In the span of about 6 hours, it’s been talked about nearly to death: Michael Andrew‘s decision to tackle five events within a single session of the Junior World Championships.
You can read plenty about it in the comments section of our live finals recap, but let’s run through a few big things we can (and cannot) learn from Andrew’s day 2 performances:
It opens a conversation about event focus
While Andrew can be applauded for showing the guts and confidence that often drives great athletes to attempt bigger and better things, the ultimate outcome suggests this was not the smartest choice of events. As Andrew begins to move from the age group ranks to that of a near-adult swimmer, today showed the 16-year-old exactly what he’ll be dealing with at the next level.
While tough doubles and even triples seemed to be a minor obstacle for age group Michael Andrew at domestic meets, today’s lineup aggressiveness was clearly a step too far on the international stage. Andrew’s camp could take the results in one of two ways: either as an indication of what kind of preparation it will take to maintain his versatile, multi-event style at the world level, or as a suggestion that he needs to narrow his event focus for these international meets.
With the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials just under a year away, how Team Andrew answers that question will be hugely important.
It was a learning experience for a young swimmer
As swimming fandom (and coverage) expands, it’s worth constantly reminding ourselves that knee-jerk reactions are rarely wholly accurate. While Andrew is an accomplished and well-known name in swimming, he’s still a 16-year-old kid who is trying to find his place within the sport.
His event focus certainly has something to do with that, but Junior Worlds is also testing Andrew in a different way: it’s his biggest meet away from his coach, who is also his dad.
Andrew’s career path has been designed to keep his support system consistent and ever-present. The Andrew family travels together around the United States, typically by van, and with both his parents effectively serving as coaches, Andrew is almost always around them, both in the pool and out.
It’s a system that has worked well for many years, but there’s no doubt the entire Andrew family – Michael included – have always been aware that learning to swim outside of that support system would be a challenging, but very important, step in the young swimmer’s growth curve.
Watching Andrew in Singapore, it certainly looked like a couple early disappointments (missing a 100 back medal, then missing the 100 fly final) started snowballing for Andrew on Tuesday. As physical fatigue began to add up, Andrew was forced to deal with disappointment without his longtime support system present.
That’s not an indictment of Andrew as much as an honest admission of a necessary step every swimmer must take in their growth curve. For many, it happens in college, when a young athlete leaves their family, teammates and coaches in exchange for a new environment. With Andrew’s pro status leaving college swimming out of his future plans, Junior Worlds is serving much the same purpose. Learning how to respond outside the comfort of the familiar always takes time. How well Andrew can learn to do so will play a key role in how he performs for the U.S. internationally in future years.
It wasn’t all by design
It’s likely that Andrew himself would have agreed before the meet that 5 events in a two-hour session wasn’t ideal. In fact, the swimmer took to Instagram before the finals session, asking fans for support of his tough event block and noting that he would have scratched one event if he could have:
Great swimming this morning! Went under 2 min mark in IM (1:59.86) and swam easy fly (53.67) to qualify for semi fly tomorrow. I have a fun but crazy schedule tonight and I would like to ask you to pray for me. I believe in prayer and I know I cannot do what I will be attempting tonight without God’s sustaining grace. I will be swimming 4 individual events between 5am and 7am US time tomorrow. I would have dropped the 1OO back to have an easier schedule but then I would not have been able to swim the 5O back later in the meet. Tonight I will be swimming 100 Back Final, 100 Fly Semi-Final, 100 Breast Final, and 200 IM Final! #GoPro #Hero4 #FINAWORLDJrSG #TakeTheLane #G2G #100Back #100Fly #100Breast #200IM
“I would have dropped the 100 back to have an easier schedule but then I would not have been able to swim the 50 back later in the meet,” Andrew posted.
That’s likely the result of U.S. selection procedures, which were done at U.S. Nationals, a meet that did not feature 50s of the non-free strokes. As a result, 50 spots at Junior Worlds were given to athletes in the 100-meter distances, a favorite tradition in USA Swimming.
That still would have left Andrew to swim the 100 fly, 100 breast and 200 IM with only an event apiece between them, but it’s worth noting that the 100 back, his first swim of the night, was clearly his best swim relative to his lifetime-best times.
Swimming 5 events in two hours isn’t easy
Duh. We all know this deep down. We get spoiled by performances like Michael Phelps in Beijing or Katinka Hosszu at basically any meet with money on the line, and we forget just how grueling the sport truly is. If anything, Andrew’s results today should make us appreciate all of these multi-event lineups more than we already do.
Looking at this meet relative to Andrew’s career, it sure looks like today is less a career-defining implosion for Andrew and more a simple confirmation of something we all probably could have guessed in advance:
Swimming two events in a session is a workable combo for Andrew (as it was in today’s prelims). Even swimming three in a session can yield a couple of great swims. But swimming five is just a step too far.