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By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)
BARCELONA, Spain, August 4. TONIGHT the United States’ relays felt the full spectrum of frustration and elation. Although the women were able to cap off the evening with a win, giving Missy Franklin her sixth gold medal of the meet, the men’s story did not feature the same happy ending. After being the heavy favorite for the gold medal, which they backed up by finishing quite comfortably in front, the team of Matt Grevers, Kevin Cordes, Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian walked away without medals, because of a false start.
Kevin Cordes’ start was the reason behind the American’s disqualification; he dove off the blocks 0.04 seconds early, which is a much smaller margin than his false start actually looked. Surely, I was not the only person who gasped when the transition from backstroke to breaststroke was made, because even from my perspective behind my computer, it looked like a false start.
This can only be salt in Cordes’ week-worth of wounds; after a fabulous collegiate season, Cordes was considered a very real threat to the medals here in Barcelona, regardless of his rookie status. His best finish was seventh place in the men’s 100 breaststroke, and was ninth by a mere two hundredths of a second in the 200 breaststroke. He did not advance from the preliminary round of the 50 breaststroke, and so ending the meet atop the podium with the likes of Lochte, Adrian and Grevers would have done wonders to turn his week around. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and you can’t help but feel sympathetic towards this 19-year old.
He is not the first person to disqualify a relay, and he will not be the last. Back in 2007, the United States did not even have a chance to race in the World Championship final because Ian Crocker had an early take-off on his butterfly leg in prelims. Even the world record holder, who had swum on multiple international and collegiate relay teams, made this mistake. So, although the easy answer would be to chalk Cordes’ mistake up to nerves and inexperience–which would also explain his underperformances in his individual events–even highly experienced racers have made this mistake.
Of course, it is also unfortunate for the other three swimmers, especially Nathan Adrian. No doubt Lochte and Grevers are grieving the loss of this gold medal, but they already have gold medals of their own from this competition back in their hotel rooms. Adrian, the reigning Olympic champion in the 100 freestyle, was dethroned in his premier event, and also watched France take the gold medal in the 4×100 freestyle relay for the second year in a row.
Only Grevers’ official split is available because of the false start into the second leg, but Adrian’s split was blazing fast (46.69): he hit that water and never looked back, increasing the distance between himself and the French and Australians by the 50-meter turn.
Adrian was elated when he hit the wall first, well ahead of second and third: he was a hero again. Then, it all came crashing down, and his celebratory smile fell into a look of disbelief. The USA did not win, because they had been disqualified. France earned the gold medal, even though, if you lined up the times, the Americans did not need that 0.04 to win. They had more than enough wiggle room: it almost makes you wonder why, instead of disqualifying a team when they false start, you simply add the difference to their overall time? However, that seems like a very dangerous and slippery slope, adding a whole new element of strategy to a relay. It would turn into a circus, like when swimmers would purposely false start because only on the second false start would a swimmer be disqualified.
At the end of the day, you have four very disappointed athletes. Cordes will no doubt learn from this experience, and hopefully his less-than-impressive performances here in Barcelona do not color his confidence as he looks to next season, and ultimately, to Rio.
And, as for Lochte, Adrian, and Grevers: these men will very likely have other opportunities to be a part of gold-medal winning medley relays. It is the United States after all, and it is not as if the stars have to align in order to get four solid relay legs out of the American team. There will be other chances for Cordes and the rest of his relay to hear “The Star Spangled Banner”.
Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M’s first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.
Follow her on twitter @juliah2o