Column by John Lohn
CRANBURY, New Jersey, March 1. THIS past weekend was filled with additional conference championships at the collegiate level and several state-championship meets at the scholastic level. Given the performances we saw, here are some reflections on the sport heading into what should be a superb month.
**As a 2008 Olympian, Julia Smit has earned her status as one of the United States' premier performers. But, given her range across all four strokes and what she threw down at the Pac-10 Conference Championships, Smit might be positioning herself for a run at international stardom. Yes, there's an understanding that Smit's weekend work was over short-course yards, but her efforts were just that outstanding.
As Stanford won the team title, Smit collected individual titles in the 200 backstroke, along with the 200 and 400 individual medley events. Her swims in the medley disciplines arrived in American-record time, as she clocked respective marks of 1:52.31and 3:58.23, the latter the first time under four minutes by a woman in the event and fast enough to score at the men's ACC and Big 12 Championships.
The beauty of Smit's talent is its wide-ranging nature. While most swimmers have at least one weakness in their arsenal, Smit does not. She's an accomplished freestyler, evident by making the U.S. Olympic Team in 400 and 800 free relay duty. Meanwhile, she's a conference champ in the backstroke and has proven her worth in the breaststroke and butterfly. Heck, at the Pac-10 Champs, she clocked a sub-minute split in the 100 breast on Stanford's 400 medley relay.
What does Smit have prepared for the NCAA Championships at Purdue University in a few weeks? Well, don't be surprised if she's able to ratchet up a three-bagger and walk away with a trifecta of individual championships. Certainly, beating the Stanford senior in either of the medley events will be an overwhelming task. Afterward, look for Smit to enhance her profile internationally. After all, she's headed in that direction.
**The adage goes that records are meant to be broken. Well, in regard to the national high school mark in the 500 freestyle, maybe it's not meant to go down. Since 1983, when future two-time Olympian Jeff Kostoff clocked 4:16.39 for the 20-lap event, that record has withstood a number of assaults. It survived another over the weekend.
At the Indiana High School Championships, Chesterton's Kyle Whitaker was intent on making a run at Kostoff's record. After resetting his high school record in the 200 individual medley, going 1:44.55, Whitaker looked as if he'd have a chance to make it two records in a day. Ultimately, though, Whitaker managed a time of 4:19.79, finishing more than three seconds off the pace.
That Whitaker didn't get the record is hardly a knock on the University of Michigan recruit. Rather, it's a tribute to what Kostoff was able to do nearly three decades ago. Will anyone ever knock Kostoff out of the books? Sure, it's going to happen eventually. Obviously, it's going to take an unbelievably special performance.
**Something to keep an eye on this week will be Stanford's pursuit of a 29th consecutive Pac-10 Conference men's championship. The Cardinal has won every crown since 1982, a stellar stretch. Almost annually, there are rumbles as to whether this season is the one where the streak ends. Again, that chatter has started, with California and Arizona noted as potential streak busters. So, what's your call?
**Some major kudos to Ohio State for a superb showing en route to the Big Ten Conference men's title. The Buckeyes used a quality mixture of top finishes and depth to cruise to an easy victory over two-time defending champion Michigan. It was the first conference title for Ohio State men's swimming program since 1956.
For all of the top college swims from this past weekend, visit the college channel.
Look for full reports on recent high school meets in the coming week at the high school channel.