As Opportunities Arise, Can Shaine Casas Take His Talents to the Next Level?

Shaine Casas -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Can Shaine Casas Take His Talents to the Next Level?

Those who follow elite swimming in the United States have been gushing for years over Shaine Casas and his abilities in the pool. The hype is well-deserved, considering the remarkable times he has posted across three different strokes plus the 200 individual medley, both in short course and long course.

But so far, the medal collection is lacking. At long course international competitions, Casas has just one, a bronze from the 200 backstroke at the 2022 World Championships. Casas does have 10 medals from the Short Course World Championships, but seven of those are from relay events. The sense remains that Casas is capable of so much more — and the scoreboard provides evidence.

For most of his second and third collegiate swimming seasons at Texas A&M, Casas was the top swimmer in the country, and he was named NCAA Swimmer of the Meet in 2021 after winning three individual titles and scaring American records in all his races. But three months later, Casas was crushed when he narrowly missed a spot on the Olympic team. He finished third in the 100 back despite a strong time before a disappointing sixth-place result in the 200 back.

After that, big changes were in order: Casas departed Texas A&M and college swimming altogether to join the pro group at the University of Texas. A short course world title in the 100 back in December 2021 showed significant progress, and as the spring 2022 season progressed, the McAllen, Texas, native looked like a threat to qualify for the World Championships team in four individual events plus possibly some freestyle relays.

By all accounts, Casas swam well at the U.S. International Team Trials, the first-ever qualifying meet from which he walked away with a spot on a major team. He took second in the 200 back behind eventual world champion Ryan Murphy, and his 50 back time of 24.00 beat the existing American record, although he had to settle for third behind historic efforts from Hunter Armstrong and Justin Ress. It was a similar story in the 100 back: fourth, not because of a poor swim on his part but really good swimming from Armstrong, Murphy and Ress.

At the World Championships, Casas rebounded from a rough semifinal swim to earn bronze in the 200 back. The medal was a victory, but swimming just one event at a major competition seemed insufficient for someone with such speed across so many races — and in a pair of post-Worlds competitions in July, Casas proved that point.

Shaine Casas of United States of America stands with the silver medal after compete in the 200m Backstroke Men Final during the FINA Swimming Short Course World Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in Melbourne, Australia, December 18th, 2022. Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Shaine Casas after winning silver in the 200 backstroke at the 2022 Short Course World Championships — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Among his results: at a Sectionals meet in Austin, Casas swam a time of 48.23 in the 100 freestyle, which would have been quick enough to qualify for the U.S. men’s 400 free relay at Worlds, and 50.56 in the 100 butterfly. The latter swim made him the third-fastest American in history behind Caeleb Dressel, Michael Phelps and Ian Crocker, and the time would have been fast enough for a silver medal at the World Championships behind Hungary’s Kristof Milak.

Weeks later at U.S. Nationals, Casas was even better in the 100 fly, dropping down to 50.40 to tie Crocker’s all-time best. And perhaps most impressive of all was his 200 IM, where Casas swam a time of 1:55.24, making him the seventh-fastest performer in history and third-fastest American. He was merely two hundredths slower than Leon Marchand’s world-title-winning time of 1:55.24.

So what stopped Casas from earning a relay spot at Worlds or racing against Milak and Marchand in Budapest? His own lineup decisions. Casas did not enter the 100 free at the International Team Trials, and he scratched the 100 fly and 200 IM to prioritize other events. By the end of the summer, however, Casas realized that he made a mistake.

“I learned not to scratch any events at Trials,” he said in late July. “Just stick it out. I was sick, but there’s no excuses, honestly. I shouldn’t have put all my eggs in one basket like that, so I learned from that.”

Now, based on the times he posted in low-consequence meets last July, Casas will be a strong favorite to earn individual spots at Worlds in the 100 fly and 200 IM along with the 200 back. Most recently, Casas raced at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Fort Lauderdale, and after some solid times but nothing special during the initial days of the meet, he ripped off a 50.80 100 fly on the final night, a few tenths off his lifetime best but still faster than the silver-medal-winning time from Worlds last year.

As for relay events, Casas could certainly pursue a Worlds spot in the 400 free relay, and maybe the 800 free relay would be an option as well. In Fort Lauderdale, he ended up tied for third in the 200 free in 1:47.88, and among American swimmers, only Kieran Smith beat that time. Casas got to the wall ahead of Trenton Julian and Drew Kibler, both members of the U.S. relay squad that reclaimed the world title in 2022.

If Casas can produce his best swims or even close to his best swims at the meet of consequence (this year, that means U.S. Nationals in late June), he will be one of the centerpiece swimmers of the American team bound for the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. And the team might need every bit of Casas’ speed and versatility, as a high-end individual medal hope but also for relay purposes.

Remember, the Americans settled for silver in the men’s 400 medley relay in Budapest thanks to a balanced effort from Italy. The margin was less than three tenths with Michael Andrew splitting 50.06 on butterfly. That split was not the problem, but Casas surely would have more in the tank if he has 50.4 flat-start capabilities.

The American men won the 400 free relay world title by one-and-a-half seconds, but that was with Dressel on the squad before he withdrew from the second half of the meet. Dressel has not competed, and his status for the 2023 season is unclear. Another 48-low swimmer in the mix would be hugely beneficial for the American coaching staff this July.

On many occasions over the past three years, the world has seen what Shaine Casas can do. Now, with the American team in need of his skills, let’s see if Casas can deliver under pressure.

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