Indiana swimmer Zane Backes has retired from competitive swimming, he confirmed to SwimSwam on Saturday. Backes is a Five-Time CSCAA All-America honoree, including a 7th-place finish in the 100 breaststroke at the 2021 NCAA Championships. Backes says that his is a medical retirement.
“I have chosen to step away from the sport of swimming due to many complications with mental health,” Backes told SwimSwam. “If you are struggling don’t hesitate to seek help.”
Medical retirements generally offer athletes who suffer career-ending injuries an opportunity to still have their education paid for. Athletic directors have the option to pay out a student’s scholarship or offer them financial aid; it is essentially a form of insurance for college athletes. Medically retired athletes do not count towards their former program’s total scholarship limit. Medical retirement also cannot be undone – if the athlete makes an unexpected recovery, they cannot regain NCAA eligibility.
Backes swam in the Hoosiers’ first two meets of the season. Against Kentucky and Indiana State on October 6th, he swam the 100 breaststroke (55.77) and 200 breaststroke; then at the team’s meet against Northwestern, he raced the 100 breaststroke (56.28) and 200 breaststroke (2:04.94) individually again.
Backes scored 12 points at last year’s NCAA Championship meet individually with that 7th-place finish. He also swam the breaststroke leg of the team’s 11th-place 200 medley relay (23.11 split) and 5th-place 400 medley relay (50.68 split). His 100 breaststroke split tied as the 4th-best in the field, while his 50 breaststroke split tied as the 5th-fastest in the field.
While Backes’ 60 individual points at Big Tens will hurt the team’s scoring output, the presence of a super-freshman helps mitigate the cost to the relays.
Last season, he was the team’s best 100 breaststroke by almost two full seconds – and the two guys behind him, Brock Brown and Gary Kostbade, both declined to use their bonus 5th year of eligibility this season.
This year, though, the Hoosiers are much deeper in the sprint breaststroke, led by freshman Josh Matheny. Matheny ranks 5th-best in the Big Ten this season in 52.24, swum at the Ohio State Fall Invitational. He’s also one of the fastest American junior sprint beaststrokers ever – he was a 51.84 in high school.
Matheny split 23.58 on the 200 medley relay and 51.97 on the 400 medley relay at the Ohio State Invitational, so he still has work to do in order to catch up to where Backes was last season.
Backes raced at the 2021 US Olympic Swimming Trials, where he qualified for the semi-finals and placed 15th in 1:01.06. His best time in long course, 1:00.26, was done in prelims at that meet.
Backes is the second Indiana Hoosier breaststroke to confirm a retirement from competitive swimming this week – All-American Emily Weiss announced her medical retirement earlier this week.
Backes, who was a spring admit to Indiana as a freshman, plans to graduate in winter 2022. He is pursuing a degree in computer informatics with a field of study of human-centered computing.
The Indiana men beat #6 Louisville 205-95 in a dual meet on Friday. They have two regular season meets remaining: against Purdue next Saturday and then at home for Senior Day against Evansville on Friday, January 28.