Kingdom of Troy

by Casey Barrett

One coach, four of six Olympians on Day One… 

How’d your crew swim today? A few best times maybe, did they handle the Trials pressure? If it could have been better, maybe you should take some notes from this man…

On night one of the U.S. Trials, Gregg Troy’s Gators owned Omaha. There were six Olympic spots available. Coach Troy produced four of them. A rather impressive .666 batting average. Even the devil bows in respect.

To recap:

– Ryan Lochte controls the 400 IM from the first stroke of butterfly. I have never watched a more sound defeat of Michael Phelps. It’s never happened, ever really. And that’s with huge props to Phelps tonight. The guy swam a 4:07, and he’ll be the first to admit that he did it on one year of training. 2009, ’10, and most of ’11 were really a wash for him. It’s a testament to his other-worldly abilities that the guy can go that time with the work he’s put in over the last four years. But Lochte has earned every step of his ascendance. He really swam a 4:05 tonight. Under the flags, he looked like Usain Bolt finishing the 100 meters in Beijing, without the showboating. Lochte just shut it down. Phelps’ world record is under watch in London.

– In the men’s 400 free, Peter Vanderkaay had to have a disastrous swim not to make the Team. He was the top seed by three seconds. In the end, he had to fight for it. To his side in lane three, Charlie Houchin gave him everything he could handle over 350 meters, but over in lane five, Vanderkaay’s Florida training partner Conor Dwyer was just biding his time. As they turned for home, Dwyer flipped in third, yet it was clear he was already on the Team. Watch enough races and last lap momentum becomes clear as can be. In the end, it was a couple of Coach Troy’s boys – PVK and Dwyer. The times were less than impressive, but who cares, sometimes it’s all about the race.

– The women’s 400 IM was pretty easy to handicap. Forget about the small little yards pool, where lots of good swimmers can look great with big walls. Elizabeth Beisel isn’t like that. This year at the women’s NCAA’s she placed a distant third in her signature event. No matter. She’s the defending world champion in the big pool where it matters, and tonight she showed why. With a backbreaking backstroke leg, Beisel ended the race at the halfway mark. Cal’s Caitlin Leverenz, who’d beaten her by a second and a half at NCAA’s, grabbed the second Olympic berth. Chalk up spot number four for Coach Troy.

How does this happen? How does one coach guide two-thirds of Olympians onto the Team in these two events – the 400 IM and the 400 Free? First thing you should remember – it’s impossible to fake these particular races. There are plenty of races that can be faked with sheer talent, as much as I hate that awful T-word… But the 400s? Those are truth in eight beautiful brutal laps.

Coach Troy believes in that Truth. That’s why his swimmers swim like such shit in-season. Did you watch Lochte at those Grand Prix meets this spring? His sponsors did, and they were worried. He looked like a tired, beaten dog. And he was. This spring, Elizabeth Beisel wasn’t anywhere close to the best swimmer in the NCAA. Now she’s making a case for the best swimmer on earth, in the sport’s ultimate all-around event. Weeks ago, I heard talk that Vanderkaay was cooked, that he wouldn’t even make the Team. Heard talk that Dwyer’s best days were behind him, that he was a short course guy, and what a shame that his best events happened to match up with Lochte’s.

Now those four are Olympians. Why is that? Because their coach doesn’t take his eye off the prize. This isn’t just some clichéd sports talk. It takes true balls not to care about all those steps in between. Steps where plenty of folks are watching and judging and wondering why your athletes are swimming so damn slow… What kind of confidence does that require? To keep the course, and know your crew will peak when it’s truly time?

I’m biased, this was my Coach too, back in the day. I had a lot of them, more than a few were also Olympic coaches with plenty of champions to their credit, but only one deserves the capital C.

Seven more days in Omaha… Who’s taking notes?