There were several high-profile meets around the world last week/end, and we’ll be honest; it’s no easy feat to keep up with it all.
Inspired by this tweet, here’s a review and summary of what impressed us the most from the recent action.
What swim or swimmer impressed you the most this weekend? Lots to choose from…
— swimnerd (@SwimNerds) December 9, 2019
This list is not objective, but rather is what this writer was impressed by most over the weekend. What this writer is impressed by is different from what Rowdy Gaines is impressed by which is different from what your 10-year-old age group-er is impressed by. Some of these are doubled up as it made sense to do so, and that technically makes this a list of 11! Sorry.
Let’s get into it.
The United States backstroke legacy is incredibly strong. And, just as Regan Smith is re-writing history, her 17-year-old contemporary Phoebe Bacon isn’t all that far behind her in the 100 back.
Bacon, who has been a notable name (among several) to follow Smith’s when it comes to the next wave of U.S. junior talent, solidified herself as a heavy contender for a 100 back spot on the 2020 Olympic Team over the weekend. Defeating Smith at the 2019 U.S. Open, as well as 2016 Olympian Olivia Smoliga, Bacon rocked a 58.63 for her first venture under 59 seconds and the title.
Not that this predicts anything, but Smith was 58.45 and 58.55 six weeks before blasting her WR 57.57. Besides that 57, she has never been under 58.4. Bacon has a whole half-year to work towards the Olympic Trials and, potentially, the Olympics. She’s on the right track. A 58.63 is a great swim for any female backstroker at any point in the year; at this point in Bacon’s career, it’s outstanding.
Do we see transfers making big gains at their new school? Certainly. Do we see them drop full seconds in a 100 and become one of the fastest relay swimmers in history? Not quite as often. And rarely in half a year’s time.
After two seasons at UNC, Texas native Alvin Jiang relocated closer to home, and the move looks to be paying off in the best way. Among a flurry of best times, Jiang leaped into the upper echelon of 400 medley butterfly splits this weekend, becoming one of some six or so men (it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number) to have ever split sub-44 seconds with a 43.82. A look at his astounding progressions this semester:
|100 free||44.90||41.97 relay split|
The talk of British swimming has long been breaststroke, especially on the men’s side, most recently thanks to Adam Peaty‘s revolutionary stroke, tempo, and speed.
On the women’s side, the sprints have fallen off since the height of Fran Halsall‘s career. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Teenager Freya Anderson and current NCAA title contender Anna Hopkin packed a powerful one-two punch at the 2019 European Short Course Championships, felling records and snagging medals.
Anderson set a new British mark in the 200 freestyle (1:52.77) to clinch gold against a star-studded field that included the best long course 200 freestyler in history, Federica Pellegrini. She took down the field for gold in the 100 free, too, hitting a 51.49 as Hopkin finished fourth there in 51.90, a great showing for the Brits. Anderson was three-tenths from Halsall’s national record, while Hopkin was also sixth in the 50 free (23.86).
Things really heated up in the 200 free relay, where Anderson, Hopkin, Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, and Georgia Davies combined for a 1:36.18 for fifth overall, re-setting their national record from prelims, which had smashed the 19-year-old record from 2000 by over two seconds.
Allison Schmitt, one of the veterans of Team USA, has preserved her career admirably. While her summer 2019 was not up to the standard we’d expect from her, Schmitt showed at the 2019 U.S. Open that she will still be very much a factor at the 2020 Olympic Trials.
Winning the A-final in the 200 free in Atlanta, Schmitt notched a 1:56.47, albeit a tad slower than Katie Ledecky‘s 1:56.29 in the B-final. Nonetheless, Schmitt’s time checks in within her top 20 performances ever, and it’s actually faster than she was at the 2015 U.S. Winter Nationals (1:56.77) before she’d go on to make the 2016 Olympic team.
The best distance swimmer on the men’s side at the 2019 U.S. Open wasn’t an American. Brazilian Guilherme da Costa was a revelation in Atlanta, taking U.S. Open titles in the 400 free, 800 free, and 1500 free. He won the 400 (3:46.57) by over a second, the 800 (7:47.37) by over two seconds, and the mile (14:55.49) by over seven seconds. For his hard work, he was rewarded with new South American continental records in all three events.
Also impressive was Team Santa Monica’s Zhang Ziyang. The teenager was third in the 400 free (3:48.21), sixth in the 200 free (1:47.71), sixth in the 1500 (15:13.29) and seventh in the 800 (7:58.57).
This is one fast 12-year-old. Swimming at the 2019 YOTA/Arena Capital Classic in Cary, NC, Heilman smashed five SCY 11-12 NAG records. He hit times of 21.50 in the 50 free, 47.15 in the 100 free, 1:44.28 in the 200 free, 22.87 in the 50 fly, and 1:53.66 in the 200 fly, all setting new NAG marks. The old marks were 21.78 (Vinny Marciano, 2014), 47.89 (Vinny Marciano, 2014), 1:45.43 (Winn Aung, 2015), 23.49 (Jarrett Payne, 2019), and 1:55.39 (Dean Jones, 2018). Those are all huge improvements to the old NAGs, especially in the fly events.
Heilman, who already holds the 100 fly NAG record with a 51.44 done in November, was also 1:59.69 in the 200 IM, 4:14.68 in the 400 IM, and 4:49.76 in the 500 free.
One of the most impressive things a swimmer can do is break a second barrier in a 50 free (for example, breaking 20 in the 50 free for the first time, or 19, or even 18). Cal senior Abbey Weitzeil did just that, becoming the first female 20-point 50 freestyler in history. She won the 50 free at the 2019 Minnesota Invitational with a 20.90 to a raucous reception from the crowd and her Golden Bear teammates, a feat of pure speed, strength, and power. And, while her other freestyle swims were very fast, this writer was second-most impressed by her 51.66 in the 100 back.
It feels like Alex Walsh has been an age group phenom for years, which she has been. But as versatile as she is across stroke and distance, it was in the 200 IM final at the 2019 U.S. Open that Walsh became truly great in the big pool. Her 200 IM has always been explosive, but Walsh’s final 50, where she nearly out-split American star Melanie Margalis, notorious for her fantastic back-half, was something to marvel at.
Her best swim before this weekend? A 2:11.24 from last summer with a 31.87 free leg. Now? A 2:09.01 with a 30.30 free leg. Talk about putting it together. While Margalis got to the wall first by a couple of tenths in Atlanta, Walsh’s youthful energy is translating to real-deal power; the future is bright.
While da Costa was tearing it up in the States, two Brazilian teenagers were setting marks of their own in the southern hemisphere. Stephan Steverink and Stephanie Balduccini, both born in 2004, combined for seven Brazilian age records at the 2019 Brazilian Summer Championships. Steverink re-wrote age records in the 800 free (8:07.21), 1500 free (15:26.77), 200 IM (2:04.97), 400 IM (4:21.35), and 200 breaststroke (2:18.44). Balduccini, for her part, set age records in the 100 free (56.00), 100 fly in prelims (1:01.63) and then again in finals (1:00.58), a massive performance in the fly.
Brazil’s youth stars were out in force; Raphael Windmuller set age records for 16-year-olds in the 100 breast (1:02.41) and 200 breast (2:15.40), while Francisco Saldo did so in the 100 fly (53.81).