Column by Swimming World senior writer John Lohn
GILLETTE, New Jersey, November 26. ALL the signs were present. He was going to be a star. The clues came as he tore up the California scholastic scene. The hints came as he blazed through the water at the 2010 version of the Junior National Championships. Yes, Vladimir Morozov was a can't-miss prospect, armed with extreme talent.
During his collegiate career at the University of Southern California and through his qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Morozov provided further examples of why he was an emerging name in the sport. But his biggest moments have come in the last week, thanks to a stellar showing at the European Short Course Championships.
Representing Russia, Morozov shined in several individual events, but none more prominently than the 100 freestyle. En route to the gold medal, Morozov clocked a time of 45.68, the fastest mark ever produced in a textile suit. He also garnered victory in the 100 individual medley, proof of his versatility, and secured a silver medal in the 50 freestyle.
“I know that I started quite fast, but I didn't know how fast,” said Morozov, who was under world-record pace at the midway point. “I never expected my final time to be that good.”
Competing in the 100 backstroke at the London Games, Morozov earned a bronze medal for handling a leg of Russia's 400 freestyle relay in the finals. Now, the expectations will grow for Morozov, who obviously is no stranger to being in the spotlight. That's the scenario created by winning a continental title, and producing one of the fastest times in history.
Although Morozov's weekend results took place in the short-course pool, he is no stranger to producing superb performances in the Olympic-sized pool. And with the World Championships scheduled for next summer in Barcelona, it's a guarantee that plenty of eyes will be on Morozov. The question is whether he can close the gap on the likes of Nathan Adrian and James Magnussen, the reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists in the 100 freestyle.
A second subplot to Morozov's career is whether he can emerge as a banner carrier for Russian sprinting. Although there have been several solid sprinters from the former Soviet state, no one has been able to etch himself as an heir to Alexander Popov, the legendary Olympic champion. We're not saying Morozov will match what Popov accomplished. However, Morozov has done enough to — at the very least — be viewed as a major international factor in the years to come.
**The United States Winter National Championships will be held this weekend, and some of the bigger names in the United States are expected to compete. Headlining the competition will be Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte, who combined for 10 Olympic medals over the summer.
While competition in short-course yards is foreign outside of the United States, it's always entertaining to see some of the sport's stars duel in the shortest course. It will be interesting to see some of the times put up at the University of Texas, including some performances which will provide a hint of what is to come from some athletes at the NCAA Championships.
**Much has been made of the spectacular recruiting class of California, and rightfully so. However, University of Georgia coach Jack Bauerle put together a dynamite group of his own. Headed to Athens next year will be Olivia Smoliga, Rachel Zilinskas and Emily Cameron.
Smoliga is coming off a pair of national high school record swims at the Illinois State Championships, where she starred in the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke. Meanwhile, Bauerle dipped into his Pennsylvania roots (he attended La Salle College High School) to land Zilinskas and Cameron, multi-event talents who will give the Bulldogs a number of options.