Dean Farris Overshadows Record Start to NCAA Championships With Stunning 1:29.15 (VIDEO)

dean farris
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The fans on hand were waiting for Texas. Understandably, the crowd on hand for night one of the men’s NCAA championships at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center tinted burned orange — and even with just one race on the program, fans were rowdy with anticipation of something special.

In heat three, that is.

By the time anyone looked up at heat two, Dean Farris had a two-body-length lead. Displaying superior power and kick speed, he flipped in 42.89—two tenths under American-record pace.

No way could this be happening. No way Farris was going to break Townley Haas’ American record, that otherworldly 1:29.50 from last year’s NCAA championships.

But less than a minute later, Farris almost swam a 1:28.

He touched the wall in a stunning 1:29.15. There could be only be one response to that, and announcer Sam Kendricks provided it: “Boom shaka-laka!”

Immediately came the gut reactions: First, would that record even survive the next heat? Haas would be on the Texas relay, and Andrew Seliskar (Cal) and Zach Apple (Indiana) would both have opportunities as well.

Then, wait, that was the last 200 free of the meet for Farris? He was one and done with the 200 free. He entered in the 50 free, 100 back and 100 free for his individual events. He would not be racing the 200 free with the NCAA title on the line.

“At last year’s NCAAs, I watched the 100 back, and I really wanted to do it. That’s kind of been a yearlong thing. I’ve been really excited about doing the 100 back and not having the 200 free before it,” Farris said. “I just think I can go fast in it and have fun doing it.”


800 free relay NCAA champion Texas — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

But before any talk of the individual event, there was a relay epic to come. Texas moved Haas to the anchor leg, but Seliskar and Apple would get their cracks at the new record. Seliskar flipped first at the 50 in 20.49, quicker than Farris’ first 50 split of 20.56. Apple was first at the 100 in 42.94, just five hundredths slower than Farris. But by the 150, it became clear neither was getting down to a 1:29.15, and Farris’ new American and NCAA record would survive the day.

Seliskar ended up hitting the wall in 1:30.14, followed closely by Apple in 1:30.34. Both crushed their previous lifetime bests and moved to fourth and fifth all-time in the event, respectively, trailing only Farris, Haas and Blake Pieroni (1:29.63). But somehow, low-1:30s didn’t seem all that crazy, not compared to a 1:29.15.

Indiana’s Vini Lanza took over the lead on the second leg, only for Cal’s Trenton Julian to jump back in front on the third. And then, Haas took over, with no regard for human pace.

His first 50 split was 20.01, taking over the lead for the Longhorns. Haas swam his first 100 in 42.39, but he couldn’t quite maintain that pace, finishing in a mere 1:29.66 that ranks as the fastest-ever split from a relay start. But that was enough for the Longhorns to pull away and win in 6:05.08, the fastest 800 free relay ever by more than a second.


Three years ago, at the 2016 NCAA championships, the 800 free relay made its first appearance on Wednesday evening, as opposed to its traditional spot late Friday night. Instead of coaches strategically sitting out their swimmers to rest, the relay became an all-hands-on-deck, go-for-broke experience.


Townley Haas as a Texas freshman in 2016 — Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold / Aringo Photos

That first night of the 2016 meet, Haas split 1:30.52 as he led Texas what was then the fastest time in history by almost two seconds. His first 100 split was a then-unimaginable 43.36. That single swim changed the short course 200 free for good. Haas turned the race into a true sprint, with no more holding back.

Among those who noticed? Farris.

“I remember 2016. I was a senior in high school, and I watched Townley go a 1:30.5,” Farris said. “I was a 1:36 at the time. I was like, ‘I need to start taking it out.’ He definitely inspired me to take it out harder.”

Look what’s happened since then: Back in 2016, only three swimmers led off or split under 1:32 on the 800 free relay: Haas, Texas’ Jack Conger, NC State’s Soeren Dahl and Florida’s Mark Szaranek.

In 2019: 14.

Immediately after Farris touched the wall, Coleman Stewart dove in for NC State, and using his signature underwater dolphin kicks that have made him one of the country’s best 100 backstrokers, split 1:30.61. That’s less than a tenth slower than the revolutionary 2016 Haas split. No one batted an eye. In heat three alone, nine more swimmers split in the 1:31-range, led by Louisville’s Zach Harting at 1:31.14.

Even after Haas split 1:29.66, it’s clear that he and his main competition in the individual 200 free, Seliskar and Apple, have some significant work to do to get down to the new record. On this night, Texas swam the fastest 800 free relay ever, and that storyline was secondary. Farris single-handedly stole the show and made swim fans across the country gawk at his legend.

For two days at least, he’s the fastest in history. But the story of the 200 free for this meet is still not finished, and Haas will have his eyes on that 1:29.15. He called Farris’ race “awesome” but hinted at his own expectations for what is to come.

“Last year, Blake did the same thing. I’m excited for Friday,” Haas said. He then admitted that he would love for Farris to be in the race, but he added, “I don’t know that I need him to be in it.”

Meanwhile, Farris will be happy to watch while he prepares to battle Stewart for the NCAA title in the 100 back.

“I’m happy to get out of that event,” Farris said. “That was my one swim. They can go for it on Friday. I’m sure they’re going to be close. I’m just ready to do 100 back. I love that race. I’ve loved it since high school. They can take it this year. They can go get it.”

Video Interview with Dean Farris:

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Jim Densmore
5 years ago

Unbelievable. I have to say, going out in 20.5 I would have thought he couldn’t hang on. Last 50 sure looked painful. Way to fight through that pain to an otherworldly swim. Wow.

Pat Kennedy
5 years ago

Absolutely awesome!!

Thomas A. Small
5 years ago


Beth O'Connor Baker
5 years ago

Wow! And we thought watching Caleb’s swim last year would be the best thing ever; this too was simply stunning to witness.

Dietrich Hinesman
5 years ago

SHEESH Matt Kittle

Matt Kittle
5 years ago

Dietrich Hinesman this stuff is insane… would love to see that live in that environment

Dietrich Hinesman
5 years ago

Matt Kittle seriously. Next time it’s in cbus let’s get tix for a night. 1:29.1 is absurd man. Not even swimming it as an individual and he broke NCAA record

Andy Cinoman
Andy Cinoman
5 years ago

Amazing – his tempo was excellent for the entire race. Whew!!

Scott O'Connor
5 years ago


Joseph Chiarella
5 years ago


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