Shouts From The Stands: What If Sarah Sjostrom Had Raced In The NCAA?

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected]

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Kyle Barclay, a former collegiate swimmer that now works in the medical field.

College swimming has a special place in American swim fans’ hearts. To those who don’t reside in the U.S., numbers like 17.63 seem odd. (Could that be someone’s mediocre stack cup PB?) But to those of us who get to experience short course yards, college swimmers provide entertainment that almost equals international competition.

Numerous international athletes have begun their careers in the really short pool, but there are just as many international stars who will never dip a toe in the good old 75-footer. This inherently creates tension in my mind. What if they swam yards? How fast might they have gone?

Disclaimer: This is completely made up and has no real basis in truth besides my own mind’s tenuous grip on reality. I only make this point because there is no truly accurate way to translate long course to short course, or even short course meters to yards. Also, I used the Speedo Classic converter to give me something to work with, and then I just made everything else up.

It’s also important to acknowledge that time converters become significantly less reliable when dealing with high-end swimmers at the top of the sport, and more useful/accurate when dealing with mid-pack athletes.

Today I will be looking at Sarah Sjostrom. This choice just feels natural to me. She is kind of the perfect NCAA athlete, and I would love to have seen her rewrite the record books.

Below are her top events and what her converted times would look like from LCM and SCM, respectively.

Event LCM PB SCM PB LCM -> SCY “PB”
SCM -> SCY “PB”
50 Free 23.67 23.00 20.60 20.72
100 Free 51.71 50.58 45.14 45.56
200 Free 1:54.08 1:50.43 1:39.89 1:39.48
400 Free 4:06.04 4:02.33 4:35.67 4:36.9
50 Fly 24.43 24.5 21.37 22.07
100 Fly 55.48 54.61 48.72 49.19
200 Fly 2:12.77 2:04.23 1:57.09 1:51.77
100 IM n/a 57.1 n/a 51.44

My initial impression is that these times are pretty disgusting. If Sjostrom had actually swum collegiately. she would have been on a similar level to Caeleb Dressel in the yards pool.

Now, what does her schedule look like? At NCAAs she probably always does the same as Dressel—50 free/100 fly/100 free—but I’m sure she mixes it up with the 200 free/200 Fly at mid-season/ championship meets, and I’m sure she swims the 500 semi-serious at least once.

What relays does she swim? As a truly versatile athlete, this is a hard one, because literally any of her splits are game-changers.

Since she’s more sprint leaning you might think she would shy away from the 200 free but that doesn’t seem on message to me. She’s definitely a big-time relay performer when it counts, so you can expect some crazy numbers.

Final Predictions

100 fly

This has been her classic event since she first exploded onto the world stage (and broke the WR) in 2009. Coming off a surprise victory in her freshman year (49.37), I think that in her sophomore year she first breaks the US Open record at her conference meet delivering a blistering 49.19. She then follows this up at NCAA’s by becoming the first woman to break 49 in 48.98. Although she doesn’t lower this record again, and her record is eventually broken by MacNeil, she is still the first to 4 peat the 100 fly and is legendary regardless.

200 free

On night one of NCAA’s her sophomore year, Sjostrom leads off the 800 free relay in 1:39.35, topping the field by almost 4 seconds. Although this time easily would have won the individual event, she swims the 100 fly instead. (circa Dean Farris 2019, except she actually breaks the 100 fly record) Sjostrom never actually swims this event individually at NCAAs, and the record is later broken by Franklin’s legendary 1:39.10, but this swim is still something for the ages.

50 free

Abbey Weitzel is the fastest performer in the history of this event at 20.90. Currently in SCM, Sjostrom is .44 faster than Weitzel, and while I do think Weitzel can go a little faster than that, I don’t think she’s ready to challenge Sarah yet. I think In her junior year, after coming tantalizingly close to breaking 21 (21.01) at her conference meet, Sjostrom smashes through 21, delivering a 20.72 at NCAAs. She wins by over half a second and sets the tone for the meet to follow.

100 free

The obvious comparison for this one is Manuel. Her AR in this event is 45.56, which is actually the same as Sjostrom’s converted SCM time. Her 52.04 AR in the 100 LCM is .3 slower than Sjostrom’s world record. In the same meet as her historic 20.72, I think Sarah delivers a 45.37, becoming the first women to break the 46-second barrier. She thus sweeps her 3 events junior year, delivering two US open records (and is just off her 100 fly record in 49.03) winning Swimmer of the Meet.

As for the 200 fly, 500 free and 100 IM, the predicted 1:51.77, 4:35.67 and 51.44 all seem appropriate for whenever these events were raced.

Now, for the really fun part, let’s make up some splits. Below are the current fastest ever splits to date.

Event Split Athlete
50 Free 20.27 Anna Hopkin
100 Free 45.45 Simone Manuel
50 Fly 21.95 Kate Douglass
100 Fly 49.11 Erika Brown

Since I’m putting her at 20.72 in the flat-start 50 free, I think Sarah’s comfort range is probably around 20.3-20.5, which is pretty incredible. I think she tops out her career with a 20.19 split at her conference meet her junior year, which she uses to come from behind and out split some poor girl (probably from Tennessee or something) by over a second.

The 100 free split is probably coming from the last day of NCAAs and Sjostrom has sometimes faded over the course of a long meet. However, Manuel definitely has a stronger flat start than relay split, so I think Sjostrom could really push this one.

For her first three years, I think she puts up relatively pedestrian splits in the range of 45.5-46.0.

However, her senior year, after coming back from a mid-season injury and being slightly off her US Open records in her individual events, I think she closes NCAA’s by becoming the first women to split under 45 (44.97). She uses this split to take a decisive second place and leads her team to its highest ever NCAA team finish (3rd).

50 fly is probably the most exciting split we’ll look at. Both of her flat start converted times are essentially faster than the fastest split ever, done by Kate Douglass. I think at her mid-season invite freshman year, Sjostrom splits 21.37 on the medley relay, out-splitting not just the butterfliers, but every freestyler in the field. This split is the first taste of the career to come, and although she never matches this split again, she consistently delivers sub-22 splits that are still well ahead of everyone she’s racing.

Finally, the 100 fly. In her junior season I think she delivers a blistering 48.47 at NCAAs, giving her team the edge needed to win their first-ever NCAA relay title. Her split takes her team from fourth place to first and leads the rest of the field by nearly two seconds.

In conclusion, had Sarah Sjostrom swum in the NCAA her career probably would have been era-defining. We’ll never really know what could have happened, but it’s still fun pretending. Here’s a little summary of my predictions:

Event “PB” Fastest Split
50 Free 20.72 20.19
100 Free 45.37 44.97
200 Free 1:39.35 n/a
50 Fly n/a 21.37
100 Fly 48.98 48.47

ABOUT KYLE BARCLAY

Kyle Barclay swam collegiately for 3 years at a DIII school and is now happily retired and working in the medical field.

In This Story

61
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of
61 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
VFL
1 month ago

Love this. Minus the running down Tennessee part 😉

VFL
Reply to  VFL
1 month ago

Better yet, with Kredich’s history of flyers she’d probably be running down someone FOR Tennessee 🙌🏼

Mr Piano
1 month ago

“What if Michael Phelps swam NCAA?” would be the real kicker

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  Mr Piano
1 month ago

I’m still a little conflicted on how good a short course swimmer Phelps would be.

On the one hand, his undies are dirty.

On the other hand, he doesn’t have the natural explosiveness of Dressel, Coughlin etc. In fact, one of his greatest strengths in LCM was his ability to hold speed for the whole length (especially for fly), which is of far less importance in short course.

For instance, in the 100y fly he’d surely lose to Crocker and (if supersuited) Cavic. Though for NCAA he’d probably swim 200 fly, 200/400 IM anyway.

Mr Piano

Didn’t he also go like 14:26 in the 1650 unshaved?

I think the explosiveness factor was more from the way he trained rather than natural ability. He trained like 80-90,000 meters a week, much more than a 100 flyer sprinter would.

Last edited 1 month ago by Mr Piano
ArtVanDeLegh10
Reply to  Mr Piano
1 month ago

No

jim
Reply to  Mr Piano
1 month ago

It’s hard to believe I’m saying this, but I think you are undervaluing Phelps’ underwaters…given Phelps’ DPS, he’d probably take about 4-5-5-5 for the entire 100…maximizing every wall. Given he DOES breathe every stroke unlike Dressel, I don’t getting the C02 would be an issue for fly, so if Bowman were coaching him, I’m sure they’d be training for 15 meter breakouts every 25 (whereas other swimmers get shorter and shorter each 25). Phelps would be underwater more than above water during the entire 100. A fully tapered Phelps would probably be right on the 43.0 range. I don’t think he’d beat Dressel (Dressel is just simply a freak off the block and have much stronger legs), enough to give… Read more »

HJones

He would be an excellent 500 free swimmer, I’m sure of that.

tea rex

Don’t forget Cavic did swim NCAA. Not as great as you would think, but was a versatile relay swimmer for Cal.
Also, agree Phelps wouldn’t be AS good at yards. Nowhere near the explosiveness as the sprinters. His underwaters were good because he could crush one at the end of a 200, but I don’t think he’d get as much advantage doing 7 of them with 5 seconds swimming in between.

Drewbrewsbeer
Reply to  Mr Piano
1 month ago

3:29

THEO
Reply to  Mr Piano
1 month ago

4:05 500free
3:29 4IM
1:36 2Fly

+1:29 200free relay split. Probably underwhelming 1fly+1free splits for 2021 but surely would have roasted the mid-2000s field in those as well.

Ghost
1 month ago

She would make same impact as Natalie Coughlin…..no more, no less, but so would many swimmers who chose not to do NCAAs…no elite Australians or Brits or Japanese or Chad leclos or a Phelps or Michael Andrews. Swimswam has to realize there is more than NCAA to the swimming world success!

NONA
Reply to  Ghost
1 month ago

Swimswam covers a ton of Non-NCAA swimming world success, don’t be such a grump.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Ghost
1 month ago

Whoah there, tiger. Put some respect on Coughlin. She was lightyears more dominant than any of the people you listed, save maybe Phelps, who wasn’t nearly as good a SCY swimmer as LCM.

Ghost
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 month ago

You can only swim 3 ind events and 4 relays….that limits. Many studs win 3 events and the relay depend. Being on THE right team.

Swimmerfromjapananduk
Reply to  Ghost
1 month ago

It’s not a big deal. Outside of the us, nowhere else is yards implemented. What’s wrong with imagining how fast arguably the greatest female sprinter of all time would perform in yards?

Last edited 1 month ago by Swimmerfromjapananduk
tea rex
Reply to  Ghost
1 month ago

Coughlin went up against former and future Olympic medalists Beth Botsford, Margaret Hoelzer, and Kirsty Coventry at NCAAs. And beat them by over 3 seconds. In a hundred.

Ervin
Reply to  tea rex
1 month ago

She was way ahead of her time in yards

Steve Nolan
1 month ago

Are those best times from when she would’ve been in college, like 2010-2016ish maybe? (She was already a LCM WR holder / World Champs gold medalist in 2009, so I mean…maybe it doesn’t super matter.)

Irviner
1 month ago

Bring an ISL match to the US and hold it in yards! Would love to see what Sjostrom, Peaty, McKeon and more can do to our yards records-also cool to see how people like Haughey, Hosszu, Shields etc have developed since their NCAA days!

oxyswim
Reply to  Irviner
1 month ago

None of the best international swimmers who didn’t race in the NCAA care one bit about yards. Already having people miss random meets, I bet turnout for that would be awful.

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  oxyswim
1 month ago

Would people travel all the way to the US to race yards? I bet not. BUT, I bet you’d be surprised by the number of international swimmers who are super-curious about what they can do in yards, and would enjoy doing it. Maybe just once. If they were already here.

Joe
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

Why not just ask Andrei Minakov of Russia. He’s swimming for Stanford University. Removes all the guesswork, yes/

Mr. Pack
Reply to  oxyswim
1 month ago

I guarantee you some of the top swimmers in the world who don’t swim yards would stick around for an extra day at a LCM meet to throw down some yards times for fun.

Coleman Hodges(@colemanhodges)
Admin
Reply to  oxyswim
1 month ago

Yeah but I don’t care if the swimmers competing care about yards. I care about yards🤠

Rich
Reply to  Irviner
1 month ago

Why travel to the U.S.? Can’t you just move the bulkhead in a European LCM pool?

Tommy Schmitt
Reply to  Irviner
1 month ago

I’ve heard manaudou mentioning dressel’s scy times in interviews on french outlets, so I am sure he would be more than curious to give it a go. Prime manaudou in scy would have been disgustingly good for sure …

HJones
Reply to  Tommy Schmitt
1 month ago

I think it is possible 2014-form Manaudou could’ve broken 18 in the 50y fr. Like right on 17.9 or something. Plus, the entire field would go 0.5 seconds slower from their best times purely from the waves he’d be making.

Willswim
Reply to  Irviner
1 month ago

Not sure how many American swim nerds payed to watch ISL meets this year, but it bet the number would at least double if not triple or quadruple for a one off yards meet. Do it for the money ISL!!!

Virtus
1 month ago

U must have been very bored

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  Virtus
1 month ago

SwimSwam FanFic

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

Speaking it into the universe, very dangerous.

Aquajosh
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

Now do if swimmers were superheroes, Would Sarah Sjostrom be Captain Marvel, or Wonder Woman?

Breezeway
1 month ago

What were her converted times 6 – 10 yrs ago during the college age yrs as everyone else? Not sure you can take peak prime yrs from Sarah and compare them to 19, 20 yr old college students

Dan
Reply to  Breezeway
1 month ago

many of those converted times are from when she was college age swimmer

Breezeway
Reply to  Dan
1 month ago

Depends on what you consider college age. I say 18-22. She’s currently 28. The only time up there that falls into 6-10 yrs ago is the SCM 100 fly back in 2014. The rest of those PB’s are from 2016 – 2017 when she was 23-24.

jeff
Reply to  Breezeway
1 month ago

the two Swedish swimmers that I’m currently aware of in the NCAA are Sophie Hansson and Bjorn Seeliger.

Hansson is 23 and a senior right now and will be about 23 and a half by the time 2022 NCAAs rolls around.

Seeliger is 21 and a sophomore right now, and will have turned 24 by the time 2024 NCAAs (his senior year) comes.

23-24 is definitely older than the typical American college student but that would be within range of the current Swedish NCAA swimmers. Not to mention the prospect of swimming a 5th year as a potential grad student.

Last edited 1 month ago by jeff
DEAN IS GOD
1 month ago

Michael Andrew, Kyle Chalmers, Hosszu

NONA
Reply to  DEAN IS GOD
1 month ago

Yeah just imagine if Hosszu swam NCAA! She’d probably go to USC.

Ervin
Reply to  NONA
1 month ago

Lol probably break the 400im record too

Hswimmer
Reply to  NONA
1 month ago

🤣🤣🤣🤣

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  DEAN IS GOD
1 month ago

MA would’ve been lethal in the 175 IM.

Ghost
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 month ago

How many college guys beat Michael LC? NONE

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Ghost
1 month ago

College age at the time? Phelps at the age of a typical college senior (22) and the same age as MA at Tokyo went 1:54.98 in the 200 IM. And that was nearly 15 years ago. But do go on.

Mr Piano
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 month ago

I think he was referring to present swimmers. Comparing MA to the GOAT is a bit unfair…