Commentary by Jeff Commings
ORLANDO, Florida, March 19. ANYONE who has followed age group swimming in the United States in the past 12 months should not be surprised that five national age group records fell tonight at the NCSA junior nationals. Many of the swimmers I overheard during tonight’s finals called some of the swims “sick” and … well, uttered a few words that can’t be repeated here. Training has a lot to do with it, some coaches say, but also mentioned the talent of most of the athletes has not been seen since the days of Tracy Caulkins.
Tonight’s swimming is setting stage for this to be the most memorable junior nationals in history, and that is saying a lot. I remember Katie Ledecky burning up the water in 2012, the same year Rachel Bootsma nearly set a world record in the 50 backstroke. And Jack Conger was the class of the field in 2013 for his final appearance at the junior nationals. But this year is trumping all of that not just for the records set, but for the depth of fast times.
If I were to pick a swim of the night, it would be Janet Hu’s 1:52.92 in the 200 butterfly. Knowing her as a sprinter, I wasn’t expecting her to challenge Elaine Breeden’s 1:52.99 from 2007, but she took the race out hard and hung on. Hu’s swim illustrates not only the toughness of these swimmers, but the great diversity they are putting into their schedules.
How much of this is talent and how much is training? I would have to say it’s 50-50. Coaches these days are taking a page from the Michael Phelps/Ryan Lochte/Missy Franklin philosophies and getting their swimmers into multiple events in one night and training them to be fast more than once in a workout set. I noticed many swimmers in two or more events tonight, and it wasn’t something many swimmers did 20 years ago. When I ask swimmers what their best event is, they have been listing two or three. These days, it’s best to not have one event to lean on, no matter how old you are.
Overheard: After Simone Manuel’s 47.09 to win the 100 free and break the 17-18 national age group record: “I bet the guys on her team hate getting their butts kicked by her every day.”