Editorial coverage sponsored by SpeedoUSA
Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, March 23. FOR three years, Laura Sogar has looked up at the top of the podium of the 200 breaststroke at the women's NCAA Division I swimming and diving championships, seeing three different ladies smile and wave to the crowd triumphantly. In 2010 it was Alia Atkinson. In 2011 it was Haley Spencer. Last year it was Caitlin Leverenz. The Texas Longhorn was never in contention for that top spot, placing 13th in 2010 and sixth in 2011. She slipped to seventh in 2012.
To win the race this year, Sogar had to take down the seemingly indestructible Breeja Larson, who had set the American record of 2:04.48 in November. Larson's confidence in the 200 breast seemed to be growing this season, and it didn't look like anyone could match the Aggie's blistering opening speed.
But Sogar took the race out tonight with Larson, with each splitting 59-plus, an amazing feat when you consider that their splits would have placed in the top 16 of the individual 100, and they still had another 100 yards to swim.
Sogar has been one of the contenders for the title since she dropped a 2:05.04 at the USA Swimming nationals last December, but when she qualified seventh after prelims, I was skeptical. Plus, as Larson said in a video interview last night, conditions haven't been ideal at the IU Natatorium. So it was hard to know if we were going to see the battle we've longed hoped for. But the two didn't disappoint.
Judging by Larson's and Sogar's splits on their final 50s (Sogar: 33.53; Larson: 34.46), it really hurt. Larson has the physical and mental strength of a champion, but the term “mind over matter” seemed to apply more to Sogar, and that means a lot at the end of a 200 breast. Larson knew she had to take the race out fast, and though she paid the price for it at the end, she shouldn't regret her racing strategy.
For Sogar to end her collegiate career with an NCAA title is the stuff that is the foundation for those Cinderella stories/underdog tales you read about often. Yes, Sogar's win would fit in those categories, but it's also a story about telling yourself to shut the negative energy out and just race.
Jeff Commings, the SwimmingWorld.TV associate producer, was so afraid of the 200 breaststroke that lactic acid would form in his muscles before he even stepped on the blocks.