The World University Games are always a meet that must be viewed with an eye of skepticism. For many international swimmers, this meet comes on at least a second taper in a month, as a lot of the top contenders come straight from the World Championships. For otheres, including Americans, it’s hard to tell what sort of focus they’ve given on the meet. For those athletes only swimming an event or two, they might chose to make US Nationals the week before their focus meet, because of the wider range of event options available to them there, and then hang on for these World University Games.
The bad news is that great conclusions can’t always be drawn about every swimmer from this meet. The good news is that most of the conclusions that we can draw are positive ones, and everyone loves a little positivity.
Daily recaps and results:
Thoughts from the World University Games
1. New Zealand is for real – New Zealand impressed the swimming community at the World Championships with several finalists and great prelims swims, though they came home without a medal. With largely the same roster in Shenzhen, the impression was the same at the Universiade, only this time the hardware was much more bountiful. The squad combined to amass 12 total medals, 5 of them gold, in the third-biggest medal haul of all participating nations. That includes 5 from Lauren Boyle (four individual), including golds in the 400 and 800 free. Even coming off of her true taper meet, Boyle broke a National Record in the 800 in 8:26.30. She earns my vote for female swimmer of the meet.
On the men’s side, Glenn Snyders again broke his own National Records in the 50 and 200 breaststrokes, set just a few weeks ago, to take gold in both events. He added to that silver in the 100 and a bronze in the medley relay. The Kiwis also took two medals, a gold and a bronze in the 100 back, from Gareth Kean and Kurt Basset. But these weren’t isolated efforts by New Zealand, limited to a few superstars. Both teams won a relay medal (women’s 800 silver, men’s medley bronze), which are their first such scores in recent memory. This all comes at a time when Swimming New Zealand is amidst a ton of political turmoil. The government has threatened to pull all funding for the program pending the outcome of some internal meetings, but long-story short, the coaches and swimmers in that country are very unhappy with the current regime, and are calling for across-the-board changes in office. Hopefully, these improvements in performance bring with them some stability to the organization.
2. Laszlo Cseh redeems himself – You’ve really gotta feel for Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh. He’s one of the best swimmers in history to not win an Olympic gold medal, and on top of that he only has one World Championship from all the way back in 2005. His events schedule directly aligns with the two best male swimmers in the world, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, and so it’s hard to foresee him ever breaking through for that gold without a radical shift in focus or unless he hangs around until 2016.
He had more hard luck at Worlds this year when a battle with asthma limited him to only a single podium, but in his first foray into the Universiade, he came home with three gold medals in the 200 fly, 200 IM, and 400 IM for honors as the meet’s top male swimmer. Better yet, his times in Shenzhen were all at, or better, than his times in Shanghai, including his 1:55.8 200 fly that moved him to 14th in the World. Given that this appeared to be at least his third big rest/taper meet of the year (along with the Mare Nostrum and Worlds), that’s an overall pretty good performance for him.
3. Jimmy Feigen shines through – Texas’ Jimmy Feigen had a great US Nationals two weeks ago, and followed that up with a solid Universiade performance as well. Though the sprint competition wasn’t exactly “elite,” he did take a victory in the 100 free (likely his best-chance event at the Olympics) in 49.26. That didn’t nail-down an appearance for him, in terms of relay or individual, but it had to continue to build confidence for him in what was his first big international meet. He’s already announced that he’s taking a Olympic waiver on the spring semester at Texas (which means, in short, that he will be enrolled part-time, will be able to practice with the Longhorn team, but will take a redshirt competitively) to prepare for the Olympics. Given that focus, I’d put about a 70% chance on him getting an Olympic relay spot, with an individual swim in this 100 a multi-nodal tossup between him, training partner Garrett Weber-Gale, and darkhorses Scot Robison and Davis Tarwater (yes, at this point I’m counting out Jason Lezak). His chances at either decrease upon the positive fortunes of Matt Grevers, of course.
4. Solution to Japanese medley woes might be on the horizon – As we relayed ad nauseam throughout the week, Japan is still searching for a solution in its 400 medley relay, where at Worlds a sluggish freestyle leg (the slowest in the final) took them from the lead to off of the podium in precisely 48.81 seconds. Shinri Shioura might not be “the hammer” at the end that will nail down a Japanese gold, but he appears to have the potential to at least keep the Japanese on the podium. He went career-bests in the 50 (22.37) and the 100 (49.50) freestyles, both of which earned him bronze medals. He also showed that he is a great relay swimmer, with a medley anchor of 48.96 that was just shy of what the Japanese got at Worlds. He is exceedingly young, only a teenager still, and this was a great learning experience for a swimmer who could be receiving a lot of domestic attention in Japanese swimming in the leadup to London.
5. Rocco Potenza – I highlighted this guy after his gold medal in the mens 1500 free, but it’s worth mentioning again what an incredible improvement this swimmer has made over the past year. His 15:00.57 ranks him 9th in the world this year, and makes him the third-best Italian of all time in the 1500, but even better than that is his 40-second drop in a 13-month period.
I went in search of some sort of viable comparison for a swimmer who had becomes so elite, so quickly, and there weren’t many. One I did find, hwoever, was Poland’s Mateusz Sawrymowicz, who between July of 2004 and July of 2005 cut 31 seconds off of his 1500 time to break 15-minutes at the 2005 World Championships. Two years later, he would go on to win the World Championship in this race in Melbourne (ending Grant Hackett’s streak of victories in the event, and on his home turf no-less). The Netherlands’ Job Kinehuis dropped 54 seconds between 2007 and 2008 (dropping to a 15:18, though that’s not quite as elite as Potenza’s time), and this year went on to break a National Record in the event at Worlds in 15:05.27. But all of these swimmers’ big moves came when most distances swimmers’ do – around 18 or 19 – whereas Potenza is a couple of years older than that. Still, if the trends hold true, he’s got more big drops coming in the next year or two.
6. Jenny Connolly – The United States’ Jennifer Connolly, who does her college swimming at Tennessee, had a great meet in her two backstroke races. She took gold and silver individuall in the 50 and 100, including a new Meet Record in the 50 (27.92). And though the American women slid back to silver in the 400 medley relay, she broke another Meet Record in that race with a 1:00.21 backstroke leadoff to move to 18th in the world.
She’s a great backstroker, but I would have been curious to see what she would have done in this meet in her other best stroke – the sprint butterflies. The American backstroke is such a cluster at the top (though with her time drops at this meet, she’s certainly in the thick of things beyond Natalie Coughlin’s presumed post-2012 retirement), her best opportunity to make a senior international team could be in the 100 fly based on circumstances.