FLASH! Gretchen Walsh Annihilates 100 Fly NCAA Record, 48-Second Barrier, Clocking 47.42

gretchen walsh
Gretchen Walsh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

FLASH! Gretchen Walsh Annihilates 100 Fly NCAA Record, 48-Second Barrier, Clocking 47.42

One night earlier, Gretchen Walsh had set the 50 freestyle NCAA and American record for the fifth time this season, bringing a record that stood at 20.79 four months ago down to 20.37. After that race, Walsh admitted that after so many incredible accomplishments this season, which includes all-time records in four different events, she has trouble making sense of her own accomplishments and determining what her new goals should look like.

“I can’t say that I want an NCAA record anymore because I already have that,” Walsh said. “It’s also hard to really use people around me, especially in the races that I swim because I can’t see anything. I’m not looking around at all. It’s hard to find the motivation to reach a new level and really be super stoked when that even happens.”

So Walsh had kept things simple: just try to drop time from the ACC Championships to the NCAA Championships, never mind that she had stunned the country with her performances last month in Greensboro, N.C., and Friday night, she pulled off that accomplishment in magical, historic fashion. Walsh broke her own American, NCAA and U.S. Open record in the 100 butterfly, becoming the first swimmer to break 48 seconds in the event.

Walsh broke her own mark of 48.25, a time which had in turn beaten a one-year-old mark that had previously seemed poise to survive for many years. At the 2023 edition of the national meet, former Virginia star Kate Douglass had out-dueled 100-meter fly Olympic gold medalist Maggie Mac Neil by one hundredth. But Walsh made quick work of that mark, only to follow it up with an even more stunning performance Friday evening in the NCAA final.

After a clocking of 48.26 in prelims, just one hundredth off her own record, Walsh swam in lane four in the 100 fly final, and as expected, she jumped on the field right away. She was out in 9.94 at the 25-yard mark and 21.75 at the halfway point, a whopping two-thirds of a second under record pace. From that point on, the previous record was toast. Heck, the 48-second barrier was already gone, too.

By the race’s conclusion, Walsh was two seconds up on the field, and she touched the wall in 47.42, knocking more than eight tenths off the previous record. She had posted a time more than one second quicker than Douglass’ 2023 record-setting speed, a performance that left the crowd inside Gabrielsen Natatorium cheering in astonishment.

“I knew that I was going fast, but I didn’t know how fast,” Walsh said. “I knew that I was actually hitting my walls, so I was happy about that. It definitely hurt, so when I saw the time, I was like, ‘OK, that makes sense why it was so painful.’ I was not aware that I was going a 47.4.”

Meanwhile, the Texas Longhorns also had plenty to cheer about with three swimmers in the A-final occupying the three finishing spots behind Walsh. Emma Sticklen placed second in 49.70 while Olivia Bray took third (50.52) and Kelly Pash was fourth (50.55). That produced 48 points for Texas, moving the Longhorns to within three points of second-place Florida before Texas would take over the second spot later in the evening.

But the story was Walsh and her unprecedented speed. Only three other women, Douglass, Mac Neil and Torri Huske have ever broken 49, and it has been only nine years since Kelsi Dahlia became the first woman ever to break 50 in the 100 fly after the record was stagnant at 50.01 for 13 years. In the 100 back, Katharine Berkoff is the only swimmer ever under 49 after only one swimmer had broken 50 prior to 2017.

It’s not like the current generation of swimmers has left these former records behind, even at one of the fastest NCAA Championships ever. At this meet, only one swimmer aside from Walsh has gone under 50 in each event. But Walsh has reached a level of speed best described by adjectives such as incomprehensible and insane.

Asked for an apt description of her speed, Walsh replied, “I don’t know either. The goal was to break the 48-barrier, and going that far under it was something that I also thought was unheard of. I’m really ecstatic with the time, and I think I executed the race really well and exactly how I wanted to. Everything just came together, and that was the time I put up, and I’m really happy with it.”

Consider that Walsh’s opening 25-yard split in the 100 fly was faster than any other swimmer aside from herself in the 50 free. Her halfway split would have placed 11th in that individual event — a freestyle event, remember, where there was no back-half to complete.

Walsh had sights on achieving even more history later in the evening as she prepared to lead off Virginia’s 400 medley relay. Aiming to break her own NCAA and American mark in the 100 backstroke, Walsh came up just short at 48.26, instead tying the second-fastest mark in history.

“The goal was to go 47 in the 100 fly and 47 in the 100 back, so kind of upset I didn’t do that, but it’s OK because I’m still really pleased with my time in the 100 back,” Walsh said. “That was something I wanted to do coming into the night, but I’m literally not disappointed with how I swam at all.”

Given the times she has achieved this week while Virginia sits atop the team race, no reason for Gretchen Walsh to feel any disappointment whatsoever.

Event 9  Women 100 Yard Butterfly
         NCAA: N 47.42  3/22/2024 Gretchen Walsh, Virginia
         Meet: M 47.42  3/22/2024 Gretchen Walsh, Virginia
     American: A 47.42  3/22/2024 Gretchen Walsh, Virginia
      US Open: O 47.42  3/22/2024 Gretchen Walsh, Virginia
         Pool: P 47.42  3/22/2024 Gretchen Walsh, Virginia
    Name                 Year School            Prelims     Finals Points 
                       === Championship Final ===                        
  1 Walsh, Gretchen        JR Virginia            48.26      47.42N  20  
     r:+0.72  9.94        21.75 (11.81)
          34.29 (12.54)       47.42 (13.13)
  2 Sticklen, Emma         SR Texas               49.73      49.70   17  
    r:+0.65  10.71        23.00 (12.29)
          35.85 (12.85)       49.70 (13.85)
  3 Bray, Olivia           SR Texas               50.33      50.52   16  
    r:+0.69  10.77        23.51 (12.74)
          36.75 (13.24)       50.52 (13.77)
  4 Pash, Kelly            5Y Texas               50.69      50.55   15  
    r:+0.70  10.92        23.64 (12.72)
          36.86 (13.22)       50.55 (13.69)
  5 Lee, Meghan            SR Auburn              50.85      50.72   14  
    r:+0.64  10.94        24.01 (13.07)
          37.12 (13.11)       50.72 (13.60)
  6 Peoples, Olivia        JR Florida             50.85      50.93   13  
    r:+0.62  10.64        23.53 (12.89)
          37.04 (13.51)       50.93 (13.89)
  7 Johnson, Gigi          SO Stanford            51.01      50.99   12  
    r:+0.69  10.77        23.69 (12.92)
          37.05 (13.36)       50.99 (13.94)
  8 Kragh, Mia             JR California          51.07      51.27   11  
    r:+0.71  10.81        23.77 (12.96)
          37.08 (13.31)       51.27 (14.19)
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