After NCAA Record, Leon Marchand Has Sights Set on NCAA Team Title

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

After NCAA Record, Leon Marchand Has Sights Set on NCAA Team Title

Leon Marchand is still relatively new to NCAA swimming, but he already knows the drill when it comes to breaking NCAA records. Enough that he can pinpoint the differences in, say, last year’s mark at NCAAs in the 200 individual medley and last month’s record in the 400 IM in Tempe.

The rarity of a dual-meet record, the French Olympian knows, is special. His reaction at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center reflected that emotion.

“It (the 200 IM) was different because I was at NCAAs and I was in front of many people from different schools,” Marchand said Wednesday on a Zoom call. “But this year, it was very fun because we were against the defending champion Cal and we were at home, so my family was in that stands. We packed the house, so that was pretty cool, and my teammates were all on deck, and we are a pretty big team, about 50 swimmers, so it was pretty fun to do it here. I was very surprised by the time.”

It’s hard not to be surprised by the time, a 3:31.84 that was a full second quicker than the time used by Cal’s Hugo Gonzalez to win the event at NCAAs last year. But it’s also becoming increasingly difficult to be surprised by anything that Marchand does in the pool these days. He’s taken to the college format, with its frequent racing and the short-course yards format so foreign to European swimmers, and blossomed.

When Arizona State coach Bob Bowman starts using clauses about Marchand’s mentality being “as good as anybody I’ve ever coached,” it doesn’t take much to start drawing comparisons to former pupils.

“He has what all high performers have, which is the ability to block everything out at the critical moment and focus on the task at hand,” Bowman said. “… He’s very good at that, as good as anybody I’ve ever coached at that, to be honest. He’s also a student of the sport and is always learning how to swim his races better and is very aware of how he swims the races. When he comes out after a race, I don’t have to tell him what he did wrong; he already knows. I can help him figure out how we can correct it that. In general, he’s very aware of what’s going on, and that allows him to make changes quicker.”

Marchand is adapting well to the challenge of college swimming, which is much different than the European calendar. While he’s got big long-term goals – Worlds, Euros, all building to the Olympic Games in his home country in 2024 – he’s finding solace in the smaller steps to get there, one dual meet at a time. Instead of the European club ideal of training for months for a distant meet, gauging his progress at such regular intervals is invigorating.

The team aspect also keeps the training fresh. Marchand admitted he’s a little surprised to have dropped time as quickly as he has, and some of that is the novelty of the short-course pool that forces him to be more precise on turns. But the praise quickly turns to the collective – whether it’s fan support, the 200-stroke standouts in Tempe driving him forward or the goal of team performance at NCAAs to focus his long-term gaze to a solitary point.

“This year, it’s more a team goal but we want to win the NCAAs championships. I mean, who doesn’t?,” he said. “But this year, I feel like we’re in a good spot to do it, and that would be crazy to win with my boys.”

Marchand’s fast January didn’t add clarity to his NCAA program. He holds the top time in the NCAA in seven events this season – both IMs, the 100 and 200 breaststroke, the 100 backstroke, 200 butterfly and the 500 freestyle. He won the 200 IM and 200 breast at NCAAs last year.

Marchand said that he and Bowman haven’t decided on what exactly the program will be. The IMs appear likely, and with teammate Alex Colson ranked second in the 200 fly, his points might not be as needed there.

Bowman will help mediate that decision-making process. He’ll do so with the longer view, of how to get Marchand ready on the path to the Paris Olympics and on how to get the most out of what the veteran sees as a potentially historic run of form.

“Once you’re leading the nation in these times, you’re likely to win any of those at NCAAs, so from team standpoint, it’s sort of, all things are equal,” Bowman said. “But I want to look at, what’s going to make him the best swimmer that he can be in the World Championships this summer and most importantly next summer at the Paris Olympic Games. So I’m looking at the events he might swim at those meets. We’re weighing that against what he can get out of swimming certain events during the college season, because that’s all ties together. And then give him the best chance to do some remarkable times. He’s in a good spot right now. It’s hard to get there, and my experience is it doesn’t last forever, so when you’re there, you want to try to put up some pretty good times. So we’ll try to help him do that and find some spots where he can do something really exceptional.”

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1 year ago

Thank you, Matthew.

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