Claire Curzan Honored As 2021-2022 Swimming World High School Swimmer of the Year

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Claire Curzan Honored As 2021-2022 Swimming World High School Swimmer of the Year

Having already swum on the grandest stage of her sport, the Olympics, and earning a silver medal, Claire Curzan returned for one more year of high school swimming and put together one of the finest prep seasons ever, setting American and national high school records, enjoying the camaraderie with her Cardinal Gibbons High School teammates and being named Swimming World’s Female High School Swimmer of the Year.

Within a few magical months, Claire Curzan made the jump from up-and-coming teenage record setter to legitimate Olympic hopeful to Olympian. In the spring of 2021, every time Curzan hit the water meant a shot at a personal best or a record, and in June, she finished second in the 100 meter butterfly at the U.S. Olympic Trials. While Curzan just missed qualifying for an individual final in Tokyo, she did win an Olympic silver medal as a relay alternate.

Swimming World August 2022 - Claire Curzan: Female High School Swimmer of the YearAnd then, just months after returning home to North Carolina from her first Olympics, Curzan returned to high school swimming. She had never considered skipping her senior season of competing for Cardinal Gibbons High School, even after her dream of swimming on the highest level crystalized. Even after her resounding breakthrough over the previous year, Curzan knew the experience of one final round of high school swimming would be too special to miss.

“I don’t know if I can put it into words. It sounds cliché. It really was a full-circle moment for me,” Curzan said. “It was great just to have competed at that big stage and now be able to enjoy swimming and be with my friends and just really soak it all in. I think I was able to appreciate it more after the whole Olympic experience, and I’m super grateful for that because I would hate to have taken it for granted.”

The four-month high school season began with a rare appearance in short course meters as Curzan and Cardinal Gibbons traveled to Chattanooga, Tenn., for a dual meet against Baylor. With so few SCM high school meets taking place, Curzan took advantage of the opportunity to lower three national records in the 100 fly, 50 free and 100 back, and she just missed a fourth record in the 100 free. The meet also gave her some racing practice in the format before she headed to the Short Course World Championships in Abu Dhabi, where Curzan won bronze medals in the 50 and 100 fly, both in world-junior-record time, plus four relay medals.

Back in the more familiar yards format, Curzan broke the national high school record in the 100 back at her final regional meet, and one week later, she swam her final high school state meet. With important international goals on the horizon, Curzan only tapered for a few days, but that was enough to produce one of the finest performances in high school swimming in decades.

On Feb. 10, Curzan not only crushed Torri Huske’s national high school record in the 100 fly, but she also lowered Erika Brown’s American record. Curzan’s time of 49.24 in the event made her at the time the second-fastest performer in history.

“It was incredible,” Curzan said. “Seeing the stands after I touched and looking over to the coaches and swimmers’ area and seeing them go crazy, it was very special. I was blown away by that race and so happy it went the way that it did.”

Not long after, Curzan anchored Gibbons’ 200 free relay in 21.40 to help her team win the event, and then she became the first high school swimmer ever under 50 in the 100 back. Her mark of 49.61 made her the third-fastest performer ever (now fifth) as she crushed her less-than-week-old record by 8-tenths.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Curzan’s final high school race? An epic relay comeback. She swam the final leg of Gibbons’ 400 free relay, and she entered the water in fourth place, more than five seconds off the lead and 3.5 seconds behind second place. Curzan proceeded to split 46.76, which would have ranked among the top splits at the NCAA Championships, let alone at a high school meet. She reeled in her competition to help Gibbons take the win by 18-hundredths—an emotional, gratifying ending to a perfect coda of this high school swimming chapter.

“I think the last state meet definitely kind of hit it home for me,” Curzan said. “Really sad because it was my last one ever, and I didn’t want it to sink in. But I couldn’t be happier with the way that it ended. The final relay was the most memorable with me chasing down the other team, and being able to get us No. 1 on the podium was super fun.”

A GLOBAL SHOWCASE

Four months later, Curzan returned to major international competition at the World Championships in Budapest, but this was no one-event-plus-medley-relay experience like the Olympics. Instead, Curzan qualified to represent the U.S. in four individual events, and when relays were added to the mix, she ended up with 16 swims over the course of the eight-day meet.

And on Day 1, the U.S. coaching staff immediately showed full trust in Curzan by assigning her to the anchor leg for the women’s 400 freestyle relay. “I was honestly a little taken aback when I heard that,” Curzan said. “My coach sat me down, and he was like, ‘I advocated for you to be at the end because I know that you thrive under that competitive spirit. Just go out there and race the people and get your hand on the wall.’”

Curzan thought back to her final high school swim, that relay anchor when she overcame a massive deficit to eek out a state title. She channeled the unique relay energy found in the ready room, which she described as “nerve-wracking because obviously you want to do well for your teammates. You don’t want to let them down at all. But it’s also less pressure because you’re sitting with your best friends and you’re about to go have fun and race. And honestly, the vibe is just so much more chill in the ready room.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Indeed, Curzan split 52.71, more than a half-second quicker than her lifetime best in a flat-start 100 free, and she held onto a bronze medal for the United States. And after that, Curzan was locked into that anchor slot. A last-minute lineup change put her in action on the freestyle leg of the mixed 400 medley relay, and Curzan also anchored the mixed 400 free relay and women’s 400 medley relay at the end of the meet. Both medley relays won gold, and the mixed free relay claimed bronze—and all of Curzan’s splits were between 52.62 and 52.84.

As for her individual events, Curzan qualified for the final in all four, and she captured her first individual medal in the 100 backstroke. Yes, backstroke. In the highly-anticipated 100 back final at the U.S. International Team Trials in late April, Curzan had finished second behind Regan Smith, edging out esteemed backstrokers like Rhyan White and Katharine Berkoff, and Curzan came through in the Worlds final to get on the podium.

Katie Ledecky said to me, ‘Did you ever think you would get your first individual medal in backstroke?’ By no stretch of my imagination would that have ever happened, but I was super happy with that race,” Curzan said.

In the event she calls her “baby,” the 100 fly, Curzan ended up fifth, 3-tenths off the podium. She was admittedly not thrilled with the performance, but she was able to quickly brush it off and return for the 100 back semis later that night. Later on in the meet, she finished eighth in the 100 free and fifth in the 50 fly.

No, the meet was not perfect, but Curzan successfully juggled all those races in three different strokes, and she expects to continue racing all three and take on busy schedules in the future. “I honestly think I function better when I kind of have more events to juggle, more packed of a schedule. I like racing, so I don’t really see it as a burden. I see it as fun because I get to have so many splashes,” Curzan said.

STANFORD-BOUND

Next up for the 18-year-old is a move west to join Olympic and World Championship teammates Smith and Huske at Stanford, where Curzan’s pedigree will instantly place her into the mix for national titles in the sprint events. Greg Meehan, the head coach of the Cardinal, will surely take advantage of Curzan’s speed, versatility and relay skills as he attempts to shape another title-contending roster.

And Curzan is heading to college having finished off her high school years with about as satisfying a run as possible: making the Olympics, a near-perfect final high school state meet and showing she belongs and can be depended upon to perform for the United States on the world stage.

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