The Italian Renaissance was a period of breakthroughs in literature, art, and science. Centuries from now, historians may write about the era we’re living in as having given rise to a swimming Renaissance in the Washington, DC area. And if they do, there’s a good bet that the Germantown Indoor Swim Center will represent Florence. When the venue hosted the Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving championships (“Metros”) last year, four national high school records fell, including one from 1983. At this year’s meet, three more fell — in the girls 200 and 500 free and the boys 100 breast.
Of course, one swimmer – Olympic gold medalist and world record holder in the 800 meter freestyle, Katie Ledecky – is responsible for many of those breakthroughs. In aquatic terms, that makes her a modern-day Da Vinci.
On Saturday night, she added to her already-long list of achievements by setting a new national high school record in the 200 yard freestyle, going 1:42.38. Alas, the record she broke was her own, which she had set at last year’s meet. But this year’s time eclipsed the public school record as well, which Dagny Knutson set in 2008, going 1:42.81. (Knutson’s record will still stand, as Ledecky is enrolled in a private institution, Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart.)
Of course, Ledecky breaks records about as often as Justin Bieber sullies his reputation (which is to say, frequently). On Friday night, in the preliminaries for the 500 yard free, she not only broke her own national high school record, also set at last year’s meet, but she took down Katie Hoff’s American record (which was 4:30.47, for swimmers of any age), going 4:28.71. On Saturday night, Ledecky proved that sometimes even she gets tired, going more than five seconds slower (4:34.01). Still not too shabby, though. That time would have been good enough for first place at last year’s NCAA Division I women’s championship, and her margin of victory against a strong field on Saturday night was nearly 23 seconds.
But if there was any disappointment, it didn’t last long. About 15 minutes later, Ledecky anchored the 200 free relay and split a blazing 22.59 (the fastest of any swimmer in the race), giving her team a razor-thin victory over Holton Arms. And while she couldn’t will her team to victory in the 400 free relay, she did deliver a 48.99 anchor leg.
On the boys’ side of the ledger, the record-setting swim came from Carsten Vissering of Georgetown Prep. He uncorked a 53.49 to take down the independent high school record of 53.66, which Patrick Fowler of Seattle Prep had set way back in 1998. Vissering was one of the reasons the Little Hoyas prevailed in the team title, defeating perennial power Gonzaga. He swam breaststroke on the winning 200 medley relay, turning in an unreal split of 24.25, while also winning the 200 IM by close to four seconds, in 1:48.10. In the 400 free relay, he split 46.34, helping his team to a 3:04.83, which broke the meet record set last year by the Jack Conger-led Good Counsel.
Taking the team title on the girls’ side was Churchill. While it prevailed in the 400 free relay, the school did not have any individual winners in the swimming competition (Mashal Hashem placed first in diving). But it notched second in a remarkable six events, entirely with underclassmen: the 200 medley relay (three sophomores and a freshman), the 200 free and 100 back (sophomore Hannah Lindsey), the 200 IM and 500 free (junior Elaina Gu), and the 100 fly (freshman Emily Wang). That was enough to give them a comfortable margin of victory over last year’s winner, Wootton, and bright prospects for the next few years as well.
Given the quality of swimming in the Washington area, any records set at local championship meets are significant achievements. And on Saturday night, meet records fell in a number of marquee events: Gavin Springer of Sidwell Friends in the 200 free (1:38.29), Morgan Hill of Sherwood in the 50 free (22.97), Brady Welch of Good Counsel in the 100 free (45.00), and Kirstina Li of Wootton in the 100 back (54.12).
The record-setting swims at Metros reflect, in part, the huge number of high-quality year-round swim programs in the Washington area (both Ledecky and Vissering are part of Nation’s Capital Swim Club). But it’s clear the setting in which they compete can take swimmers to another level. As Ledecky said in an interview with SwimSwam, “I think this meet is louder and crazier than any meet I’ve ever been to,” including the Olympics and the World championships. Vissering expressed a similar sentiment, tying his performance to adrenaline. And as the meet videos reveal, teenage fans thronged around the pool deck can motivate their fellow swimmers from just inches away, while also creating a decibel level that can be deafening.
It’s a winning formula – and one that other jurisdictions would be wise to replicate. In the meantime, Ledecky will be back next year (as will Vissering, and countless other standouts). While it won’t be easy to surpass her Metros swims, she can look to Da Vinci for inspiration. He was supposedly at the top of his game and then he painted the Mona Lisa. Don’t be surprised if Ledecky does the swimming equivalent of the same thing.
Full Meet Results Here.