US Report Day 4: American Men’s Distance Swimming is Back

Both American distance groups took a dip for a few years around 2010 and 2011. The women never really went away, with Kate Ziegler winning a lot in the mid-2000’s, and Diana Munz before her. When Ziegler faltered in 2008 and 2009, though, the lack of depth meant no American finalists in the 800 free at either the 2008 Olympics nor the 2009 World Championships.

The men’s distance group, however, in the United States hasn’t been good since Erik Vendt retired and Larsen Jensen decided to join the Navy Seals, and even truly then, depth was always a problem

Chad La Tourette showed a lot of promise, but never quite panned out on the international level (though, he’s certainly young enough still to make himself a medalist). In 14 World Championships, the Americans have only finaled two in the men’s 1500 4 times, and in the last seven Olympics have only put an average of one in the final as well.

But this latest group – it looks really promising. Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom are both former NCAA Champions, and after a great battle at the 2013 NCAA Championships in the 1650 yard event (which Jaeger won), they took two of the top four spots in the 800 at Worlds on Wednesday.

Neither McBroom nor Jaeger is crazy young; they both turned 22 in the spring. Neither is as young as, say, Sun Yang, but neither is as old as Ryan Cochrane That means, though, that both will be about in their prime for the 2016 Olympics.

This is big for the Americans. There are lots of young American men who get very good and contend for National finals at 16, 17, and 18 years old. There seems to be a disconnect of getting them to that ‘next level’ though. For example, take someone like Ian Rowe, who won a bronze at the 2008 Junior World Championships for example. Now, at 23, he’s out of the sport.

Now, we know there are lots of young stars who are great in junior high and high school that don’t pan out. Some people love to recite that so often that it’s almost as though they take pleasure in it. But these distance swimmers who are suddenly coming up big weren’t the ones who were doing it in high school, much more so than most of the other disciplines. Remember that when Jaeger started his incredible distance streak of the last two years, he only had a small handful of 1650 yard/1500 meter races in his life.

McBroom is not quite as good of a case for the point, but he came out of high school with yards bests of 4:27 and 15:26 in the 500 and 1650 freestyles, which are good but not great high school times, and really started to hit his bloom in long course at the end of his senior year of high school (and even then, there were still guys way better than him).

Look at the women’s side of the pool, too. Stephanie Peacock, though she’s been slowed by health issues, went from a pure middle-distance swimmer to the fastest yards miler in history before most of the world even noticed.

I don’t know what this means. I don’t know if this is enough of a sample size to draw any long-term conclusions out of it. American distance swimming right now, though, looks as healthy as it has since the 1980’s, and it’s coming about in a really, really strange way. Maybe it’s a generation of swimmers who found that their decade of overtraining for the 200 free (which was the hot new event when this group was in their tweens) actually came out to be a perfect baseload for 1500 training.

Maybe it’s a new generation of coaches who aren’t afraid to step outside the box and try swimmers in new events even into their 20’s – we certainly know this is true of Mike Bottom, Josh White, and the staff at Michigan. McBroom took a detour through Minneapolis when going from Houston to Texas, and immediately found his spark with Eddie Reese and the gang.

So then maybe it’s just a fluke. We got the right two guys with the right two coaches at the right time, and they’re doing big things.

Either way, it’s fun to see Americans back in the picture in distance swimming.

Other Day 4 Observations

  • Ryan Lochte’s 32.80 breaststroke was the fastest breaststroke split of the 200 IM semifinal, was faster than anyone went in the Olympic final last year, and was seven-tenths of a second faster than he went in the Olympic final to take silver last year.
  • I wonder how differently Chase Kalisz’ taper schedule is with his meet not starting until Day 8, and what he’s doing to stay focused?
  • Missy Franklin was a full second faster to win the 200 free this year than she was to take 4th in it last year. That probably has a lot to do with her crowded Olympic schedule, but that’s the best swim we’ve seen from her so far at this meet.
  • Nathan Adrian and Jimmy Feigen sit 1-2 in the men’s 100 freestyle after the semi-finals, both around 48.0’s. Coming in, there’s no way anybody would’ve expected 47.9 to be good enough to win that race. Now, I honestly have no idea what to expect out of the final. I wouldn’t even try to pick a winner at this point. What we do know is that Adrian and Vlad Morozov are really good at stepping-up in finals.
  • Another gold-star for the new American selection process. The Americans wouldn’t have had a finalist in the 50 backstroke had Bootsma not won at Trials and made the team. Now she enters that final 6th, only .13 seconds away from the 2nd seed Aya Terakawa.
  • Hey, how about Katie Ledecky? I wonder who needed this day off to recover more: her, or the rest of us. She and Lotte Friis have been saying some really great things about each other on Twitter, I think they’ll be ready to go at it again in the 800.

US Records:

Missy Franklin, 17-18 National Age Group Record, 200 free, 1:54.81
Old Record: Missy Franklin, 2012 Olympics, 1:55.56, 2013 USA Swimming National Championships & World Championship Trials

Michael McBroom, American Record, 800 free, 7:43.60
Old Record: Larsen Jensen, 7:45.63, 2005 World Championships
Connor Jaeger with a 7:44.26 was also under this old record.

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8 years ago

The “peak” and depth case for American distance swimming is certainly stronger on the US women’s side (e.g., Ledecky, Mann, Ryan, etc.), but McBroom and Jaeger are making a strong statement that the ‘tip of the spear’ of US men’s distance swimming is back. Swims like today’s 800 (assuming they get sufficient airplay amongst young American swimmers) go a long way to creating the kind of ‘buzz’ that excites and motivates young swimmers.

What I’d like to see/learn is what these guys are doing differently in terms of their training. While they are undoubtedly cranking some serious yardage, I suspect there’s a much different focus to their training than the old-school ‘animal lane’ mentality of the 80’s. Any chance… Read more »

Abra
Reply to  Patrick W. Brundage
8 years ago

I think you are overestimating the girls and underestimating the guys. The guys have 3 in the top 8 in the world in the 1500 so far this year (and that’s with Gemmell doing open water and not the pool). The girls only have two in the top 8 in the 800, and one of those is Chloe Sutton who so far in her career has failed to step up at all on the international stage. Obviously the girls will be fine going forward because of Katie, but the depth is much stronger on the guys side.

anonymous
Reply to  Abra
8 years ago

I’ve been wondering the same thing about Chloe Sutton. She’s obviously a talented swimmer…but she always seems to do better at trials (olympics or worlds) than at the international meet. Wonder if this has more to do with her taper strategy than nerves/etc (since she’s been on the national team for quite a while…so the international scene shouldn’t cause as many butterflies). Swimmers like Ledecky, Franklin, Grevers, Adrian, Lochte, (and Phelps)…as well as the rest of the cast of big names….have the luxury of being so dominant in the US that they can essentially train through trials and still be good enough for a top 2 spot to worlds…which allows for a better taper. Sutton doesn’t necessarily have that luxury… Read more »

mcgillrocks
8 years ago

distane swimming has been a weak point for the US historically

from 1976 to 1996 (TWENTY YEARS) the american record in the 1500 improved only 2 seconds. during that same time the world record dropped from 15:02 to 14:42

as of yet, jensen has been the only american to foray into the higher tier of 1500 swimmers when he swam a 14:45 in 2004, which made him 3rd fastest ever and is still a very very elite time (top 5 in the world definitely)

i think it’s time as americans we stop struggling to break the decades-old 15:00 and 14:50 marks and start hitting top of the world-class 14:40 low times

C Martin
Reply to  mcgillrocks
8 years ago

I think part of the reason why we are no longer producing as many quality distance swimmers as sprinters is because of the “new age” mindset. Many coaches nowadays are focused on quality instead of yardage for their swimmers, and this has its place — in sprinting. You still need quality yards for distance, but I believe that all the talk of “no garbage yardage” has turned off many coaches to directing high volume programs and perhaps now swimmers are staying away from the distance stuff because they know how much yardage can supposedly hurt them.

Abra
8 years ago

I think the US guys will be fine going forward. Not only are Michael and Connor swimming well, but Sean Ryan just went 14:57 at WUGs and Andrew Gemmell is still the fastest miler since vendt/jenson with his time from Olympic Trials last year. All 4 of those guys are young (21-22) so the future looks bright for now.

Law Dawg
8 years ago

I’m still not too sold on the US distance program. While we have two very solid guys right now, it just doesn’t seem like we ever produce phenoms like we consistently do in all the other disciplines. Take our current teenage stars: Andrew Seliskar, Ryan Murphy, Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz, Caeleb Dressel, Justin Lynch, and many more. Almost none of them are distance oriented. They all excel in traditionally strong US events: backstroke, IM, fly, and short distance free style. Don’t get me wrong; we have our glimpses of greatness, but they never seem to fully pan out. Now I realize I may sound like a naysayer this article seems to address, but here’s my point. Can a program depend… Read more »

Reply to  Law Dawg
8 years ago

One of the distinct downsides to the otherwise generally positive aspects of the US collegiate swimming system is that distance swimmers are not as ‘valuable’ from a points perspective as sprinters (especially those that can stretch to a 200) or multi-stroke / IM specialists. I don’t know an easy way to overcome this unless NCAAs adds the 1000 to the championships format so that 500-1650 specialist goes from being a 2-event score potential to a 3-event scorer. The other way is to find those versatile freestylers who can score in the 200, 500 and 1650 and serve on the 800 free relay (e.g., Jaeger), but those are very exceptional swimmers.

liquidassets
Reply to  Patrick W. Brundage
8 years ago

I love your idea of adding the 1000, though I doubt it will ever be done, due to “practical” reasons. But coaches starting their swimmers at longer distance mid-career might be the way to go, to avoid burnout. On the women’s side, Evans peaked at 16-17, I’m curious to see how long Ledecky will be able to dominate.

By the way, I’m excited about McBroom’s chances in the 1500 now due to his improved closing speed. Maybe not to medal, but you never know. (Same for Jaeger, with improved chance to medal). McBroom’s first 200 today was 1:55.7 and his last 200 was 1:52.7, add those up and it’s 3:47.4 for his fastest 400, whereas I think he went… Read more »

don
Reply to  liquidassets
8 years ago

I think your math is off. McBroom out in 1:55.7, and the last 200 was 1.53:7 which puts him at about 3.49.5 for the 400 which is pretty consistent with his 400 times.

coach
Reply to  Patrick W. Brundage
8 years ago

I wouldn’t just pin this just on college. High school swimming only goes up to the 500 (Not advocating to add the 1000 or mile. Just making a point).

C Martin
Reply to  Law Dawg
8 years ago

Traditionally (and I don’t have hard facts to prove this, although I have read it in different places), distance swimmers, both male and female, peak early. This is why guys like Anthony Ervin can still go at it after a decade out of the water and ladies like Dara Torres can still be successful well into their forties. Just look at the average ages of the distance events at this year’s Worlds compared to the sprints (finals or top 8):

Male 800 average age – 22.50
Male 50 average age – 26.38
Female 1500 average age – 21.75
Female 50 average age – 23.00

It has to be the lack of endurance as one gets older that… Read more »

Joe
Reply to  C Martin
8 years ago

Whats weird is that most endurance sports have athletes peaking in their mid to late 20s. Things like cycling, marathons, etc. Even open water last week was dominated by men in their early 30s, which is even more distance based. Strange

Reply to  C Martin
8 years ago

While I agree that is true in swimming, in marathon running (admittedly much longer), old age doesn’t seem to be as much a hindrance.

CB
Reply to  Patrick W. Brundage
8 years ago

It’s true — look at distance running and triathlon, where many athletes are very competitive and often peak in their early-to-mid-30s. I wonder if this pattern in distance swimming is less about physiology and more about burnout.

Reply to  CB
8 years ago

Many marathon and Triathlon are pretty much differente events every time.. there is no such a thing as an equal race..

If you jump 20 times in the water for the 1500 free.. the changes on the enviroment and minimal.

On a endurace track and field (specially if it happens on streets) every race changes a lot (Climate, involving Temp Wind and Humidity, the field itself changes, some are plain, some have too much open and down). For any athlete it is pretty hard to get the right feeling of when to go fast or a little slower at each race.. and because the stress on the body is so big, they can´t work out so much their event as… Read more »

Reply to  CB
8 years ago

Some guys who swim with me are Triatlhon athletes.. everyone told than when they were on the 20.. much races they tried to start fast and lost all stamine at a hill or their knees nearly killed during a downhill.. or they slowed their pace and finished the race with too much gas left.. only after tons of races they started to get the right feeling.. and even now on their 30s in some races they still make the same mistakes of the 20s

LookOut
8 years ago

Jordan Harrison of Australia is one to look out for aswell. He’s only 18 and went 14.51 or so at the Aussie trials..

Triguy
Reply to  LookOut
8 years ago

Australia has a much brighter future in distance swimming. We have Harrison, plus mack Horton, jarred poort-5th in open water 5km at worlds, all under 19.

SwimTX
8 years ago

Jack Conger might not be “distance oriented” but he has gone a 4:13 in the 500 freestyle (second best ever in 17-18 age group to Michael Phelps)

Law Dawg
Reply to  SwimTX
8 years ago

Ahh, but you see, that is short course. If he could duplicate such a swim long course, we’d be talking about a serious threat in the 400. But Conger has never even swam the 400 free at any big lc meet to my knowledge

C Martin
Reply to  SwimTX
8 years ago

I wouldn’t necessarily consider the 500 a “distance” event. More of a mid-distance, grouped with the 200. I look at it in pairs: sprints = 50, 100; mid-distance = 200, 500; distance = 1000, 1650; then open water. Look at Nathan Adrian: as someone pointed out on another post he went a 4:36.98 when he was 16. That’s not incredibly fast if he was a distance swimmer, but seeing that he is a sprinter it shows he can handle the longer stuff. I’m sure he would drop off considerably in the 1650. (Note: in the spirit of fairness, Adrian was also a 9:39.91 in the 1000 at the same age).

Bill V.
8 years ago

The thing that impressed me about McBroom and Jaeger was they appeared to be working together during the swim. I haven’t seen that in American distance swimming since I was a child.

anonymous
Reply to  Bill V.
8 years ago

like 🙂

coach
8 years ago

I wouldn’t say that McBroom was your average swimmer growing up. I don’t think he started competitive swimming until 12 or 13, but I know he made the National Jr Team in high school, and from what I remember, he was a much better long course swimmer than short course.

I know he made 2008 Trials in high school, but I remember reading that he had a really bad injury (hockey or skate boarding or something like that), so he was out for a few months.

All this to say that I am really pumped to see our distance crew tearing it up!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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