Cap & Goggles

Only a Swimmer Knows the Feeling

Category: NCAA

The Sharks Circle

Missy Franklin is turning pro in ten months… Top agencies hungry for their piece of the biggest fish in the pool… 

She’s the most marketable Olympian alive. Across every sport, Summer or Winter, Phelps and Lochte included, you won’t find a more appealing athlete for endorsements in the lead up to Rio. Two years out and Missy Franklin is already the confirmed face of the 2016 Olympics.

Much was made about her decision to forgo the pro path after London and attend college at Cal, including by yours truly (Why She Went to College), but let’s be honest – that was always a halfway commitment. Missy, and her parents Dick and D.A., who are highly active behind the scenes, never had any intention of swimming through the full four years of her collegiate eligibility. She longed for the college experience, and she’s getting it, but the time has come to start talking dollars and sense.

This four-time Olympic champion is a sponsor’s dream. She may not have the 8-gold epic-ness of Phelps in her future, and she may not have the twinkling-eyed model smirk of Lochte, but Franklin has something neither of those two man-childs possess. Actually, quite a few somethings. She is that rare transcendent athlete who is also relatable, down-to-earth, and somehow, retains an accomplishment-defying humility. She might be a mutant of physical excellence, like all highest-tier Olympians, but she possesses an unaffected star power that seems rooted in appreciation.

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The Freshman

Ryan Murphy’s rookie year at Cal… 

The kid just keeps following the script. He’s been the best since he was a boy, and every year, at every level, he keeps fulfilling his seemingly unlimited promise. And so it went his first year at Cal. A year ago, I wrote a piece called The Recruit after Murphy signed at Berkeley. It seemed fitting to follow up a year later with this one.

The box score on his just-about-perfect NCAA Championships: Five titles, three relays / two individual. NCAA record in the 200 back. Just .03 off the NCAA record in the 100 back. Stunning splits on every relay, with wins in the 200 free, the 200 medley, the 400 medley, and a second in the 400 free. And perhaps most impressive of all, in terms of personal leaps forward, a 1:42.24 in the 200 IM, which secured a spot in the big final and got Cal rolling right out of the gate.

Between his relay load and his individual races, there wasn’t a swimmer at the meet that accounted for more points than Murphy. He’s the most valuable swimmer on the best team in the nation. With that in mind, it’s flat out disrespectful that Kevin Cordes, a swimmer who scored zero points on relays, was named Swimmer of the Meet over Murphy, or Florida’s Marcin Cieslak, for that matter. (The Gators could easily make a case for Cieslak, who claimed two gold and a silver in his individual races, and also contributed big time on the relays, with prelims swims as well. Yet Florida, did not win any of those relays…)

Cordes was predictably impressive in his pair of record-setting breaststroke performances and all, but you’re not the swimmer of any meet if you DQ your team’s medley relay on the all-important first day. As everyone knows, relays win the meet at NCAAs; therefore Cordes is undeserving of this year’s honor.

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The Event That Was Left Behind

What happened to the 500 free? As times in every event drop with staggering speed and depth, the 500 remains stuck in another era… 

It was the usual stunning start of the NCAA championships, with times that were hard to fathom. If you’re past a certain age, say 28, you’re used to this by now. The further you get from your own glory days, the harder it is to grasp how fast kids are swimming these days. I’m sure that’s always been the case, and may it always be so. Generations fly by, and times that were once NCAA records, the outer envelope of aquatic performance, now those same times don’t even score a single point at NCAAs.

This is presently true in a race like the 200 IM. In 1993, Florida’s Greg Burgess set the NCAA record in a time of 1:43.87. That time was jaw-dropping back then. I remember exactly where I was when I heard about it. Today, Burgess’s time would not score a single point at the meet. 1:43.66 (by Stanford’s Tom Kremer) was the 16th and last spot to earn a second swim at the big show in 2014. The same is true in other events – after all, two decades is a long damn time. If college kids aren’t swimming much much faster 7,300 days later, then something must be wrong.

So then, what’s wrong with the 500 free? Every event in every stroke has taken off with the times, but take a look at the 500 free. It’s barely moved an inch in 20 years. On day one of the NCAA championships, USC’s Cristian Quintero took the title with a wire-to-wire 4:10.02. A second and a half back was Florida’s Dan Wallace, in 4:11.62. Turn back the clock to 1994, when Arizona’s Chad Carvin cruised to an NCAA record with a 4:11.59, a time that puts him in the hunt pretty much every year these days. A year later, in 1995, Carvin was left in the wake, as Michigan’s Tom Dolan dropped a 4:08.75. It was the first of several record shattering swims for Dolan at the ’95 NCAAs; I’m not alone in my opinion that it’s the greatest short course meet that any swimmer has ever had.

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Why She Went to College

Missy Franklin and the Meaning of NCAAs… 

She couldn’t have realized it at the time. She was rather immersed in the task at hand. Two and a half seconds back, her team a distant third, only her anchor leg to go… It was Friday night, day two of the Women’s NCAA Championships, and Missy Franklin had a hell of a lot of ground to make up in the 800 freestyle relay. The race was down to the three best teams at the meet – Georgia, Stanford, and Cal. Already in the water for Stanford was freshman Lia Neal, Missy’s fellow high school Olympic teammate back in London. In the water for the Bulldogs, sophomore stud Brittany MacLean, the girl who beat Missy head to head a night earlier in the 500 free.

She couldn’t have realized it then, but this was a moment, perhaps the moment, that she will always return to when folks ask her why she went to college. This is what college swimming is all about, this is why Missy Franklin passed up millions for a few years of this priceless community of competition.

What happened next was what you’d expect from the current face of American swimming. She dove in and started reeling them in. 50 yards, just a second and a half back; 100 yards, less than a second; 150 yards five one-hundredths back; and then Georgia’s MacLean dug in. She wasn’t letting Franklin by that easy. Stroke for stroke over the final lap, until Missy managed to inch by, touching the wall first for her Cal Bears by .15. Her split: an astonishing 1:40.08.

Another golden feather in the cap for the golden girl… Did you expect anything less?

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The Bottom Line

Mike Bottom and the psychology of special…

He gets you to believe. In yourself, in your talent, in your training, and importantly, in him. That’s no small task, and it doesn’t have much to do with what goes on in the water everyday.

18 to 22 year old boys can be a delicate lot. They won’t admit to this, but it’s true. Their egos are fragile and their freakishly fit bodies are hyper sensitive to the slightest turbulence in their training. Often times what they need is not a coach but a psychologist. Enter Mike Bottom, the ultimate mind coach.

Two days ago, Bottom guided Michigan back to the top, as the men raced to their first title in 18 years. Bottom’s incredible accomplishments with a who’s who of champion sprinters long ago established him as one of the world’s great coaches, but this title does something else. It validates his Hall of Fame bona fides and transcends that old Sprint Coach label that he wore for so long. This Michigan team won it the Michigan way and the Bottom way. Which is to say they won it by dominating the distance events and swimming blazingly fast on the sprint relays. That’s a dangerous combo.

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Sick Splits

In the tradition of ESPN’s Web Gems, introducing Sick Splits… And what better place to start than Day One at NCAA’s? 

You love this stuff, you know you do. I do. It’s shamelessly swim geek, but whatever. If you’ve been in it, you know how exciting it is. These are numbers that make your pulse race. The crazy ass relay splits that bend time and make you text your friends frantically… Here’s tonight’s first edition:

4.) 40.45 – Vlad Morozov, USC, 100 free split on 4×100 medley relay, prelims. 18.9 to the feet… Yeah, Jesus.

3.) 43.48 – Tom Shields, Cal, 100 fly on medley relay, finals. The. Best. Swimmer. In. College.

2.) 17.86 – Vlad Morozov, USC, 50 free split on 200 free relay, finals. What the fuck?

1.) 49.56 – Kevin Cordes, Arizona, 100 breast on medley relay. No, seriously, what the fuck? When I texted this to my friend, Adam, he wrote back: “The greatest yards swim ever.” It might be.

So, there you have it… Sick Splits, Vol. 1.