In the interviews after NCAA Division I championship this year, Texas Longhorns Coach Eddie Reese raved about sophomore Clark Smith. Eddie knows something about mid-distance; he’s had a current or former Longhorn on every USA men’s Olympic 4×200 free relay team since 1988.
Smith was a highly touted recruit out of high school, but failed to make the championships at all as a freshman in 2014. He bounced back in a big way in 2015, throwing down big times in-season, and then becoming the first Longhorn to ever win the men’s 500 free at the NCAA Championships.
One of the big debates in the comments on this site, as well as in the larger swimming community, has to do with to what extent success into NCAA/SCY swimming translates into success in LCM swimming. This is a difficult thing to quantify, but it seems like Smith is heading in the right direction this long course season. As I write this, he ranks sixth in the US this year in the 200 free and third in the 200 fly.
But still, I wanted to take a look at trends, and see if there is anyway to predict future LCM success based on NCAA victories. Specifically, I decided to analyze the track record of 500 free championships in making and succeeding at the Olympics. Here’s what I discovered, dating back to 1989:
|Year||Name||School||Country||Olympic Year(s)||Olymic Event(s)||Medals|
|2014||Christian Quintero||Southern California||Venezuela||2012||200 free, 400 free, 4×100 free|
|2013||Connor Jaeger||Michigan||USA||2012||1500 free|
|2011||Matt McLean||Virginia||USA||2012||4×200||Gold (4×200)|
|2010||Conor Dwyer||Florida||USA||2012||400 free, 4×200||Gold (4×200)|
|2009||Jean Basson||Arizona||South Africa||2008||200 free, 4×200|
|2008||Sebastien Rouault||Georgia||France||2008||400 free, 1500 free|
|2007||Larsen Jensen||Southern California||USA||2004, 2008||400 free, 1500 free||Silver (1500 free); Bronze (400 free)|
|2004*||Peter Vanderkaay||Michigan||USA||2004, 2008, 2012||200 free, 400 free, 1500 free, 4×200 relay||Gold (4×200); Bronze (200 free); Bronze (400 free)|
|2003||Eric Vendt||Southern California||USA||2000, 2004||1500 Free, 400 IM, 4×200||Gold (4×200); Silver (400 IM0|
|2002||Klete Keller||Southern California||USA|
|2001||Klete Keller||Southern California||USA||2000, 2004, 2008||200 free, 400 free, 4×200||Gold (4×200); Silver (4×200); Bronze (400 free)|
|2000*||Ryk Neethling||Arizona||South Africa|
|1999||Ryk Neethling||Arizona||South Africa|
|1998||Ryk Neethling||Arizona||South Africa||1996, 2000, 2004, 2008||100 free, 400 free, 1500 free, 4×100 free||Gold (4×100 free)|
|1997||John Piersma||Michigan||USA||1996||200 free; 400 free|
|1995||Tom Dolan||Michigan||USA||1996, 2000||200 IM, 400 IM||Gold (400 IM); Silver (200 IM)|
|1994||Chad Carvin||Arizona||USA||2000||4×200, 400 free||Gold (4×200)|
|1993||Marcel Wouda||Michigan||Netherlands||1992, 1996||200 IM, 400 IM, 4×200, 100 breast, 4×100 medley relay||Bronze (4×200)|
|1989||Artur Wojdat||Iowa||Poland||1988, 1992||200 free, 400 free, 1500 free, 4×200||Bronze (400 free)|
*Technically, these were 400m freestyle events, as the NCAA championships were swum in 25m pools those two years. But for sake of continuity, and since both of those men won 500 yard championships as well, I left them in the table.
- 18 individuals over 27 seasons.
- Of those 18 champions, all except Smith and Martin Grodzki already were, or became, Olympians.
- In 2012, Grodski won the 1500m at the German Olympic Trials, and was under the FINA “A” cut, but was not selected for the team, since he did not finish under Germany’s self-imposed standard of the top 10 times from the 2011 World Championships.
- Of the sixteen who have made the Olympics, eleven have won medals.
- Ten have competed in the 4×200 free relay.
- Ten have competed in the 400 free.
- Except Grodzki, everyone who has won the 500 free in an Olympic year made his country’s Olympic team that year.
Conclusion: winning the 500 free shows that either a) you’re already an Olympian, or b) you’re soon to be at that level, and most likely in the mid-distance events. I haven’t analyzed every NCAA event, and obviously there are some pretty major examples of men who won an event or two, but never were able to make the transition to long course. Regardless, the evidence over the past 27 years makes is pretty clear that the 500 free is not a short course event you can “fake” your way through, and a win here means you can hang with the big boys in the big pool.