Column by John Lohn
CRANBURY, New Jersey, December 7. THERE was something nice about the weekend action that took place at the University of Texas and the King County Aquatic Center. Want to guess what it was? Here's a hint: It's something we haven't seen much of for nearly two years. Yeah, you probably have an idea by now.
Unlike the freakishly fast times that have dotted the globe since February 2008, the performances produced at the United States Short Course Nationals and Texas Invitational were believable, and didn't require any special instrument to convert bogus times (read: suit-enhanced) to legitimate clockings that mean something.
I'm going to be honest. I'm tired of writing about the suit issue and can't wait for the next 25 days to pass so we can put this whole charade behind us. Well, we'll do our best. Let's face it. The suit situation will always be a black eye on the sport, a mark that cannot be ignored. Still, we're close to moving forward and swimming will be fine. The weekend proved just that.
Just because records were not obliterated by a half-second here, or a full second there, that doesn't mean the competition at this weekend's early-December showcases were slow by any means. It might take some a bit of time to get accustomed to performances that are not record-shattering, but that's more than OK. Anyone who has gotten used to hard-to-believe times will just have to train themselves back to the days when good'ol skill got the job done, not some material that threatened to strangle the body.
Take a look at what Nathan Adrian was able to do at the U.S. Short Course National Champs. The University of California standout won the 50 and 100 freestyles with times of 19.08 and 41.80, respectively. Those efforts didn't measure up to what Adrian popped at last year's NCAA Championships, where high-tech suits were allowed, but they absolutely measure up with what was viewed as lightning quick before the Swarm of the Suits started stinging the water world.
Meanwhile, rising star Dagny Knutson delivered one of the top swims of the women's weekend when she clocked 4:31.18 to take top honors in the 500 freestyle. The effort wasn't far off the American standard of Katie Hoff, who went 4:30.47 in December 2007. In this case, the times are comparable, with no need to differentiate between who wore what.
Over at the Texas Invitational, where teams were at different points of midseason rest, there were also several quality performances, including a 1:44.05 swim by Arizona's Jack Brown in the 200 individual medley and a 1:54.52 mark by Texas' Kathleen Hersey in the 200 butterfly. The beauty part, simply, is that swimming has traveled back to 2007 and there is no reason to believe the sport will be any less enjoyable because it's "slower" – so to speak.
Give the United States major applause for not waiting until the Dec. 31 deadline for the end of the high-tech suit era. This country has moved forward earlier and, consequently, has jumpstarted the process of reminding ourselves what is legitimately fast, as opposed to artificially quick. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for other parts of the world.
Later this month, the European Short Course Championships will almost assuredly be filled with ridiculous times and the world-record count of the tech suit era will continue to rise. For at least one more major meet, the sport will be a farce and more world records will be broken in finals than world records will survive. Oh well.
At least we know the sport is going to be fine. Fast doesn't have to be defined by the quickest time ever produced. It can be viewed as an impressive effort in legit conditions. That much was proven this weekend in Texas and Washington, and it was nice to see.