sean Hutchison scandal in Fullerton, at the USA Swimming National Center of Excellence. It’s not quite clear, through any direct, named sources, what happened, but it had something to do with accusations of a relationship with an adult swimmer. Rumors were flying about the details, and though Hutchison was ultimately absolved in Februrary by USA Swimming of any rules violations, he has still not been heard-from since. Rumors at one point flew that he had arisen in Brazil, but nobody I’ve spoken with down there has seen him around. Perhaps a revival of a once-bright young coaching career will come in 2012. Meanwhile, the swimmers of FAST have thrived under the direction of Jon Urbanchek.
- In college action, Stanford’s Austin Staab returned to action on January 9th for the Cardinal after a year-long hiatus that has still gone without explanation. He debuted in a 159-92 dual meet victory over the University of the Pacific, including a sweep of his three individual events (100 free, 200 free, and 100 fly).
- The year of the Trojan began with Olympic medalist Eric Shanteau headed west from Austin to join the Trojan Swim Club.
- On January 15th, Masters Swimmer Laura Val had maybe the greatest swim ever as she swam to six World Records in a single race. During the 1500 SCM race at a San Francisco meet, Val broke the FINA 60-64 records in the 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500m freestyles – some by more than 20 seconds.
- On January 20th, USA Swimming released their 2011 World Championships roster…and Aaron Peirsol was strangely absent despite having earned a spot. Later that day, we asked if Peirsol was ready for retirement, and just a few weeks later, on February 2nd, he would officially retire.
- It was a crazy month for the Texas post-grad program. In the 4th week of January, head men’s coach Eddie Reese underwent heart surgery after suffering from shortness of breath while walking to a Texas-Texas A&M basketball game. Dr. Paul Tucker, father of Texas women’s swimmer Samantha, performed surgery to clear an artery that he described as 99.9% blocked. The 69-year old Reese seems to have undergone a full recovery, and when I saw him in December, he looked as healthy as ever.
- Australian National Team coach Leigh Nugent raised some eyebrows when he altered his country’s selection procedures to give Libby Trickett a chance to qualify for the World Championships. He added a “relay selection meet” that coincidentally fell right after Trickett, with whom Nugent is very close, became eligible for competition again. The experiment ultimately would flop in June, as neither Trickett, nor any other swimmer, would earn a spot at the meet.
- Swimming Ireland would be rocked by its own sexual abuse scandal in the case of George Gibney, after an Irish court charged that the former Irish National Team coach could not be charged for his sexual abuses against minors because more than 15 years had passed since the case was first brought to the courts. Gibney, now living in the US, has escaped prosecution for falsifying his green card application.
- It didn’t take long for February to churn up the water. On the first day of the month, we found out both that Albert Subirats would be returning to Arizona to train, and that Frank Busch would be leaving Arizona to become the USA Swimming National Team Director.
- Also on that day, we learned that Australian Ian Thorpe was back in the drug-testing pool and on his comeback trail. Two days later, American swimming icon Margaret Hoelzer announced that she was officially retiring from swimming. Life is a revolving door, so-to-speak.
- The Florida women’s swim program was rocked in the second week of February when they suspended two swimmers after being charged with shoplifting. That would not be the end of the Gators’ legal troubles in 2011.
- Brazil’s Cesar Cielo decided to permanantly leave Auburn, where he’d had so much success under the tutlage of Brett Hawke, in favor of starting his own professional swimming club in Sao Paolo called “PRO 16”. After a rough start, the club has thrived and attracted many of Brazil’s top swimmers, including most recently luring Thiago Pereira back from Dave Salo and the Trojan Swim Club.
- On February 12th, Missy Franklin took down Natalie Coughlin’s National Independen High School Record in the 100 back with a 52.30 at the Colorado High School State Championships. If that’s not foreshadowing for the rest of her year, I don’t know what is.
- The same weekend, the Baylor School in Tennessee broke the National High chool Record in the women’s 200 free relay with a 1:32.63. That included a 22.45 leadoff by then-sophomore Kristen Vredeveld, who is a future sprint star. The other relay members were Ashley Yearwood, Emma Michaels, and Arden Pitman. Most high schools would be glad to have one girl go sub-24 in the 50 free; the Baylor School had 4.
- Continuing on with the trend of the weekend of February the 12th, the Carmel High School women broke the 200 medley public school record in 1:41.42.
- The College Conference Championship meets dominated the news in the end of the month. That included four-peats by both the Virginia men and Virginia women, and a three-peat by the Indiana women (who should make it four this year).
- In March, a potential massive World Championship meet for Australia’s Emily Seebohm was derailed before it even got rolling, after a battle with swine flu ruined her National Championships.
- At the Pac 10 Men’s Championships, Austin Staab showed that he still had the mettle of one of the best college swimmers in the country, but it was Cal’s Tom Shields who stole the show with his NCAA record in the 200 fly.
- Swimmers have fun names. And more fun names.
- The next evolution of the coaching sexual abuse scandal happened in March, when a female coach in Utah was accused of an inappropriate relationship with a swimmer.
- Rebecca Adlington went a monster 4:02.84 in the 400 free in March. That built up a lot of hype that led to some domestic disappointment when she had a
disastrousmildly disappointing illness-plagued World Championship meet in July.
- The Cal women started off a double when they won the 2011 women’s NCAA title in Austin, Texas. Georgia stole many headlines, however, thanks to Allison Schmitt’s NCAA record in the 500 free and Georgia’s American Record in the 800 free relay.
- The women’s NCAA Championships weren’t all joy and happiness, however. During the meet, University of Houston coach Mark Taylor passed away tragically from a heart attack. He left a hole in the coaching community that has yet to be filled.
- Rachel Bootsma almost outshone the collegiate swimmers that weekend at the NCSA Junior Nationals. She broke the 17-18 National Age Group Record (held by Natalie Coughlin) with an incredible 50.76 in the 100 back.
- Also in high school action that weekend, David Nolan at the Pennsylvania State Championships. The same weekend as the women’s NCAA Championships, he broke the National Record in the 200 IM (1:41.39), the 100 free (42.34), and 100 back (45.49), all of which were heads-and-tails above the previous records. This was a dominance in a high school meet that we’ve never seen before and might not ever see again. A week later at the Mid-Atlantic Senior Champs meet, he would wow even further with a 46.97 in the 100 fly (under the high school record, but not eligible as a non-high school meet).
- At Men’s NCAA’s, it was the Cal Golden Bears who ruled the day again, though the Texas men made it closer than expected. A surprising Stanford 200 free relay broke the American Record at that meet, Virginia’s Matt McLean won the 500 free in a big upset, and the big story on the tips of everyone’s tongue was defending Swimmer of the Year Conor Dwyer taking ill and not coming close to his potential at his final college meet.
- French sprinter Fred Bousquet threw a hissy-fit that France was not taking his coach Brett Hawke as a member of their coaching staff for Worlds, and even threatened to Boycott. After much public debate, including a chime from Hawke, he would relent.