This year’s NCAA Championships was amazing. I know what you’re thinking: aren’t they all? The Fastest Short Course Meet in the World (TM) doesn’t often disappoint, and this year was far from that. It seemed that nearly every session had jaw dropping swims, from Morozov’s 17.8 to Kevin Cordes’ complete revision of what a good 200 breaststroke was (1:48? There were many teams at NCAAs that didn’t have an IMer that fast).Still, as I watched, all I could think about was what was coming. It should come as no surprise to readers of this website that there is something of a phenomenon going on in age group swimming at the moment. Swimming is a sport that has seen rapid change in times since it’s inception: the sectional qualifiers of today would have been Olympians in another era based on raw time. However, as time has passed it seemed the pace of improvement had slowed. As good as Morozov’s 17.8 was, many people on deck noted that it was more surprising that we hadn’t seen a 17. split yet with the number of swimmers that gotten to the 18 mid range over the years.
I think we are approaching a point where improvement at the top of events will continue at least at it’s current pace but that depth is actually going to improve faster. Not to harp on the 50 freestyle, but I think that needing only a 19.4 to make the A Final in that event will look like the Stone Age very, very soon. When so many 15-17 year old swimmers are going 19 in that event, with one 14 year old almost there, it’s not hard to envision that in four years you will need an 18 to make the A final.
I use sprinting as an example but it’s not the only one. The NAG record assault we’ve seen this year is totally unprecedented, and it will leave few events untouched once those swimmers reach college age. When Mike Barrowman won the NCAA Championships in the 200 Breaststroke with a 1:53.7 in 1990, it took over a decade for anyone to beat that time. In this case, I don’t see that happening, and not only because Cordes is just a sophomore. Swimmers are going fast enough at 15-17 that they could go sub 1:50 200 breaststrokes in college in the next few years and at least push Cordes.At this point, I feel it’s appropriate to address an important question: why is this happening? Why is improvement moving away from a slowing curve? Some attribute recent fast swims to the the suit era and the way it expanded swimmers’ notions of what was possible. I think there’s something to that explanation, but I don’t think it nearly covers it.
At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, i think we owe this “talent” explosion to the increased proliferation of results and coverage via the internet. As recently as when I was an age grouper (1993-2000), if you were a good young swimmer you dominated local meets and that was it. For the most part, you had to wait until the Top 16 lists were released (far after your season was over) to see how you stacked up.
Now, age groupers are finding out about others in real time, at this website and through their own hounding searches through the ample live results resources. I believe this has compacted the amount of time between a jaw dropping swim and young swimmers adapting to the new reality of what is “fast”. Likewise, coaches are exchanging information in a way they never have before across some of these same platforms. This doesn’t even begin to address how much these developments have changed international swimming.
As I left this meet (and NCAA Swimming for a while), I couldn’t help but think of two things: how amazing it was and how amazing it will be. Couple that optimistic thought with the fact that University of Cincinnati is bringing back it’s scholarships, that’s a lot of optimism for college swimming. For the Fastest Short Course Meet in the World, it means we aren’t going to be changing that title anytime soon.