What to learn from Michael Andrew’s five-event experiment

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:

“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.

 

But mostly…

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.

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Philip Johnson
5 years ago

The fact is, no one is going to remember this meet a couple of years from now. It’s better he learns here than at Olympic Trials or Nationals. It really isn’t a big of a deal people are making from it. Lay off him, he’s a 16-year-old kid.

SOCAL GUY
Reply to  Philip Johnson
5 years ago

16 year old professional swimmer*

Coach
Reply to  Philip Johnson
5 years ago

Back him up or back off. We should support this kid good bad or ugly. Through all of his trials and tribulations. Seriously I’m guessing that 99% of negative criticism is coming from people who haven’t even begun to come close to where this kid has gone. keep it up Michael!

Billabong
Reply to  Coach
5 years ago

Well said COACH. MA has given his best all summer, and keeps producing PB’s, like his 200IM. Making a program error at this Championship is much better than doing it at Olympic trials. Happy to hear reasoned commentary about this error of judgement, but the generalised criticism is way off base. I can only think that this will only make him stronger for next year and I wish him all the best for Olympic trials.

Skeptic
5 years ago

I thought if he trained at a specific pace, his body would automatically go that pace…right? I mean Rushall claims that the process is about neuromotor patterning, and race specific energy systems, doesn’t he? USRPT covers all of the endurance aspects we have been mislead about for the last 50 years, right? Warm-up and warm down and lactate accumulation and acidosis and muscle glycogen depletion, etc are irrelevant…right?

Not that ANYONE could realistically swim 5 races in 2 hours and expect great results, but I think USRPT plays a major role in the magnitude of the meltdown. Too few people in this sport have a true grasp on the science. The claims made by USRPT and it’s proponents are… Read more »

SOCAL GUY
Reply to  Skeptic
5 years ago

100% agree. I believe Michael said something along the lines that doing 5 races in 2 hours is no different than practice where he trains at race speed all the time.

Beenthere
Reply to  SOCAL GUY
5 years ago

I get that he wanted to prove to the world that he is capable of competing in any of these events at that level. The problem is that something made him believe he could compete in ALL on the SAME day.

Having once been a world ranked swimmer in both the 200 and 400 IMs in my teens, I often fell victim to trying to compete in 3 200s on the same day because I was good at each one individually. That was a long time ago and I understand training philosophy has changed, but I just don’t see how anyone could believe that someone training under the USRPT program could handle a schedule like that without the background.

SOCAL GUY
Reply to  Beenthere
5 years ago

Exactly my thoughts.

xenon
Reply to  Skeptic
5 years ago

Have you read any of Dr. Rushall’s free publications on the internet?

He doesn’t claim that muscle glycogen depletion and lactate accumulation are irrelevant. In fact, on of the major reasons that the specific intervals and distances that he choose for the designed of his USRPT sets were because of glycogen and lactate. That’s the reason why MA swims fast all of the time, because he doesn’t accumulation fatigue from lactate accumulation and glycogen deletion day after day.

Even if today was a success, it isn’t likely that he will swim 5 events in one session ever again. This meet schedule just didn’t play in his favor. He has proven time and time again that he can swim well… Read more »

SpectatorN
Reply to  xenon
5 years ago

no one said he can’t do well with two finals in the same session. the problem here is he had 4 finals and 1 semi in the same session.

If today was a success, than why not ever again? just not sure I understand this statement within the context of your reply.

xenon
Reply to  SpectatorN
5 years ago

Most of the meet line ups have his top events spread out jr nats, nats, worlds, olympic trials, olympics, pan pacs. I havn’t even seen a meet line up with that many of his main events jammed in to one day. So it isn’t likely that this situation will arise again.

He can still swim a large meet line up as long as it is spread out and he has no more than 2 finals per night. His training has shown that he can swim a big meet line up at a high level just not all in the same night.

CB
5 years ago

Agree with @Philip Johnson, I respect the fact they went big and pushed the envelope; you never know until you try! Would love to have seen MA medal but without athletes willing to risk and challenge the status quo we wouldn’t have the phelps or hosszu’s of this world. Who’s to say that with some slight adjustments and maybe not 3 big meets in a row that its not worth trying again?! keep pushing Team Andrew!

Rafael
5 years ago

Is not Andrew a pro athlete? So he should answer to the downsides as a pro. If he is still a kid and unable to take decisions he should not be pro.

SOCAL GUY
Reply to  Rafael
5 years ago

exactly!

Tom from Chicago
5 years ago

Interesting experiment. No harm done.

GoldenB
5 years ago

There are a lot of lessons to be learned…and one flying under the radar is that if God does decide to intervene in the lives of men, it’s probably not going to be to hit a certain time at a swim meet. #RealTalk

Irish Ringer
Reply to  GoldenB
5 years ago

I get censored for talking about how being a pro athlete isn’t relevant in the discussion and this guy is poking fun at religion and gets a pass? Swimswam censorship people…what’s up?

Admin
Reply to  Irish Ringer
5 years ago

Irish Ringer – I just looked, and we have no comments left under the name Irish Ringer in our recently deleted cue. Perhaps you forgot to hit post on your comment, but no comments by you have been deleted.

Irish Ringer
Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

Could be Brayden and I appreciate you looking into it. I need to quit posting from the phone I think 🙂

GoldenB
Reply to  Irish Ringer
5 years ago

And while you’re at it, you can apologize for trying to throw me under the bus. And FYI…I was NOT poking fun, I was being dead serious! I think with famine, war, crimes against every type of human rights around the world, it’s ridiculous that this would be a priority for God.

bobo gigi
5 years ago

Philip, you’re right. It’s not the end of the world for Andrew. But please let me the right to be disappointing. He had the occasion to show his talent at the world level and in the biggest meet of his career so far. I hate seeing such waste of talent. I hate when swimmers waste their energy with a stupid line-up of events. I also hate when I see swimmers with useless crazy fast times in prelims. It irritates me in the senior ranks but like in the junior ranks too. Being 16 doesn’t excuse anything.
You have to be smart.
The disaster was unfortunately so predictable.
If it can serve as a big lesson for him,… Read more »

bobo gigi
Reply to  bobo gigi
5 years ago

to be disappointed

Victor P
Reply to  bobo gigi
5 years ago

He could be great in all strokes – just not at the same meet!

There’s a reason it’s never been done, and not for lack of trying. Even Phelps wasn’t that ambitious.

drew
Reply to  Victor P
5 years ago

the schedule kinda screwed him (along with his ambitious schedule).. his best events are probably the 100 breast and fly.. and 200 IM.. and all 3 were on this day (2 finals and a semi)

I can see he dropping the 100 back and free.. and also picking 50s based on scheduling

but I don’t get why the coaches kept he off of the 4 x 100 free relay on the 1st day and then decided to put him on the mixed medley, when he had just finished all of those races

Admin
Reply to  drew
5 years ago

drew – regarding your first point, he hinted on Instagram that he had to swim the 100 back to keep the 50 back on his schedule. I’d guess he would’ve dropped the 100 back too if he could still swim the 50 back.

drew
Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

was just referencing those specific events with regard to trying cut back, if he wanted to cut events

even if he went with his strongest events (ranking wise) he would still end up with a tough schedule.. yes he would have dropped the 100 back, but still end up with 3 or 4 swims in that session (and then depends if the coaches still put him on that relay)

weirdo
Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

I find that hard to believe that USA swimming or coaches made him swim 100 back if he wanted to scratch it and still swim the 50 back. USA didn’t have any women in the 50 back at Worlds so would be weird if he was fastest 100 back but because of the schedule, he couldn’t swim it but still wanted to swim the 50.
Side note: not sure if this was an issue for the new National Junior Team director and just a first meet mistake?

Admin
Reply to  weirdo
5 years ago

weirdo – you can certainly find it hard to believe all you’d like, but that has no bearing on the truth of the statement.

See his Instagram post here, prior to finals:
https://instagram.com/p/61bJf_lyXZ/

Dunc1952
Reply to  drew
5 years ago

Thanks for raising the coach’s responsibilities as far as the relays go. Those choices probably moved men’s 4×100 Free from gold to silver and the mixed medley from silver to bronze.

whoknows
Reply to  Victor P
5 years ago

That’s because Phelps had a coach who new what he was doing.

Dunc1952
Reply to  bobo gigi
5 years ago

Pretty disappointed, Bobo.
“Only the Gold counts?” There is only one. Whomever doesn’t win it should just quit and go home? That’s really effective. I thought the idea was to maximize according to your capability; this was certainly a step in Michael’s path to help him understand his — not someone else’s — capability.
It is certainly most important at the apex of a career, but reflects what many folks have held America in contempt for over many years. Who knows, maybe this experience will fuel adjustments in his approach to maximize his career levels.

DC
Reply to  bobo gigi
5 years ago

Andrew’s biggest meet is coming up in Omaha. The junior world’s is a good time to experiment.

Phelps was basically a 16 year old pro also, for all intents and purposes. The rules are different.

whoknows
5 years ago

Choices need to be made. There are at least two swimmers who did not get to compete because of MA’S arrogant selfish exploit. USA is about TEAM, not one individual’s experiment on multiple events. Just like Donald Trump, the media gives this professional swimmer all the attention – good or bad. He sucks all the oxygen out of the room.
Grant Shoultz should be getting the press for his performances in the 200 and 400 free.

fina bites
Reply to  whoknows
5 years ago

WhoKnows: Who are the two swimmers who couldn’t compete because of Andrews’ schedule? He qualified to swim all of them by the rules, and didn’t drop any events. Maybe I don’t understand the selection procedure.

sven
Reply to  whoknows
5 years ago

I agree it wasn’t smart to enter every event he qualified for, but those “two swimmers who did not get to compete” didn’t miss their chance because of MA, they missed their chance because they did not qualify. Call it selfish all you want, MA showed up when the roster was being made. Your point is not lost on me, I feel for the kids, and I’d probably be upset if I was in that position, but I think it’s extremely unfair to try to pass the blame for a swimmer’s “failure” off on another swimmer for beating them fairly. Failure, in the previous sentence, being used in purely in the context of JWC quals, as obviously every athlete in… Read more »

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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