University of Virginia freshman Kate Douglass continued her rise to stardom on Friday evening in Charlottesville when her Cavaliers team opened up a 126-60 lead over Wisconsin on day 1 (the short course yards day) of a 2-day dual that will conclude on Saturday.
In the course of the evening, Douglass became only the 3rd swimmer in history (by USA Swimming’s time databases) to accomplish something in a career, and she did so in the same night, and it’s only October of her freshman year.
Douglass swam a new lifetime best to win the 200 breaststroke (by more than 7 seconds) in 2:07.92 mid-way through Friday night’s session, and she followed that up with a 22.28 to lead off Virginia’s winning 200 free relay to end the session. That 50 free is not her lifetime best – in high school, she was as fast as 21.67 in March of this year.
The only other swimmers that have done both of those things in their entire careers are: NCAA Champion, U.S. Open Record holder, and Texas A&M Aggie, Breeja Larson; and high school senior Alex Walsh, who will become a Virginia Cavalier next season.
- Editor’s note: because of issues with the USA Swimming database prior to 2010, we feel confident saying that these are the only two this decade. We have done a lot of individual checking of times by older swimmers than that, and none that we found were even close.
While Larson’s best time in the 50 free of 22.17, done on a relay leadoff at the 2014 NCAA Championships, is not as good as Douglass’ in that event, her 200 beaststroke time of 2:04.48 is the 6th-best in history and still better than Douglass by a wide margin. That 2:04.48 was done at the 2012 University of Houston Phill Hansel Invitational – a mid-season rest meet.
When we add on a 50.86 rolling start on the butterfly leg of a 400 medley relay (which, incidentally, beat out that relay’s freestyle anchor leg), it doesn’t feel too early to say that Douglass is on course to become the most versatile yards swimmer in history. She’s also been a lifetime best in the 100 breast (59.55) and 100 fly flat-start (51.29) and 200 IM (1:55.15) already this season.
These sort of cross-discipline anomalies are becoming more common as the level of athleticism in the sport of swimming increases, and especially as breaststrokers shift more from single-stroke specialists to fast-twitch burners. Sophie Hansson of NC State, for example, who was 3rd at NCAAs last year in the 100 breaststroke as a freshman, has also been 22.6 in the 50 free, and if given the chances could probably flat-start a 22.2 by the time her collegiate career ends.
Larson, meanwhile, is a late-to-the-sport arrival from softball and track who stands 6 feet tall and caught the wave of taller breaststrokers, following on Jessica Hardy (who was 21.8 in the 50 free and 58.3 in the 100 breast, but only 2:11 in the 200 breast). Prior American stars of the 200 breaststroke like Rebecca Soni (5’8″) and Tara Kirk (5’6″) were often not as tall as their sprint counterparts, which would have made this double-success that much tougher. Douglass, is 5’10” tall, and Walsh is 6-feet tall.
But for now, this elite class is a group of 3, with at least one of those, Douglass, tantalizing us with her limitless potential given the context of Friday night’s racing.