Cap & Goggles

Only a Swimmer Knows the Feeling

Category: Junior

Michael Andrew Becomes a Man

The greatest age grouper in history ages up to the big leagues… 

For most teenagers, turning fifteen is a bit of a shrug. It’s a birthday before the big one, the one that comes with driving privileges and all that open road freedom of the imagination. But for swimmers, aging up to fifteen is a passage into adulthood. From that point forward, you’re no longer an age grouper, cozily collected into comfortable age brackets at most meets. At every meet from here on out, now you have to race with the big boys, age be damned.

Last Friday, April 18th, Michael Andrew celebrated his 15th birthday. However, thanks to a clause in the swimming rule book that stipulates that your age when a swim meet starts is the age you will be, for record-keeping purposes, throughout the competition, Andrew had one last shot to shatter a few more National Age Group records. He did. Of course, he did; for the last few months it feels like the kid has crushed another NAG record every time he touches water. His last one may have been the most jaw-dropping of all: 46.95 in the 100 fly. Sweet Jesus.

Obviously, Andrew will set many more NAG records in the years ahead, in the 15/16 and 17/18 “age groups”. (Hell, his 46.9 in the 100 fly is already faster than the 15/16 record in that event…) However, those are really age groups on paper, not in practice. In competition, you turn 15 and it means you compete against all ages, or in the case of Junior Nationals, every other fast 18 & under out there.

So, at the dawn of this rather significant swimmer’s birthday for Mr. Andrew, it seemed a fitting time to take a look at the mass destruction he spread across damn near every event. As a 14-year-old, Michael Andrew now holds every National Age Group record, with the exception of the 200 breaststroke and the three distance freestyles. He’s the fastest age grouper of all-time in ten of the fourteen events. Take a look at this mind-boggling roll call:

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Biondi, But Better

Meet Caleb Dressel, the next great American sprinter… 

He’s always been the fastest. Every year, since he was 11-years-old, he’s been the fastest 50 freestyler in America for his age. Click through USA Swimming’s Top 16 Archive and see for yourself. At 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, there’s Caleb Dressel at the top of the 50 rankings,  the fastest boy in the land. Now he’s 16, and he’s not just the fastest among his peers, he’s accelerated into a new orbit. No 16-year-old has ever been faster.

Caleb Dressel’s times last week in Irvine, CA at the Speedo Junior National Championships make one thing very clear: In three years, this is a kid who is going to be a member of the U.S. Olympic Team in Rio. He’ll be 19 then; the same age as Anthony Ervin back when he won gold in the 50 at the 2000 Sydney Games. Dressel could do the same in Rio.

Take a look at his current best times at age 16: 50 Free – 22.39 / 100 Free – 49.28 / 200 Free – 1:48.64 / 100 Fly – 53.31. With the exception of the fly, every one of those times is a NAG record by a large margin. His 50 free knocked 4-tenths off the old mark. In the 100 free, he demolished Joe Hudepohl’s old record by almost a full second. (That record stood for 23 years; Hudepohl you might recall was a teenage Olympian himself, a member of the men’s 4×100 free relay back in ’92, in Barcelona…) In the 200 Free, he slashed about a second off of Ian Crocker’s mark, set back in 1998.

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The Boy in the Bubble

Michael Andrew, child swim star… A “pro” at age 14… 

I always followed the kid by the numbers, the times. Those cartoon crazy swims he posted when he was 10, 11, 12, 13, and now 14 – they’ve always been eye-popping. I didn’t know anything else about him, but the numbers were enough. He was a swimmer on the rise. Perhaps the Next One. Maybe in our desperate, impatient search for the next Phelps, the kid was already upon us. Maybe Michael Andrew will go on to win nine gold medals at some far off Games and make Michael the official sacred name of swimming royalty. Maybe he will… but let’s hold up for a second: He hasn’t done anything yet.

By anything, I mean a World Record, I mean an Olympic berth, I mean a top world ranking. I mean the things that lead a young phenom to turn pro because he is so good, so young that he feels it’s impossible to resist the opportunities on the table. Phelps was a World Record holder and already a seasoned Olympian when he turned pro at 16. Missy Franklin collected five Olympic gold medals in high school, and she decided not to turn pro. Michael Andrew has set eleven National Age Group records in his short career, and yesterday his parents decided that this was promising enough for their son to turn pro.

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Kids These Days

Forget the NCAA champs, this has been the finest month in age group swimming history… 

The man knows a few things about fast age groupers. After all, he’s the coach of the greatest college recruit ever. That would be Missy Franklin. And the man in question, of course, would be Todd Schmitz. Earlier this week, Coach Schmitz made this observation on Twitter: I bet last week was the fastest week in age group swimming ever in the USA. Look how many NAGs went down. 

Well, the astute folks over at Swim Swam jumped on that particular tweet and they followed up on it. Turns out, Schmitz was dead on – and even underestimated the excellence. After reading that fine bit of reporting, I was inspired to do a bit more. There have been some truly crazy swims this month, and this season. So far, there’s been 27 NAG records set in March 2013 – 23 in a crazy seven day stretch from March 12 – 19. This season, 78 NAG records have gone done – out of a total of 196. That’s around 40%. Not since that artificial year of 2009 and the era of the super suits have so many records been left in shreds.

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Preteen Kings

Michael Andrew and the curious case of 12-year-old greatness…

I still turn to those back pages of rankings. Back in the day, I used to be obsessed with them. Seeing my name listed there in Swimming World, in that tiny 8-point font among the NAG Top 16, that was the highest honor a 12-year-old swimmer could hope for. I still have those issues, stacked somewhere in some moldy basement box.

These days I scan these same rankings with a mix of nostalgia and professional interest. Here at our team in New York, we have swimmers just as obsessed with making those same lists. And every one of them knows the name of one kid at the top of virtually every list in his age group. His name is Michael Andrew. If you follow age group swimming at all, or if you’re a parent of any swimmer under the age of eighteen, you’ve heard of him.

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Tearing Down a Temple

Greedheads, land grabs, and the sad demise of the Phoenix Swim Club… 

May, 1996. This place was the center of the swimming universe. It felt like every country’s Olympic team was there. Every team that mattered, in any case. It was an unshaved showcase for the Atlanta Games on the horizon. It was the Phoenix Grand Prix, hosted by folks who cared about the sport more than anything else. It was swimming at its very best, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had at a swim meet. The stands were packed, the deck buzzing, gold watches for the winners, hell, the finalists in the 50 free didn’t march out, they rode out in eight Go-carts.

That’s the first thing I thought of when I heard the news. Oh boy. That temple of swimming, the home of the Phoenix Swim Club, is about to be no more. This fall, right after the high school championship season, the entire complex will be demolished.

In a desert city lacking in soul, this place had swimmer soul deep in its chlorinated bones. And what will soon stand in its place? The very definition of American soullessness: another cookie-cutter housing development.  Read the rest of this entry »