Disclaimer: Blueseventy Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The blueSeventy Swim is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.
U.S. Nationals don’t start until next week, but did you know that Pan Pacs and World Championships qualifying is already underway?
That’s not exactly true, of course. No matter what times have been done in-season, official roster spots for 2018 Pan Pacs and 2018 Worlds (along with three other major international meets) are selected solely based on results from Nationals. However, for swimmers who do grab a roster spot, relay entries (and secondary event entries) could be affected by big swims already put up this season.
Take Jack Conger, for example. The Texas pro blasted a new personal best in the 100 free over the weekend, going 48.76 to chop several hundredths off his career-best. Conger has already lowered his best time this season, going 48.80 in Atlanta in March after previously holding a best time of 49.02. But Conger rarely swims that event at his main taper and shave meet. The last time he did so was 2015, when he raced the event at both World University Games and U.S. Nationals. Lately, he’s seen his lineup more slanted to the 100 and 200 butterflys with a side of 200 free, the event in which he earned his first Olympic berth in 2016.
Here’s the issue for a swimmer as versatile as Conger: he’s got several great shots to make the Pan Pacs and World Championships teams… but in so many varying events that his Nationals (and potentially Pan Pacs) lineup might be overcrowded. The biggest conflict at Nationals is on day 1, when Conger’s 200 fly (where he’s the defending national champion) is back-to-back with the 100 free, which is a great opportunity for Conger to expand his medal count as part of the American 4×100 free relay. The events are also back-to-back at Pan Pacs, meaning Conger can’t go after his 200 fly in Irvine and then focus on grabbing a Worlds relay spot in the 100 at Pan Pacs, or vice versa.
That’s where the unofficial early qualification comes into play. There’s precedent for Team USA using swimmers on relays who didn’t technically qualify, but proved their speed outside of the qualifying meet. In fact, last summer, Conger struggled enough in his individual 200 free to miss the World Championships team in that event. But he time trialed well enough to ultimately make the finals relay at Worlds, earning himself a bronze medal. Conger has been hurt by this phenomenon too, though. One year earlier, Conger was bumped off the finals 4×200 free relay despite putting up the fastest split of any American in prelims. (Of course, Conger was bumped from the relay for two guys named Phelps and Lochte, who have somewhat proven themselves on the international stage, so it was hard to argue with the decision).
All that is to say that Conger now has an avenue to contend for both the 200 fly and the 4×100 free relay at either Pan Pacs or Worlds. His 48.76 shows that he’s continuing to improve in that event. And his track record suggests he’ll be far, far faster on a relay, as Conger has a storied tradition of big relay swims compared to his individual times in those events. Here’s just three major examples:
|2015||100 LCM free||49.02||47.75|
|2017||200 LCM free||1:47.50||1:45.37|
|2017||50 SCY free||19.05||18.37|
With Conger splitting 47.7 (and backing it up with a 47.9 later in the same meet, the 2015 World University Games) at the same time as he was 49.0 individually, there’s an argument to be made that he could be good for a 47-mid split or better this summer. Last summer, the American relay in the Worlds final split 47.2 (Dressel), 47.4 (Haas), 48.0 (Pieroni) and 47.2 (Adrian) and the prelims team – though certainly using some safe relay exchanges – had a 48.7 (Chadwick) and a 48.1 (Apple) on the lineup.
Nationals now looks much more open for Conger, with no necessary doubles. He can swim 200 fly on day 1, 200 free on day 2 and 100 fly on day 3, with two more days left to time trial another 100 free if he wishes. With the battle for the 4×100 relay spots looking more and more intense this season, Conger may have won the battle before official qualifying even began.
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