Flash! Nick Brunelli Breaks American Record for the 50 Free at Masters Meet, Just Misses World Mark

By Phillip Whitten

TEMPE, Arizona, December 11. IN case anyone had any doubts about his performance in last week’s U.S. Open, Nick Brunelli sent a crystal clear message today: It was no fluke!.

This guy is for real!

Brunelli has been improving steadily the past few years, swimming just under the radar of most swimming fans. In July, he finished sixth in the 50 free at the World Championships in Montreal in 22.25, after posting a 22.19 in the semis. Several days later, he notched hiss first major international title with a 22.20 second performance at the USA vs. Australia “Duel in the Pool.”

Still, few expected his breakout performance at the Open, where he first won the 50-meter freestyle in 22.13 seconds, a pr. The time tied him with Benjamin Wildman-Tobriner for the fastest time by an American this year and ranks the two men in a tie for #5 on the world list.

Nick followed the next day with a convincing win in the 100-meter freestyle in 48.98 seconds, another pr, pulling away from world record-holder Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands on the second lap.

Returning to Tempe, he quickly got back into heavy training, both in the water and the weight room. But since the Southwest Zone Masters Short Course Championships were being held at ASU this weekend, he entered the meet.

Yesterday, after a long morning workout, he won the 200-meter (sc) freestyle in 1:47.32, and then posted a 2:00.32 to take the 200 IM.
Today, he swam the 50-meter freestyle – and took his game into the stratosphere. Taking advantage of a strong start and breakout, he powered down the pool, flipped and headed home. When he touched, the scoreboard read “21.18 seconds.” After an initial second or two of stunned silence, the 300 Masters present gave the 6’3” sprinter a prolonged ovation.

For his part, Nick says: “I was a little disoriented at first. I looked at the scoreboard, saw the 21.18, and thought it was a time for 50 yards. Then I realized it was 50 meters and I didn’t know what to think.”

The time missed the short course world record held by France’s (and Auburn’s) Fred Bousquet by a mere 8-hundredths of a second. The third fastest swim in history, it breaks the American record of 21.21, set by Anthony Ervin at the 2000 NCAA Championships in Minneapolis. Six months after that swim, Ervin tied with USA teammate Gary Hall, Jr., for Olympic gold.

It is not clear at this point whether Brunelli will be credited with the record as it is believed the meet was sanctioned only by US Masters Swimming and not USA Swimming. Regardless, he did the time, destroying his pr of 21.77 from the Short Course World Championships 14 months ago.
After the race, Brunelli said: “I thought it was a good swim…good start, breakout, turn and finish. The only thing I wished I’d done better was the breakout after my turn.”

Brunelli later swam another 50 free in a time trial but "only" went 21.38. Anticlimatically, he followed that swim with an "easy" 100 free, his final event of the day, clocking 48.00.