Pre-NCAA Interview: Stanford Distance Trio (Shoults, Sweetser, Egan)

On the eve of NCAA’s we managed to get some time with Stanford’s three distance freestyles competing this weekend (Grant Shoults, True Sweetser, and Liam Egan), where discussed why the 500 has gotten so fast, what training with Jeff Kostoff is like, and how much doing 3×5000’s hurts.  Check back tomorrow for an interview with Coach Kostoff.

SwimSwam: How are you guys feeling right now? You were really fast in the fall and you put people on notice (Liam, True, and Grant were all under 4:13 in the 500 in December), but conference meets were extremely fast around the country. What do you guys think about how you stand right now?

Grant: For our distance group, we’re exactly where we thought we’d be coming into the beginning of the season. We had our goals and I think that as a group we’re actually probably slightly ahead of those goals.  Pac-12’s was a great meet to swim fast, but it wasn’t our end goal with NCAA’s looming ahead.

Liam: Yeah, beginning of the year, we figured that we had a really significant shot of making an impact in the 500 and the mile, and Grant more so in the 200. But we were a little bit surprised at how many people figured out how easy it is to score in the mile (and to a lesser extent the 500) and decided to start swimming it.

[All three laugh]

Liam: Honestly, looking around we thought we were sitting better with three guys under 4:13 in December, but we obviously knew that this wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.  There are a lot of really talented swimmers out there, a lot of young talent coming up in the mid-distance freestyles.  So we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we’re pretty confident that Jeff has us in a place to do well when it counts.

SwimSwam: Last year there were only four guys under 4:13 at this point, and this year there are 12. We’ve talked about how the 500 has gotten so much deeper the last few years. Did you guys think there’s anything in particular as to why?

Liam: I think people figured out I think it’s just that people realized that the 500 freestyle is an event that is pretty accessible to guys who do the 200.  There are a lot of 200 guys who can just hang on for a little bit longer.  It’s an event that’s pretty grueling, but it’s also fun to race, and it’s pretty much a perfect length for guys who swim the mile and guys who swim the 200.  So, I think it’s just an event where more people have given it a shot.  Also, there are a lot of guys swimming fast, and in a sport as competitive as swimming, when people see other people going fast, they want to go fast too; guys are looking at these times and thinking “okay, why can’t I do that?”

Grant: To go off that, it’s very interesting to see the guys that swim 200’s.  I consider myself not a distance swimmer, even though I train distance and I swim a little bit of distance… I consider myself as a 500 guy that goes down to the 200, relative to True and Liam who swim up.  The overlap is very interesting, and there’s literally a dozen ways that you can swim the 500.  And at NCAA’s, it will be very interesting to see the ways that everyone swims it, because you have some guys going out in 1:37, and you’ll have something that’s going out in 1:40, but they’re all going to end up around the same time. And I think that’s going to be awesome to not only participate in, but for spectators to watch from the sideline, as well.

SwimSwam: I think that the 500 is the most interesting events to watch.  It’s really the only event that kind of mimics track and field, where you get guys that really swim off each other within the heat.  Is it going to be a completely different feel than when you guys were swimming in December with lower stakes when you guys went 4:12?

TRUE: There’s racers and there’s pacers; some people just might pace it, some people may try to race it, hopefully you do a little bit of both.  People are going to swim it differently, but all that matters is who comes up first in the end, and I think that we’re in a good spot to make sure that we’re all putting together a good performance so that we can help the team as much as possible.

GRANT: To go off of that, when you have a coach who is almost famous for his 500 free and his 400 IM…

TRUE: …and his mile…

GRANT: … and his mile… and for being an Olympian… it’s just awesome, because there’s essentially four guys in the group, including Jeff. Obviously he’s not in the water with us…

LIAM: He’s not really in swimming shape <laugh>

GRANT: … he’s been there before. He always tells us, you know, “I wouldn’t give you a set that I’ve never done”. So to have a coach that has been in that position, and understands each person’s race strategy, I feel like we have an advantage because we have one of the best distance swimmers of all time on the sidelines for us.

SwimSwam: Does he bring stuff from back in his day back, in terms of training or otherwise? Is there any intersection between what he did with the team now?

LIAM: Every time I saw him the mile slower than his time, he likes to remind me that he went faster than me in the ’80s, so that a little bit of a thorn in my side.

TRUE: I tell Jeff that I’m better than him.

<Group laughs>

LIAM: I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but Jeff made True and I do 3×5000’s @ 50:00 at the end of Christmas training, and it seemed ridiculous when we were doing them, but then you brought yourself back to the fact that he did four back before flip turns were invented.  True attempted a fourth one, but missed it.

GRANT: Yeah, but he only missed it by six seconds.

LIAM: Yeah, very, very close and impressive.

GRANT: Yeah, I was like “I’m not doing that to my body, so I’m going to finish practice, and come back in two hours.” I got breakfast, went to my dorm room, did a little bit of homework, came back, and True was still on his fourth one.  But it goes to show that Liam and True are animals.

LIAM: Well, more so True.

GRANT: Okay, well we’re they’re both animals during practice, and True is a marathon swimmer. He literally finish a main set, and he’ll go over and do basically what like the sprint set is, too. True is always the last guy in the pool.  I think that’s definitely a huge part of True’s success.  Him going two 14:35’s this year so far is not a mistake.

SwimSwam: Can you give some other examples of stuff you guys have done this year where maybe one of you has really impressed the other two guys?

LIAM: Jeff doesn’t just train us long, which is something that’s nice about him, he’s not all “old school”. He understands that Grant swims the mile, but he trains for the 200 to 500. He just swims up when it comes the mile. He’ll train us short. And I think a good example of that is we had a set of 6×150’s on 1:30, holding under 1:20.

That was pretty difficult, but it was it was definitely a cool set to finish, it was 900 yards in nine minutes, and then it was all over… But it was definitely a very painful nine minutes. That’s just an example of something where he’ll send us short, and is not just grinding yardage.

GRANT: And then there are the days where he grinds.

LIAM and TRUE: Yeah…

GRANT: I remember this one. It was:

3×500’s @ 5:00
150 all out @ 1:30
200 easy
2×750’s @ 7:30
150 all out @ 1:30
200 easy
1500 @ 14:30
150 all out @ 1:30

… and the goal was to descend the broken 1650’s 1-3, and to make them all by at least 10 seconds. So yeah, there are some some days during the training that we get after it in terms of yardage, but Jeff knows you can’t just make some 10000 yards a day… unless it’s True.

<Group laughs>

TRUE: And I think that a big part of Jeff’s training philosophy is that once when you’re swimming slower than what you race at, it’s not really going to help in pool swimming. Open water is a different animal.  As far as pool swimming goes, the longest race is 15:00. So even if you’re swimming 10,000 yards, if it’s all on 1:10 pace, it’s not going to help you very much in a 15-minute race, especially not in a four minute race.  So it’s about making sure that we swim as close to race pace as we can, while also make sure we get the yardage in.

LIAM: Here’s another one:

Three-times through:
500 @ 5:15, hold under 4:40
300 @ 3:10, hold under 2:45
200 @ 2:05, goal of 1:45

I didn’t make this one.

<Group laughs>

SwimSwam: How do you guys stack up against each other in practices, given that you’re pretty different swimmers?

GRANT: During the course of sets, different people will excel at different times, which is pretty cool, actually. But every day is different. There’s days where, you know, I’m very far behind on long distances and then there’s days we’re all together. But I think that it’s super healthy because you know if one guy isn’t having the best practice of his life, the other guys are right there, too.
But it’s just being with two guys that are very fast, and don’t have very many off days.

LIAM: I have a good example of that… one time we did a set that was:

3×500’s, 2 easy, 1 fast
3×300’s, 2 easy, 1 fast
3×200’s, 2 easy, 1 fast

… And Grant pushed a 4:25 on the fast 500 and completely wrecked himself.

<group laughs>

LIAM: There was no way I was letting him beat me on the fast 300 after that. And then there are days when we we’re doing hundreds and no one is willing to give up a tenth. So we’ll get pretty competitive because none of us like going into the locker room having lost every race that day.

SwimSwam: Liam, how does the team this year compare to last year’s?

LIAM: It’s been different, just because I think everybody has grown up a little bit since last year. Obviously the freshman play a huge role in that, butI think a lot of the guys have matured and grown up a little bit. We’ve got guys like Andrew Liang who was injured last year, and now is just swimming lights out. But the freshman class came in with a ton of energy this year; it’s always important to draw in the energy of the freshman class. Guys like Will MacMillan and James Murphy, even though they weren’t they didn’t end up making NCAA’s at the end of the year, they ended up having a really good seasons for themselves.

I mean, I joked about this with Grant after the 500 in Texas… going into that final 500 at Texas, I was #2 on Stanford’s all-time list, and then I broke the school record and ended up #3. That kind of stuff is really exciting to me. Who knows if I would have gone that fast if I didn’t have two really good training partners. So the atmosphere at least in our group in terms of getting after each other and training really hard. It’s always been pretty good but this year has been pretty incredible.

SwimSwam: In terms of mid-distance swimmers, who do you guys compete against have trained with that you really admire or like competing against?

TRUE: This year I’ve raced against some new people, but someone that I’ve raced over the past few years is Mitch D’Arrigo of the University of Florida. I trained with him periodically when I was at Gator Swim Club, and he’s the most fun person to train with, he steps up and races when it’s time to go. I always root for his success, and I think he roots for mine, as well.

GRANT: I would say Ous Mellouli, I got to train with him at Mission Viejo Nadadores for a while. I could talk about his swimming, but it’s more about who he is. You can be the greatest swimmer out there, and I will not look up to you if you don’t have the right mindset or are too conceited. Ous is one of those guys who you’ll never know is a five-time Olympian. You’ll never know that he’s a gold medalist.

He’s also a lot bigger guy than I am. It was awesome getting to work on my distance per stroke when I was training against him in practice. I try to swim like I’m six-foot-six, even though I’m not six feet tall. So, in and out of pool, great guy, I look up to him a lot, and I’m glad he’s back in the water.

LIAM: Townley Haas because he’s such a good guy in and out of the water. He’s a guy who’s competitive as all hell when he’s swimming, but you get out of the race and he’s just a normal guy again. My first ever NCAA finals, I always imagined that the ready room would be a very serious thing, but we were sitting around joking about stuff, talking about how we were on TV and we could wave to our mom.

GRANT: You can’t not like Towny.

TRUE: I mentioned Mitch D’Arrigo, but that whole training group is always a real pleasure to race and train against, particularly Ben Lawless and Blake Manganiello.

SwimSwam: Does anybody in the field break the 500 free NCAA record this year?

LIAM and GRANT: Yes.

SwimSwam: Does anybody in the field break the 1650 free NCAA record?

LIAM and TRUE: Yes.

GRANT: I honestly don’t know the mile enough <laughs>. Prior to this season, I didn’t even know what a good mile time was.


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5 years ago

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I steer clear of distance group.

Dark horse
5 years ago

Wow. I’m a sudden Stanford fan now…

5 years ago

Great article. Thanks Morgan for the write up. Keep them coming. Interviews with coaches too. It’s a long article but I very much enjoyed reading what the swimmers had to say.

5 years ago

About the mile, if they were imply someone else, Auboeck needs to drop 5 seconds, Smith 7, Wilimovsky 9.
If they were imply themself, Egan needs to drop 20 seconds, Sweetser 11.
Saw someone mentioned how the Stanford girls dropped times in the mile, seem reasonable.

5 years ago

Isn’t the 1650 NCAA record like 14:24? Man if someone breaks that… that would instantly become the race of the meet for me!

Winnie Pearl
Reply to  JJG
5 years ago

Yup! Martin Grodzki 14:24.08 in 2012. Connor Jaeger has the US Open and American Record with a 14:23.52

5 years ago

Great interview, thanks

5 years ago

Do the Stanford men and women distance swimmers practice together? Specifically does Ledecky ever practice with these guys like she did when she was at National Capital Swim club?

5 years ago

This is some crazy stuff they do.

About Morgan Priestley

Morgan Priestley

A Stanford University and Birmingham, Michigan native, Morgan Priestley started writing for SwimSwam in February 2013 on a whim, and is loving that his tendency to follow and over-analyze swim results can finally be put to good use. Morgan swam competitively for 15+ years, primarily excelling in the mid-distance freestyles. While …

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