Day 2 of the men’s and women’s SEC Championships have wrapped up. What did we learn on day 2? Kristian Gkolomeev is fast. That and more in tonight’s “7 Big Things.”
1. Kristian Gkolomeev: It’s still hard to get over the Alabama sprinter’s performances tonight. Not only did he swim the 5th-fastest 50 free in history, he came back to swim almost the exact same time only a few events later while leading off the 200 free relay (which also won, by the way). Gkolomeev is in hallowed territory now, alongside names like Vlad Morozov and Cesar Cielo. 18.64 is no joke, and he’s the perfect cornerstone for a rising Alabama program that’s starting to look awfully menacing.
2. What’s it mean for MacLean? On the other end of the spectrum is Brittany MacLean, who, like Gkolomev, was an NCAA champ last year. But unlike Gkolomeev, MacLean didn’t look suffocatingly fast tonight. In fact, her 4:41.62 swim in the 500 free is almost 7 full seconds slower than she went a year ago. It’s more than 5 slower than her best time mid-season. So what’s the deal? It seems awfully likely that MacLean is saving her full rest for NCAAs, but nonetheless, her prospects at repeating as national champ in the 500 would look a lot brighter if she’d at least cracked the 4:30s at conference.
3. Ty Stewart’s big move: The breakout men’s star of the night for Georgia was junior Tynan Stewart, who jumped into the NCAA lead with a 1:42.83 in the 200 IM. Stewart swam a gutsy race, hanging in through some blistering back and breast splits in the lanes around him and ultimately leaving the field in his dust on the free split. It’s felt like Stewart has been on the cusp of a big swim for awhile now. If he can repeat that time at NCAAs, he’ll have an outside shot at an A final after missing both scoring heats a year ago. He also surpassed Georgia’s current IM star Chase Kalisz, which is a major accomplishment in and of itself.
3B. Kristian Gkolomeev again: Seriously, did you see that 18.64? He swam next to the best junior 50-yard freestyler in history, who went an 18.93, and made it look dare-we-say pedestrian. Gkolomeev was out in 9.0 to his feet. That’s two tenths faster than he went out in at last year’s NCAAs. His split was 9.03 – we could potentially see an 8-second opening 25 later on this spring.
4. Are the Georgia women untouchable? It’s sure starting to look like the Georgia Lady Bulldogs are simply unbeatable. Even on a night when their two reigning NCAA champions (the aforementioned MacLean and sophomore Olivia Smoliga) both underperformed by significant margins, Georgia still blew out the house. Their top-end depth is good enough that they still won both those events, even without their studs performing. In fact, they 1-2’d the 50 free and won the 200 free relay with Smoliga not looking like herself. Chantal van Landeghem stepped right in as the team’s new sprint backbone, and senior Maddie Locus provides even more top-end depth. Cal and Stanford are insanely talented teams, but it’s getting harder and harder to argue for anyone but Georgia as the NCAA favorites on the women’s side.
5. Alabama’s curious McKee decision: This one goes back to last night, when Alabama elected to swim both of its opening-night relays without the services of one of its top swimmers, Icelandic national Anton McKee. McKee is the team’s consensus top breaststroker, yet on the medley relay, they went with Pavel Romanov, whose lifetime-best in the 100 is 1.6 seconds slower than McKee. Then on the 800 free relay, the team once again swam without McKee, and faded all the way to 6th. Tonight’s 500 free made the decision even more curious, given that McKee is clearly swimming well and appears to be fully rested. His 4:14.98 in the 500 free was a lifetime-best, and he was out in 1:41.06 at the 200 to a flip turn – a time that was only 3.7 seconds slower than the anchor leg of ‘Bama’s 800 free relay. Why was McKee held out? Will he join one or both relays at NCAAs?
5B. Kristian Gkolomeev, one more time: Hey, speaking of Alabama, did you see Kristian Gkolomeev‘s 50? Did you see some of the names he passed up on the all-time 50 freestyle list? You know, guys like Nathan Adrian, Fred Bousquet, Adam Brown. I think this Gkolomeev guy might have a future in this sport.
6. Florida women dominate 200 IM: The only event that wasn’t pure Georgia domination on the ladies side was the 200 IM, where Florida took the crown. And what an event it was for the Gators, who swept the top 3 spots with three swimmers who will all return next year. It feels like the Gators have been waiting forever for Theresa Michalak to become eligible, but she’s proved herself worth the wait, winning an SEC title in her first individual swim. And just imagine, had Sinead Russell been healthy, her lifetime-best (1:57.68) would have put her just a second out of 4th place. Elizabeth Beisel is gone, but the Gators are still dangerous in the IMs.
7. Could we see an Alabama-NC State battle for the NCAA title in the 200 free relay? This is a fun one to speculate on. Two teams from outside of the perennial NCAA powerhouses vying for one of the most-coveted relay titles. Alabama now sits #1 in the nation, though they’re still .9 seconds off the winning time nationally from a year ago. But they’ve got a real shot to put three guys under 19 seconds, and if Gkolomeev (have we mentioned him yet?) has anything else left up his sleeve… NC State, meanwhile, will swim next week at men’s ACCs. They ranked 9th in the nation heading into this week without yet swimming on a full rest.
Check out our full Day 2 Finals Recap here. We’ll be back tomorrow with full coverage beginning with prelims in the morning.