Difference Makers: Cameron McEvoy Trying to End Australian Futility in 100 Free

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

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By David Rieder

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Australia’s Michael Wenden won gold in the 100 free. No man from Down Under has returned to the top of the podium in the event since.

That’s not for lack of trying, of course. In 2000, Michael Klim broke the world record in the 100 free with his 48.18 leadoff split on the 400 free relay in Sydney. Australia won relay gold that night, but Klim had to watch days later as Pieter van den Hoogenband threw down a 47.84 in the event’s semifinals. In the final, van den Hoogenband won gold, and Klim ended up fourth.

Four years later in Athens, van den Hoogenband successfully defended his title, and Australia actually won a medal in the event for the first time in two decades as Ian Thorpe snuck in to earn the bronze—which, interestingly, was the last international medal Thorpe would win in his storied career.

In Beijing, Eamon Sullivan had his shot at individual glory, going into the final having broken the world record twice already at the meet. He posted a 47.05 in the semifinal, but when going head-to-head with former world record-holder Alain Bernard in the final, Sullivan came up 0.11 short and had to settle for the silver.

It was almost déjà vu for the Australians in London—James Magnussen entered as the defending World champion with the top time in the world (47.10) and the top qualifying time out of the semifinals. Magnussen held the lead for much of the second lap, but Nathan Adrian had one last burst in him and won gold by one one-hundredth, 47.52 to 47.53.

So it’s been 48 years of futility for Australia, and sure enough, another Aussie will arrive in Rio next month as the odds-on gold medal favorite. That would be Cameron McEvoy, a prelims relay swimmer in London four years ago but now the second-fastest man ever in the event—in March, McEvoy blasted a 47.04 to break Sullivan’s national record of 47.05 from Beijing.

But McEvoy’s improvement has not come via a bunch of incremental time drops. In fact, he has been remarkably consistent over the past three years—he was fourth in the 100 free at the 2013 World Championships in 47.88, won Pan Pacs a year later in 47.82, and then picked up the silver medal at the 2015 Worlds with a time of 47.95.

He’s always been excellent off the start. In each of his two World Championship finals, McEvoy has gotten off in 0.61. In comparison, the majority of top-level 100 freestylers have reaction times between 0.67 and 0.69. It makes a difference—remember that margin by which Magnussen lost the 100 free final in 2012?

When McEvoy swam his 47.04 in April, his reaction time was an identical 0.61. So what changed? He figured out how to finish.

From 2013 to 2015, McEvoy typically went out between 22.6 and 22.8—rarely first to the wall when racing guys like more top-end speed like Vladimir Morozov. On the back end, he tended to be split in the high-24/low-25 range—when he swam his best pre-2016 time at Pan Pacs, he came home in 24.98.

In his stunning effort in April, McEvoy split 22.54 at the 50—fast, yeah, but not a crazy improvement compared to his previous efforts.

But then he came back in 24.50. For some perspective, the best homecoming split in last summer’s World Championships final was Alexander Sukhorukov’s 25.06.

It’s not the fastest split ever—that belongs to Michael Phelps and his 24.20 back half split from a relay leadoff at the Beijing Olympics. In textile suits, Magnussen and James Roberts both were in the 24.4-range coming home at Australia’s Trials in 2012. But in Cielo’s world record swim, he finished in 24.74, and Sullivan’s best ever back half was 24.61. This is without a doubt rare territory.

If McEvoy can replicate that type of back half speed in Rio, he’s almost certain to win gold. The next-best time in the world this year belongs to Adrian and his 47.72 from U.S. Trials.

Adrian is known for strong finishes—he typically stops breathing with 10 meters to go and switches to a straight-arm stroke for the finish. That was what got him by Magnussen in the Olympic final four years ago just when it looked like the race was put away.

But even in that final, Adrian came home in 24.88. At Trials this year, he was back in 25.02.

Nobody else can come close to replicating the kind of speed that McEvoy can summon on the way home.

When McEvoy steps up for the 100 free Olympic final three weeks from now in Rio, he will have more pressure on him than ever before. In the same situation, both Sullivan and Magnussen fell short.

I’m not going to share the official Swimming World prediction for the event—that comes out later this week—but nobody in the field has the tools that McEvoy does. He ranks second in the world in the 50 free at 21.44 and sixth in the 200 free at 1:45.63. Nobody else ranks in the top-20 in both events.

Then there’s the fact that nobody else in the field can put up a time anywhere close to 47.04. If McEvoy swims to his capabilities, he will be the Olympic gold medalist.

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marklewis
6 years ago

If you watch the video of McEvoy closing with the 24.50 on the 2nd 50, you’ll see how special that was.

He swims with a consistent cadence the entire 100.

The Olympic final will be different – the turbulence produced from all the fastest swimmers will be huge, especially coming off the turn.