PHOENIX, Arizona, March 31. THE college swimming and diving season is now over in the United States, and the final championship meet provided some major drama in the pool. Elsewhere in the U.S., teenagers were breaking big records to make statements before they step onto college campuses next fall. Those are just some of the storylines that took place over the past week, and we’re going to count down the top five swimming headlines for you on today’s show. Let’s kick things off with our number five headline.
For three days between the women’s and men’s NCAA Division I championships, a special meet was held near Dallas for swimmers that just missed out on qualifying for the championships, or were part of two schools that were in transition into Division I and therefore could not compete in the NCAA championships. Those two schools, Grand Canyon University and University of the Incarnate Word, were part of the first Collegiate Classic hosted by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. Western Kentucky, Rice, BYU, Iona and Rider also participated in the meet, a small size for a collegiate championship, but the organizers are hopeful that as more schools become aware of it, the larger it will get. Some events couldn’t fill one entire heat, and most had fewer than three heats. Think of this meet as the NIT tournament in basketball, giving athletes the opportunity to race one more time after their conference meet.
Our number four headline of the week is a prestigious award given to Missy Franklin last Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur. The Laureus World Sports Awards are considered the highest global honor an athlete can get, and Franklin became the first swimmer to win the World Sportswoman of the Year for her accomplishments at the 2013 world championships. Franklin became the first woman to win six gold medals in one world championships, three of which were in individual events. She was the only aquatic sports athlete to win at the ceremony, though three disabled swimmers were nominated in the World Disabled Athlete of the Year category. Franklin had some stiff competition, including Serena Williams and Tina Maze.
Earlier today the YMCA of Central Florida announced that three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines was named the vice president of aquatics for the 30 pools throughout Orange County, and that’s our number three headline of the week. Gaines was born in central Florida and still lives there, and he said he wants to be a crucial part of beefing up the aquatics presence in the area. As of now, the USA Swimming program is next to nonexistent and many of the pools are hardly used on a year-round basis. Gaines wants to look for a head coach to oversee all programs from the bottom up while he wants to organize the bigger picture. It’s a lofty goal, but Gaines is using the SwimMAC Carolina model that has garnered a lot of success in Charlotte, North Carolina and will have Dave Marsh helping him. For those of you who enjoy Gaines’ on-air commentary, you have no need to worry. He’ll still be doing that all the way to the 2016 Olympics.
Simone Manuel set the American record in the 100-yard freestyle not once but twice on Saturday at the NASA junior championship in Clearwater, Florida to come in at number two on today’s show. In the prelims of the 100 free, Manuel broke Natalie Coughlin’s record of 46.84 by one hundredth with a 46.83. She came back in finals and won easily with a 47.15. Later Manuel led off the 400 free relay for First Colony Swim Team and lowered the record even further with a 46.75. Manuel’s going to be a freshman at Stanford next year, and was already going to be a major contributor before last weekend. She’s going to be a major force at next March’s NCAAs, but we shouldn’t forget about this upcoming long course season. This American record sets up what can be an amazing summer for Manuel that could help the Americans not only in relays but for that individual 100 free against reigning world champion Cate Campbell at the Pan Pacific championships.
We’re now at the number one story of the week, and no surprise that it’s the men’s NCAA championships. The meet provided us with a lot of drama on the way to awarding the University of California-Berkeley Golden Bears their third NCAA championship in four years. Cal and Texas were locked in the team battle from the first event, and it stayed that way until the final session, when Cal won the meet by 51 points. Texas came into the meet expected to place as high as fourth, but was a strong second as the Longhorns nearly gave Eddie Reese an 11th national title banner to hang at the Texas Swimming Center. The major topic of conversation throughout the meet was the large number of relay takeoff disqualifications, 18 in all. At first, many suggested the electronic takeoff judging system on the starting blocks was malfunctioning, though no evidence came to light to support that. I was in the facility and personally witnessed nearly half of the disqualifications. Some were questionable, others were blatant. In the end, many swimmers were taking major risks with the exchanges, and paid the ultimate price. Some schools got multiple DQs, such as Virginia, Arizona and Alabama, and it hurt their chances of placing as high as planned in the team scores. Four US Open records were broken, two of which were also American records by Kevin Cordes in the breaststroke events. Chase Kalisz’s US Open record in the 400 IM was also an American record, while South African Dylan Bosch swam the fastest 200 fly in history, taking down the shared record held by Tom Shields and Michael Phelps. Cal looks strong to win again next year, but as we saw last week, anything can happen.