PHOENIX, Arizona, March 30. TOM Shields, the NCAA Division I Swimmer of the Year, joins today's edition of The Morning Swim Show shortly after helping the California Golden Bears repeat as team champions.
Shields, regarded by many as one of the best underwater swimmers in the country, talks with Peter Busch about his status among the elite underwater experts, and how he's been able to work on that aspect of swimming since he was very young. He also looks back on the highlights from NCAAs, including his impressive swims on day two and how the underclassmen were able to contribute heavily to the win. He also details his thoughts on long course swimming and what lies ahead for him this summer in terms of competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.
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Peter Busch: This is The Morning Swim Show for Friday, April 30th, 2012. I'm your host Peter Busch. In the FINIS Monitor today we're talking to the men's NCAA Swimmer of the Year. He's Tom Shields and he joins us right now in the FINIS Monitor from Berkeley, California. Tom, welcome back to the show. How are you doing?
Tom Shields: Good, how are you?
Peter Busch: Good. Oh, so, hoarse from the meet?
Tom Shields: Yeah, just a little bit too much cheering still.
Peter Busch: Tell me what it feels like to split 43.5 in the fly.
Tom Shields: It's just — it felt, you know, it felt like a 100 fly. Giles is out there. I knew that, you know. Now, we had won the 200 free relay that night that Marcin had won the 200 IM, and we were walking out and I was like, you know what, guys, like if these guys can do that, like, we can pull together and like this race is our and, like, that was just my thought knowing that I just wanted to carry the team's momentum into the water and just show who we were and I think that worked out well.
Peter Busch: Did it feel like you found an extra gear or did you not realize you were going that fast?
Tom Shields: A little bit of both, I guess. I think my underwater is finally coming together especially on the first 50 from where — from what I wanted them especially on that relay. You know, I can carry a lot more momentum in the water. I have trouble going from a flat start and going off, like, really fast. So the relay start aspect of it really helped me there. And just I've been working on just keeping my rate crazy high and I think of that, that — I kinda knew that was working but I still thought I was, like, 44 mid to low, not anything crazy like that.
Peter Busch: Okay, did you say you're finally getting your underwaters to where you want them? Because that is a scary thought to everybody in college swimming who's seen you for the past few years.
Tom Shields: I mean — but, I mean, if you take an honest look, especially in my 100 back in 2011, my first two walls, you know, they're really nothing especial, like, Eric destroys me and, like — and so this year I really wanted to focus on, you know, the first part of that race. I know the 75 wall is gonna be there but that 25 and 50 wall, I really wanted to work on amping those up and I think that is what's been going better.
Peter Busch: Okay, now, you do make a point there because you seem to get the most separation on the last wall. You certainly did that on the 100 backstroke this year. It was pretty close until that final 15 meters when you kicked out and were about a half a body length ahead. But do you actually go faster or is it just, you know, that's where you get the separation from everybody else?
Tom Shields: Yeah, I just tried to stay hard on every wall, same amount of hard on every wall and that just to being the one that I'm able to be good at. And so the way that I've thought about it up until now is that I don't feel like I'm really fast at underwaters. I just feel like I'm really good at the third and the fourth and the fifth and that's where it's coming from. And, now, this year I wanted it and I think that I've succeeded in moving towards more of being faster underwater. And I'm happy with that. I mean, that's the goal that I set and it's huge and it was fun to do.
Peter Busch: Can you explain what kind of training goes into that? I think a lot of people were just saying this guy is naturally talented underwater. But because you're able to do it on every wall including towards the end of the race when other guys are starting to come up sooner, I mean, there's gotta be some sort of intense training that allows you to do that.
Tom Shields: Yeah, I think there's a give and take, like, I can't sit here and be, like, oh, it's like, well, I can't describe natural ability, I don't have that — but I can explain what's happening in my life and I think it's more than natural ability, it's just like time spent — like it's water, we're land animals. We're meant to walk around and be able to move sideways, and in swimming it doesn't exist. It's just that direction. And I have spent my whole life, you know, more or less doing that. I surfed a lot, but more than that I like body surfed and, you know, at the end of the wave or at the end of trying to catch a wave if you're not in it. You're body surfing, you can just, you know, like, kick forward, like, throw your arms forward and do a couple dolphin kicks and I've been doing that since I was four. And I just feel, like, just knowing and understanding the movement is the most important thing and just like watching video, watching video of yourself, watching video of myself rather, change this, change that, give my lower back more flexible strength and then my abs just get more general body awareness, you know, like, learn to do a hand stand, stuff like that, like, I just think it's just all together. I mean, as far as training actual underwaters, you'd have to ask Dave coz that's — I just do what he says. I do — there's a couple drills that we work on and, you know, some crazy stuff that we do, but I don't know how that works so — that's not my department, sorry.
Peter Busch: So the way you just described it, it's learning to have a good dolphin kick. It's kind of been a lifelong process?
Tom Shields: Yeah, and I think it extends beyond just, like, oh, just, you know, be a surf bum when you're a kid. No, it's, like, it's we do — I've been doing the same warm-up coz, you know, Durden has experience at Nova,and I grew up swimming at Nova and then Mission Viejo happens to do the same warm up. So I've done almost the same warm up every day of my life. So, you know, 400 FLOP, four 100s, and four 50s. And I know it doesn't sound like any novel –
Peter Busch: Say that again. Say what the warm up is?
Tom Shields: It's just 400 FLOP, four 100s on 1:30 and four 50s, you know, 4-4-4. I think it's, like, the most universal. Any coach I've ever worked with has known it to me. And it's crazy, like, in that 400 FLOP, I'll do open turns and pressure off and go to 15 easy and slow. And I just think — and that's — I think that's the secret right there, so I just do in warm up. And, you know, just get comfortable with, like, getting comfortable going into workout. Like, okay, I'll go to 15 off every wall really easily 16 times. I can probably do it a couple times in the set and just keep going up from there and just if you do it every day in warm up, like, you know I can be comfortable doing a workout and that's just the way it's always been. And I know it's not novel. It's not a secret. It's not, oh, do this little thing differently. It's just, I mean, everyone's got a different body, everyone's got different lengths from their feet to their knees and their knees to their hips, from their hips to the shoulders, and the shoulders to the head. So I can't be — like, I would do it like me just not everyone has — but I feel and I think that if every person just didn't warm up, I feel like America's or everyone's underwaters which should be better coz it's, like, it's just a comfort thing. It has to be.
Peter Busch: Do you think there's anyone in the world that has as good underwaters as you?
Tom Shields: Oh, yeah. I think, you know, the 100 back, at the end of the day is a good test to that. And there's six guys ahead of me, so easily those guys, definitely Lochte, that guy.
Peter Busch: Do you think Lochte is better underwaters than you?
Tom Shields: Well, yeah, you saw him — there's that video of him throwing down that 25 — I mean, I've never done that. I mean, it will be fun to race him, but –
Peter Busch: That's what I'm talking about. I'm talking a Swimming World TV, made for Swimming World TV event here. I think that could be fun, just a 50 meter underwater.
Tom Shields: Let's wait a year. Yeah, I'm down.
Peter Busch: I think Lochte would agree with that.
Tom Shields: Yeah. No, and I think — no, that Texas guy who threw down that 50, I mean, he was suited or whatever, but still that's really fast time, too. And I think there's a lot of great underwater athletes out there. I definitely would love to be considered, you know, one of the best. I really think it would be hard to pin that because, you know, there's some — like, underwater swimming, there's differences, like if you're going 15 meters underwater, like, you know, your 200 backstroke world record holder is gonna be pretty good at that one. But if you going to 15, it's like, well, like Nathan beats me to 15 every time underwater. So, I guess, just there's different types of underwater swimming as far as swimming, so there's not just gonna be one fast underwater swimmer coz there's so many different aspects to underwater swimming as there is to swimming.
Peter Busch: We talked to Giles Smith earlier in the week here on the Morning Swim Show, and I said, look, you're great underwater, too, you are a great college swimmer already, but a lot of people will say you're not gonna be an Olympian with that stroke and with just great underwaters. And I asked him if he was okay with that and he said absolutely not. Same question would obviously apply to you.
Tom Shields: Well, first of all, I think Giles is a fantastic long course swimmer. I mean, he beat me, last summer I think he went 52.5, 52.4, I watched him swim that nationals while I was getting ready to go to WUGs and it was a great, great, fantastic 100 fly so I think, like, you know, his shots are just as good as anybody else's. And then with me, and I the same — you know, same thing as Giles is, like, we do tend to be a short course guys and Durden keeps telling me or Coach Durden keeps telling me a fast swimmer is a fast swimmer, you know, and this isn't — regardless of what pool you put them in. And, you know, I'm trying to buy that and long course has always been a bummer for me and I don't think it's because it's long course. I just think it's the season, you know, it's the summer. And —
Peter Busch: You'd rather be surfing?
Tom Shields: Yeah, I just don't swim in the summer, and I think that's the main problem, like, I like racing and I like swimming fine and it's — like, long course is cool and it's just never been my thing and I'm trying to make it my thing this time around. But we'll see, you know. I can't say, oh, this is gonna happen, or this is gonna happen to Giles or this is gonna happen to this guy. No one knows. I mean, if there's anything this NCAAs shows is that, like, I could guess anything I want but I can't tell you what's gonna happen.
Peter Busch: Hey, even if not, it's not a bad life travelling around the world making good money going to world cup meets. Just ask Peter Marshall.
Tom Shields: There is — yeah, Randall Bal did that, and Marshall did that and that's definitely the plan. So, we'll see what happens.
Peter Busch: I can't believe you let a freshman beat you in the 200 fly.
Tom Shields: I was not. There was no letting happening there. I close as far as I could. He is — I was talking to one of my teammates last night about it. He is just one of the fastest swimmers, so fast, and you just asked that fire about him and he's so fun to train with. He went, dude, and he went on that one 25. Well, I haven't been able to see the video yet, but that's what I heard and I hadn't seen him until 150. Well, and I did everything I could, but that dude can swim and that dude can get into his walls and I think that's where I heard I was beat. So, you know, he earned it and he's a fantastic guy.
Peter Busch: It was pretty impressive. We're talking about Will Hamilton, your teammate obviously, and I was there watching it on deck and, you know, he's got amazing underwaters, too, and the kid can just go. You are absolutely right. There was amazing performances by your freshman class.
Tom Shields: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. I mean, it's just — I love the tenacity from the whole class and I think, you know, and it's not, oh, the freshman led us, and did this, or the coaches did this, so it's, like, it was really — and it was a few individuals, you know, igniting the fire and they happen to be young, you know, on the first night and that was awesome and it was formulated by this, you know, this excellent senior class that we had at the meet and I was — you know, we were sitting back. I forget who I was talking to on the last night of NC's but we were looking at the seniors and this is the — these were all recruited by Dave, but when he started the season at Maryland or pretty much and then came over here a couple weeks into the season, and this is the class he recruited, and we just looked at how the — and this class came together with, you know, Robby as a transfer who pretty much, like, emailed the coach and said, hey, I got in, you know, can I come. And, like, Mathias came in, you know, and Martin, who came in from Europe, and Nolan, who just was rock solid throughout his whole career and he, you know, he came in late in the spring. And to see this, like, a collective group of guys who had such a weird journey to get here but also, at the end of the — you know, at the end of the four years here, just rocked it and rocked the leadership and it was really cool to see that happen and their togetherness is what, like stemmed and what caused, you know, the freshman's fire and they just went nuts and it was really fun to be a part of.
Peter Busch: I talked to Coach Durden after the meet about this and he said you've learned to manage this meet better. What does that mean?
Tom Shields: Well, okay, I'm on the 800 free relay so that means it's minus one, so I'm 13 swims in three days. I don't have — like, I don't — no one swims in the morning for me on relays that I'm on. I try to do everything that I can. And that weighs me down as it would anybody. And I just think managing it and managing — finals start at seven or eight or whatever it is, you know, we're getting out of there, like, 11:30, you know, especially post interviews, post drug testing, and all that, you know, and we're trying to come back and swim day, you know, session five the next morning or session three the next morning. And that's just difficult, so just like trying to relax. My freshman year I slept through three hours of the after the night of the 100 fly just coz I was so stoked and slept probably four in 2011. And this year I got a solid, like, six or seven. I mean, that's just, you know, continuing to get more rest, more sleep, more recovery. Last year also, I focused on NCAAs from day one until NCAAs. And I was just — it was so hyped in my mind and I just freaked out. And, this year, I didn't like my best job of not thinking about it until I was on the blocks really. I just do better when I just, you know, turn my mind off and race, and I think knowing that just helps me just, you know, prepare for the meet better. And then when I get to the meet I'll also do better till I just — I'm not as over hyper thinking about it.
Peter Busch: Well, Tom, of all the races that you swam, honestly, the one that will stand out to me is that 200 free on the 800 freestyle relay because that showed your toughness. I was really impressed by that because that is a long day, it was your fourth event of the night, and I know by then a lot of the guys are not exactly giving 100 percent on the relay, but, you know, you –
Tom Shields: Tried to.
Peter Busch: You guys almost won because of a 1:33 lead off from you on your fourth swim of the night. That was tough.
Tom Shields: I would say we almost won because of the other three guys but –
Peter Busch: Well, everybody, but, you know, they could have been sunk if you had treated that, you know, at 80 percent.
Tom Shields: I mean, that's true from all of us, though. That is a hundred percent commitment required of — I was talking to Will a couple months before actually and I was trying to get him somewhat prepared, you know. Nothing is gonna prepare you for that 800 free relay at night, you know, if anyone's done it before, it's just a whole different sport and that's what I kept telling Will, is that it's not swimming, like, don't worry about what time you go. It's just — you know, you're gonna swim at 9:45 at night, like, two hours after your, you know, finals of that 200 free. You're gonna have some dinner and you're gonna be dry and warm up again. It's like a whole third session for the day. It's just a whole different monster, a whole different sport. And I think, you know, we attacked with it and we respected it way and I think that's why it turned out in our favor, to be honest, like getting second. And that relay made it possible so that we won one less relay this year, but we outscored our relay performances from last year because of the 800 free relay. And that, I mean, that's just doing business. That's — I think that was probably thematically the difference between this year's team and last year's team. You know, we won less but we did better. And that — you know, that's only possible at NCAAs but, you know, we made it work.
Peter Busch: Tom, I know that eventually soon you got to start focusing on trials. But you're a work hard, play hard guy. What's something you're doing or have done to celebrate that you can share on Swimming World TV.
Tom Shields: Oh, yeah, no, of course. I — the Saturday before we left for NCAAs, I got in the mail a 43 wetsuit that I had ordered, a pretty thick wetsuit so I can surf up here. And Rusty — ordered a custom board from Rusty that got here, too. So I bought that and then I couldn't surf it coz we're going to NC's. So throughout all NC's, I just use that as, like, my motivation to get through. And so I've been surfing that board a lot and it's been really fun. And it's — that's what I've been doing, and me and some teammates are actually heading down to Santa Cruz today and then we're hitting the pool tomorrow and getting back to work. So, just a lot of good relaxing time with teammates and friends, to be honest.
Peter Busch: Well, enjoy it, Tom. Thanks a lot and congratulations on an amazing junior year.
Tom Shields: Thank you.
Peter Busch: All right, that's Tom Shields joining us in the FINIS monitor from Berkley and that is it for today's show. I'm Peter Busch reminding you to keep down at the finish.
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