Former NCAA Champions Becoming Contenders on the Global Stage

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By David Rieder

BARCELONA, Spain, July 31. NOT many would argue with the prediction that Sun Yang would take home the gold medal in the men’s 800 free. In fact, the Chinese distance sensation entered as an overwhelming favorite. Likewise, seeing Ryan Cochrane join him on the podium alongside Sun can’t qualify as surprising, since the Canadian finished second in both the 800 and 1500 at the last Worlds in Shanghai. Few, however, would have pegged Michael McBroom to stand on the middle step with a new American record in the bag.

Sure, McBroom finished second in the 800 and 1500 at U.S. Nationals, and he had been a consistent presence on the NCAA stage for several years, winning the 1650 in 2011 and taking second in both the 500 and 1650 this year. As he finished up his career at the University of Texas, McBroom noted that his long course racing had never lived up to his short course accomplishments, a fact he intended to remedy. After what seemed like a breakthrough performance at U.S. Nationals, McBroom chopped another 3.5 seconds off his lifetime best today for an improbable top-three finish at Worlds.

At the same time McBroom has emerged as contender in the distance events, new faces such as Jimmy Feigen and Marcelo Cherighini have jumped into the fray in the men’s 100 free. Both men have rolled through the college ranks for several years but have had little success internationally. Now, the two find themselves seeded second and third, respectively, for tomorrow’s World Championship final. Similarly, Eugene Godsoe, a force at Stanford but long stuck at the level of national finalist, has elevated his swimming career to the point of earning medals at the World level, as he did in the 50 fly on Monday.

Over the several Olympic cycles, men’s swimming had aged to the point where most swimmers winning medals on the world stage had already passed college age. 100 back World Champion Matt Grevers never made a major team until after his college graduation, while distance stars Cochrane and Ous Mellouli didn’t begin their medal-winning habits until their mid-20s. In the sprint events, neither Cesar Cielo nor Nathan Adrian won medals at either the Worlds or Olympics until after the exhaustion of their NCAA eligibility. At that point, Grevers, Mellouli, and Cielo began to rack up medals, while the newer crop of NCAA stars had no room to make a mark internationally.

After years of the waiting game, the NCAA champions of the past four years have made the jump to the next level. McBroom, Godsoe, Feigen, Cherighini, and the others have had to wait their turn and persevere, but men’s swimming has evolved to the point where one must have significant maturity and experience behind them to catch the older crop that seems to stick around longer and longer. As the swimming community continues to leave London in the rearview mirror and look ahead to 2016, expect to see more of the forgotten college veteran, one who has never made a name for himself internationally, win more medals on the biggest of stages.

Home Crowd Critical in the Women’s 200 Fly?
So far, Spain has won medals in the women’s 400 free and 200 IM on the strengths of Melanie Costa Schmid and Mireia Belmonte Garcia, respectively. Tomorrow, though, Belmonte Garcia has positioned herself to win the first gold for the home crowd. She would become the second straight 200 fly winner to win the World title her home country after Jiao Liuyang won gold in Shanghai two years ago. Belmonte Garcia can’t cruise, however, with the meet’s iron-woman, Katinka Hosszu, and young American Cammile Adams in the field. Adams qualified second for finals in what has been one of the weakest events for the Americans in recent years; the U.S. hasn’t medalled in the 200 fly at a World Championships or Olympics since 2007, and no American qualified for the event’s final two years ago.

Check out David Rieder’s Facebook page to see more of his thoughts on the FINA World Championships and his updated race predictions prior to each finals session.

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