Feature by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, August 20. THE University of Arizona swim teams gathered for the first time today in their quest to achieve big things this collegiate season, and among those anxious to start the new season is NCAA champion Kevin Cordes.
Just a sophomore, Cordes transitioned from a promising breaststroker to American record holder in just nine months. His trajectory started last December at the Texas Invitational, where he swam a 51.76 in the prelims of the 100-yard breaststroke, slashing nearly two seconds off his lifetime best, which he did earlier in the year as a high school senior.
Just four months later at the NCAA championships, Cordes wrapped up his debut college season like very few freshman have in history. He broke Mike Alexandrov's American record in the 100 breast with a 51.36 in prelims, then won his first individual title with a 51.71. Earlier in the session, he helped Arizona to an American record in the 200 medley relay with a 23.25 split.
Such a dramatic drop is not unheralded, but is certainly jaw-dropping. And months after that NCAA meet, Cordes still isn't sure how he was able to burst onto the scene in such a fashion.
“My goals were to swim as fast as I could and see what happens,” he told Swimming World, “and luckily all those things happened. I don't really know how I did it. I think it was just being in the team atmosphere, training with all these great breaststrokers.”
Cordes was recruited to swim at Arizona by Frank Busch, who subsequently left to take the national team director job for USA Swimming. Cordes said any doubts about head coach Eric Hansen were quickly erased when the team assembled last year.
“Once I got here, everything worked out fine,” he said.
After the NCAAs, Cordes was immediately placed near the top of the list of potential swimmers to make the Olympic team in the breaststroke events. The Illinois native took the expectations in stride.
“I mostly just had pressure on myself,” he said, before correcting himself. “I guess it's not pressure, but I wanted to drop time.”
Dropping another chunk of time in the long course pool put Cordes in the final of the 100 breaststroke at the Olympic Trials. He finished third in the 100 with a 1:00.51, and used the experience of just missing the team to fuel his motivation at the U.S. Open earlier this month. Once again, the time drops kept coming, as he broke the national age group record in the 200 breast with a 2:11.88 and swam a 1:00.47 in the 100 distance.
“I think at U.S. Open, I got really motivated from the experience getting third and watching the Olympics,” Cordes said. “I wasn't out to prove anything, just swim faster.”
That's his motto as the Wildcats prep for the 2012-2013 season. In addition to the NCAA championships, Cordes is already looking ahead to next summer's World University Games in Russia, his first international swimming experience. While there will be expectations placed on him in the coming months, Cordes is only concerned with the times he sees on the scoreboard.
“I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and not fix anything,” he said of his training plan for the next year. “I've been dropping time, so it seems to be working.”
Send feature story ideas to Jeff Commings at firstname.lastname@example.org.