Claire Curzan Analyzes First Meet Back Since March; Discusses Challenges of Recruiting in Pandemic

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Claire Curzan chatted with Swimming World about swimming so well this past weekend despite training restrictions.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the United States, many people in the swimming community have wondered when the sport can return to normal. Since March, getting swimmers in the water to practice has been a challenge, posing the question: when can we have swim meets again? What will swim meets look like? How can we assure the safety of our swimmers when they are on deck and in the water?

There is still a long way to go to get swimming back to normal, per se. Summer meets everywhere have been canceled by USA Swimming. But in Raleigh, North Carolina, there were some signs of hope for the future of the sport.

The TAC Titans, one of the gold medal clubs last year, held an intrasquad meet for all its swimmers to see where they are at in their first meet back in nearly four months. 16-year-old Claire Curzan, a member of the National Junior Team, set four new best times over the weekend, and swam faster than the national age group record in all four events.

Not only was it hope that swim meets can return, but hope that swimmers will be able to go best times again.

“It was definitely nice getting back because racing in practice is one thing, but being able to put on a knee skin and get up on the blocks and race people is totally different. It has been really nice to get back,” Curzan told Swimming World.

USA Swimming was not going to be sanctioning any meets in the month of July, meaning that no times from this past weekend’s intrasquad would officially count. That rule has since been lifted starting August 1. With the pressure of performing off, the swimmers were able to really let loose, and see what they had in them as they get racing reps back under them.

After such a successful weekend, the question had to be asked: were there any expectations laid out beforehand for herself?

“I wouldn’t say expectations because I don’t really look for time stamps or setting times but I have seen myself in the few weeks that we’ve been back feeling pretty good in the water and feeling pretty strong,” Curzan said. “I’ve been going faster than I typically go which is always good to know. I wouldn’t say I had any expectations going into this weekend but I was just excited to get back to racing.”

Curzan swam elite level times every time she raced, causing people all over the country to raise their eyebrows at her results.

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Claire Curzan checks her time at the 2019 US Nationals. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

The event that Curzan has been able to make a name for herself so far has been the 100 butterfly. As a 12-year-old in 2017 she broke her first national age group record in that event. As a 15-year-old she made her first Nationals A-Final, where she solidified her first international team trip to the World Juniors in Budapest last summer. But in her first meet back since the Speedo Sectionals in March, she was looking forward to the 100 freestyle the most.

“My freestyle in practice has been feeling really good. I was kind of excited to do the race and see where I was,” she said.

“The 50 free stood out to me the most,” Curzan said about her times this weekend. “Going into the meet with the first race, you never really know what to expect so it’s a gauge where the rest of the meet is going to go. So to be able to go a best time in the 50 free and go the time that I did – it was really exciting.”

As for her 100 fly swim which unofficially put her seventh all-time, all Curzan had to say:

“I was super happy with it. Any drop is always good.”

Claire Curzan had been out of the water for nearly six weeks before TAC Titans was able to get back to the pool to train. With USA Swimming recommended guidelines in place, Curzan has been training just two hours a day at 9 – 11 a.m. as well as three dryland sessions a week since May. She had taken on running during her time out of the water, and was able to swim in backyard pools while strapped to a tether.

During the quarantine, the main focus was stroke maintenance rather than any aerobic work, so when she got back to full training she wouldn’t feel like a fish out of water.

“I definitely think the tether stuff really helped, keeping my feel for the water and making sure my strokes were technically pretty good. Getting back into the full practices transition wasn’t that bad.”

Since being back, one set that has stood out has been a test set of timed 400s, which she loathes every time the topic comes up.

“In the beginning we did these test sets to get back in shape so it is a four-week progression. The first week you do 1×400 for time and the next week 2, all the way up to 4. It’s always a fun anticipation to get up to the 4x400s but after that it’s a big relief.”

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Claire Curzan at the 2019 TYR Pro Swim Series in Richmond. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Curzan is just a month or so away from starting her junior year at Cardinal Gibbons High School in North Carolina. There is still the uncertainty of whether she will attend school entirely online or in the classroom, but with an Olympic year now upcoming (again), Curzan’s course load will be lighter to ease her stress as she trains for a spot on the team headed to Tokyo.

“With the Olympic delay, we were set up with additional time to practice her sophomore year and had it mapped out and then this COVID thing happened,” Claire’s father Mark Curzan said. “They’ve been really understanding at Cardinal Gibbons in Raleigh and taking some pass/fail classes over the summer to lighten the load for junior year.

Bruce (Marchionda) has a master plan in place for her to sleep in, so that’s been a refreshing thing to do which is nice, and she loves her sleep, to have a lighter load junior year, still with AP classes, to have some flexibility. The school has been really accommodating with it to make this cycle to work in her favor.”

But with Curzan entering her junior year, that also welcomes the world of college recruiting. And in a world where she is unable to make official visits to campuses to see them with her own eyes, it can be overwhelming, especially for one of the most sought out recruits in the country.

“Everyone has been super great about it. Everyone has been understanding with scheduling and everything, and they’ve been really good. I don’t know how to describe it,” Curzan said.

She is keeping her options open and hasn’t narrowed down her search to a top five, hoping to study somewhere in the math or science field.

“The calls have been good. I have been able to meet the coaches which has been nice. I think they are going to start some Zoom sessions to meet the team to kind of go in place of the recruiting trips so I’m hoping those come around eventually. Right now everyone has been doing a really good job of making sure I understand the program I’m learning about.”

The last few months have been difficult for all swimmers, and Curzan is no exception. She was ready to make some noise at the Olympic Trials just a few days before her 16th birthday, but when the news came out that the Olympics wouldn’t be happening this year, it was hard to process.

“At first it was hard because you have a goal in mind and a set date, so learning that the date has been pushed back a year has been hard to wrap your mind around at first. But it’s been nice to have the pressure off for a little bit, and just being able to enjoy training again and getting to really experience the process again.”

Getting back to see her friends at practice has been what has kept her calm during this time of so many uncertainties.

“It’s really helped having organized practices because being able to be there with my teammates and feeding off their energy and being able to train with them has really helped drive me.”

With Curzan’s monstrous swims this past weekend, she has entered a lot of people’s minds as a potential spoiler pick to make some noise at next year’s Olympic Trials, and has certainly left college coaches around the country salivating at her versatility in the short course venue.