The weekend of Thursday December 1st, 2011 through Sunday, December 4th was one of the fastest December swimming weekends that we’ve ever seen in the United States. There was so much strong swimming, that it is easy to get bogged down in the mire of how deep the performances when, so let’s take a recap of all that went down, as well as crunch a few numbers for historical perspective. (Swim geeks, make sure you read all the way to the end).
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- Georgia’s Amber McDermott showed why she was the #1-rated recruit in women’s swimming last year with a blazing 4:34.5 in the 500 free, which is the fastest time ever swum by a freshman.
- Arizona’s Kevin Cordes shocked everyone in attendance in Austin when he broke two 17-18 National Age Group Records in the 100 (51.76) and 200 (1:53.55) breaststrokes.
National Age Group Records
A total of 6 National Age Group records went down this past weekend. In addition to Cordes’ two, mentioned above:
- Liz Pelton took down Katie Hoff’s old mark in the 200 LCM IM in a 2:10.02.
- Michael Andrew broke three 11-12 yards marks, including becoming the first 11-12 ever under the 22-second barrier in the 50 free with a 21.85. He also took down the 50 breast and 50 fly marks.
Hosszu, Trojans Tear up Texas
- USC’s Katinka Hosszu posted the 2nd-fastest times in history in both the 200 yard IM (1:52.71) and then turned around the next night to achieve the same in the 400 yard IM (3:58.86). She would roll on to move to #7 in the world in the 400 IM on Sunday as the competition moved into long course meters with a 4:35.76. Ho-hum, she also went a Texas Swim Center pool record in the 200 yard fly (1:51.03) that was only the 4th-best ever.
- Vlad Morozov outdueled Jimmy Feigen in both the 50 (19.35-19.55) and 100 (42.32-42.49) freestyles.
- USC sophomore had a huge meet in the 100 breaststroke to go the country’s best time in 58.46. That wasn’t the big surprise though – she also swam a 2:08.40 that blows away the best time of her career.
- Cordes was good, but his senior teammates may have been even better. Cory Chitwood swam a time that would have won NCAA’s last year in the 200 back (1:38.85). Austen Thompson did the same in the 400 IM (3:39.37).
- Sophomore Matt Barber twice posted 4:16’s in the 500 free at the Texas Invite. In a meet that we haven’t recapped yet (but will tomorrow), Michigan’s Connor Jaeger did him one better at the Hawkeye Invitational, when he cracked down into a 4:15.94.
- Margo Geer swam a superb 47.32 in the prelims of the 100 free. She was slower in finals, but there we got a thrilling race between her and Texas’ Karlee Bispo, with Geer just taking the touch.
Leverenz Rocks Winter Nationals 200 IM
- On day 1 of the 2011 USA Swimming Winter National Championships, Cal junior Caitlin Leverenz got her long course on with a 2:09.39 that is #4 in the world this year, and into the all-time top 10. After two days in Atlanta, she sprinted east to Athens to finish up the Georgia Invitational where she dove in and broke two school records in the same day.
- Brendan Hansen got over a huge hurdle when he swam a 2:09.64 in the 200 breaststroke, which is by far his best swim in that event since his comeback from retirement.
- Rebecca Soni was also crazy good in the women’s 200 breaststroke with a 2:21.46 that was just shy of what she went at Worlds.
- All that matters to Natalie Coughlin at this point in her career is meters, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t get up for some yards racing. On one day, she swam the 100 yard breast for the first time in 12-years en route to a 1:00.29. She followed that up 10 minutes later with a 50.45 backstroke. She also swam a great 100 fly in a grueling series in prelims. Let the 200 IM speculation flow!
- On her 2nd day, Coughlin broke an American Record in the 100 free in 46.84. She wasn’t the only great swimmer in that event – this was a race that was the fastest 100 yard 1-2 finish ever. Anna Vanderpool-Wallace went all Bruce Banner on the race, after finishing only 2nd in the 50 free earlier in the meet, and broke off a 46.99. That’s a monster of a time for this point in the season (or any, for that matter) – and Auburn didn’t seem all that rested either. Scary.
- Worthy of mentioning is also Olivia Scott’s Auburn school record in the 100 fly. In prelims she swam a 51.86, which broke the previous record held by AVW.
- At the 2011 Dutch Open, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom shocked everyone (including herself) to cut a second off of her lifetime best in the 100 free with a 53.05. That’s the fastest time in the world this year, a Swedish Record, and a new worldwide textile best.
- Along with all of the swimming at the Texas Hall of Fame Invitational, Eddie Reese and Josh Davis were both inducted into the state of Texas Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame for their exploits with the Longhorns. Can’t think of any two who deserve the honor more.
NCAA “A” Cuts Year-Over-Year
Starting broadly, to this point in the NCAA season, we’ve seen 59 NCAA automatic qualifying times (22 men and 37 women). Through the fall semester in 2010, there were only 36 such cuts (10 men and 26 women), which means an overall 63% cuts before the break.
And it’s not just the top swimmers – NCAA “B” cuts are way up as well.
The question is – why the uptick? I’ve got a few different theories. My first is that this year’s NCAA field is simply stronger than last years. If you look across events, the majority of them were dominated by underclassmen last year, and it’s those cream-of-the-crop swimmers who are responsible for these A-cuts. There are a few exceptions (women’s 100 fly, men’s 200 free), but those events seem to fit the theory, as they have 0 and 1 of the 59 A-cuts, respectively. Many events (men’s backstrokes, for example) didn’t have any seniors in the A-Final at NCAA’s last year.
There may also be an Olympic year effect in play. Swimmers have extra motivation to swim fast in an Olympic year (even though most college swimmers aren’t going to make the Olympic team, especially on the men’s side). For those who are earning A-cuts, the increase is almost enough to wonder if coaches have changed their strategies a bit this season – give a little extra rest now, less rest for NCAA’s, and prepare for Trials or the Olympics. You’d be hard-pressed to get any of them to admit to it, though.
Some of it is specific cases. With Arizona, for example, this meet was a good opportunity for Eric Hansen to set a tone for the rest of the season. With Frank Busch, it was easy for the swimmers to put full trust in him, but any time there’s a new coach, there’s some wariness from kids who committed to the “other guy”. A little extra taper in the fall will go a long way towards earning himself the full confidence of his team.
But ultimately, it wasn’t just so many people that cracked a certain standard. It was how incredibly far those top times were better than last year’s. Off the top of my head, there were 5 times swum in Austin that would have won NCAA’s last year (3 from Hosszu, 1 from Chitwood, 1 from Thompson). There were a ton of school records broken across the country – both at the legendary, huge programs some upstarts, and everywhere inbetween. Several unofficial “winter invite records,” “freshman records,”
What’s Up Next
Though FINA has already handed-out their World Swimmer of the Year honors (to Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte), there’s still more to come in this action-packed December. Watch out for next weekend’s European Championships in Poland and the Duel in the Pool the weekend after back in Atlanta.