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Commentary by Jeff Commings
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, May 15. AFTER Katie Ledecky, the field of contenders for second-best in distance freestyle in the United States is full of women who have the opportunity to give a boost to the country’s distance prowess on the international stage. Until recently, I hadn’t thought much about including Becca Mann in that list.
That changed today, as the 17-year-old chased world champion and North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate Lotte Friis up and down the pool tonight in the 1500 freestyle, putting up a lifetime best 16:08.86 for second place behind Friis’ 16:07.14.
Mann’s time today puts her third in the world and would have placed third at last summer’s nationals in the event, just 1.09 seconds out of second place and a possible spot on the world championship team. It’s very important to note that Mann is not fully rested this weekend, which just gave me goosebumps thinking about what we could see this summer. Is a sub-16:00 in the cards? (More goosebumps.)
The 1500 free is not an Olympic event, and USA Swimming does not put much focus on the non-Olympic races. This summer’s Pan Pacific championships will feature the 1500 freestyle, so Mann is looking good for a place in that event, though she’ll have to qualify for the team in an Olympic event first.
Mann is making some strong inroads this year after falling off the radar following the 2012 junior Pan Pacific championships. At that meet, she turned heads with strong pool swims and a win in the 10K open water swim. Mann failed to put up strong times in 2013, and I will admit to calling her breakout in 2012 — which included making four finals at the Olympic Trials — a fluke. I’m happy to be wrong.
When I spoke to her in Mesa last month, Mann said the workouts were among the hardest she’s ever experienced, but I didn’t see any sign of extreme physical fatigue in any of her races in Mesa, and she looked like she wanted to keep swimming at the end of the 1500 free tonight. Granted, she is still training for open water racing with an eye on making the open water team for Pan Pacs, and yes, she is a teenager with seemingly unlimited resources of energy. She’s going to need it this summer, as she races several older swimmers with goals just as lofty as hers.