Friday Factoid — Men’s NCAA 500 Free Champions to Olympic Success

by Robert Gibbs 8

July 03rd, 2015 College, News

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
2015 Clark Smith Texas  USA N/A
2014 Christian Quintero Southern California Venezuela 2012 200 free, 400 free, 4×100 free
2013 Connor Jaeger Michigan USA 2012 1500 free
2012 Martin Grodzki Georgia Germany N/A
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)
2006 Peter Vanderkaay Michigan
2005 Peter Vanderkaay Michigan
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
1996 Tom Dolan Michigan USA
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)
1992 Artur Wojdat Iowa
1991 Artur Wojdat Iowa
1990 Artur Wojdat Iowa
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.

Quick Analysis:

  1. 18 individuals over 27 seasons.
  2. Of those 18 champions, all except Smith and Martin Grodzki already were, or became, Olympians.
  3. 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.
  4. Of the sixteen who have made the Olympics, eleven have won medals.
  5. Ten have competed in the 4×200 free relay.
  6. Ten have competed in the 400 free.
  7. 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.

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7 years ago

In other words – if you win the 500 at ncaas you are likely not going to individual medal at the Olympics in the 400 free.

Another brainwashing for the NCAA towards swimswamers….

John Smith
Reply to  badparent
7 years ago

Actually I think he is implying the opposite.

Reply to  John Smith
7 years ago

I can read lists and add.

Reply to  badparent
7 years ago

Are you sure you can read lists and add because nobody knows what you are talking about?

Jim C
7 years ago

I would worry that SCY swimmers would have problems swimming longer LCM events. The 500 SCY is actually longer than the 400m and certainly longer than a 200m relay split.

Brad Flood
7 years ago

Artur Wojdat won his 1988 Olympic Bronze Medal prior to matriculating at Iowa, which (I believe) makes him the only one on this list that won a medal prior to winning their (first) 500 at NCAA’s. Fairly certain the only one to win an individual medal prior to matriculating.

As a side note, he also won Bronze in both the 200 & 400 Meter Freestyles at the 1991 LC World Championships, which were held in January (’91), mid NCAA season of his Junior year.

Great analysis. From my 25 years of NCAA coaching, I have found that the non-Americans obviously come to the NCAA with pretty sound “meter” abilities and have to “adapt” to learn how to swim/pace the 500… Read more »

7 years ago

Very well researched article – nice job (although all the international commentors will still pooh pooh NCAA’s).

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