The Negativity of Miss Muffat

by Casey Barrett

The incredible back half of France’s Camille Muffat…

The negative split, such a connoisseur’s pleasure. To come home faster than you went out, so simple, so full of intention. You can explain it to any Dry Lander and they’ll get it. But not really. It takes a swimmer to truly appreciate it.

If you’re into such things, you’ve probably already heard about the recent exploits of France’s negative splitting monster, Camille Muffat. They are swims of beauty, a swimmer’s version a circus trick. Swimmers love to share those silly eye-popper splits, the absurd last laps or final 100’s that stretch the imagination and make us giddy in that unabashed swimmer geek way… Remember Paul Biedermann’s last 50’s at the World Champs in Rome back in ’09? Remember the way Janet Evans finished her 400 free back in ’88 in Seoul? If not, check it out HERE.

Camille Muffat doesn’t remember that. She wasn’t born until a year later, in October 1989. But what she’s doing these days is making Janet’s swims look like quaint golden oldies. Check out her summer’s greatest hits:

– Back in June at the Canet round of the Mare Nostrum tour, Camille takes out her 400 free in a leisurely 2:04.4. Then she decides to start trying. Last 200: 1:58.5. Final time: 4:02.97. That would have made the U.S. Team, just a tenth back from Allison Schmitt’s winning time of 4:02.8. Of contrast: Schmitt swam her race almost exactly the opposite in Omaha, going out in an aggressive 1:58.3 and limping home in 2:04.5. Amazing, yes, but it gets better…

– At the Paris Open last week, Muffat unleashed her negative splitting genius over 800 meters. Here’s how she swam the 800 in Paris: First 400 – 4:18. Second 400 – 4:04. Her final time of 8:23.60 would have been 3rd at U.S. Trials, but it’s clear the total time was just for play. Her back half of 4:04, that would have placed her 3rd at U.S. Trials too. Without the benefit of the dive, after warming up for eight laps, then flipping and storming home faster than any woman in history over the second half of 800 meters.

Rather impressive. An effort that you’d think would leave a girl gutted on deck, limping her way over to a long well earned warm down… Instead, Muffat hopped out, waited for the men to swim their cute 50 fly in between, then got back on the blocks five minutes later and ripped a 1:56.2 in the 200 free. More U.S. Trials comparisons: That time would have been good enough for second in the women’s 200 free in Omaha, half a second faster than Missy Franklin. (1:56.2 is pretty great, especially with zero time to recover, but it’s not much for Muffat; she’s already been 1:54.6 in season this year…)

We’ll see in a few weeks if Muffat can translate these crazy swims into complete efforts in London. Short of a sudden bout of meningitis, there doesn’t seem much doubt that she will. With these performances under her belt in recent months, she has to be the clear favorite to win three individual gold medals in London, in the 200, the 400, the 800. Incidentally, something only accomplished once in Olympic history by the great Debbie Meyer back in 1968…

Which presents a fine opportunity for would-be gamblers… Because despite these insane swims, Muffat probably won’t go off as the pre-race betting favorite in any event in London. In the 200, she’ll have to beat Schmitt, who currently has the fastest time in the world, and Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, the world record holder and defending Olympic champ. Meanwhile, in the 400 and 800, Muffat will face hometown queen Rebecca Adlington, the Brit who won both distance events four years ago in Beijing.

Don’t be distracted by past performance in years gone by… Place your bets, gamblers, here’s a sure thing: the 22-year-old from Nice is going to win the 200, 400, and 800 freestyles at the London Games.

There’s nothing negative about those recent splits. Only promise of the gold to come…