For Shaine Casas, Short Course Worlds Gold in 100 Back Could Be Only the Beginning

CASAS Shaine USA Gold Medal 100m Backstroke Men Final Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates 17/12/2021 Etihad Arena FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Shaine Casas after capturing the short course world title in the 100 backstroke -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

For Shaine Casas, Short Course Worlds Gold in 100 Back Could Be Only the Beginning

Nine months ago, Shaine Casas looks like a star on the verge of a big-stage breakthrough. He had earned U.S. National titles in long course and three individual wins while representing Texas A&M at the NCAA Championships. Over the course of his college career, as his technique improved, his times dropped rapidly. His potential appeared nearly unlimited, and Casas was not shy about his supreme confidence in his own abilities. Qualifying for the Olympic team seemed like the natural next step in his rapid progression.

But in the always-tough 100 backstroke final in Omaha, Casas fell just short. He was third, less than three tenths behind surprising runnerup Hunter Armstrong. Casas’ time was not bad, a 52.76 that fell just four hundredths off his personal best from two years earlier, but it was surely disappointing for a swimmer who had seemingly improved so much over that span to not deliver in the big moment. Casas had another chance in the 200 back, where he was the third seed entering the meet, but he ended up sixth in 1:57.64, more than two seconds off his best time.

Casas had been the singular swimmer of the college season as he recorded all-time top-10 performances in five different individual events, and he challengedAmerican records in all three of his NCAA-championship events. He even swam what is believed to be the fastest time ever in the 100 IM. His impact vaulted Texas A&M to its first national top-10 finish in years. But as the eyes of the swimming world turned toward Tokyo, Casas was out of the picture.

The aftermath of Trials brought changes: Casas announced in September that he was turning professional and leaving Texas A&M. He planned to train at the University of Texas with coach Eddie Reese. That did not entirely work out as planned — Casas has still been training at A&M under coaches Jay Holmes and Jason Calanog through the fall, and his future training plans are unknown — but the implication was clear: the 21-year-old Casas was fully focused on achieving success on the international level.

CASAS Shaine USA Gold Medal, KOLESNIKOV Kliment RSF Silver Medal, GLINTA Robert ROU Bronze Medal, 100m Backstroke Men Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates 17/12/2021 Etihad Arena FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Kliment Kolesnikov, Shaine Casas and Robert Glinta (left to right) pose on the medal podium after the men’s 100 backstroke final at the Short Course World Championships — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

On Friday in Abu Dhabi, he got his first taste. He earned a spot on the U.S. team for the Short Course World Championships, his first time ever representing the country at a senior-level international meet, and he made the most of it. He qualified fastest for the men’s 100 back final, tying with Russian Olympic silver medalist Kliment Kolesnikov for the top seed.

In the final, he held nothing back, exploding out to a half-bodylength lead right away and leading by three tenths at the 50-meter mark. His underwater dolphin kicks were brilliant off his start and his first two turns, and while he looked tired as he came up short off the last wall, he did not cede any ground. He touched the wall three tenths ahead of Kolesnikov, and he was a world champion.

Make no mistake: this was a measure of redemption. In Casas’ first chance to prove that his skillset could translate to international waters, he could not deliver. This time, he did.

Admittedly, Short Course Worlds does not hold the same weight as a long course championship, and many of the world’s top swimmers are missing. Only two weeks prior, Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Rylov and world-record holder Coleman Stewart both beat Casas’ time from Friday while racing in the ISL final. But beating Kolesnikov is plenty impressive, as the 21-year-old Russian recently won two individual medals in Tokyo and has traditionally been just as successful in short course as long course.

So for Casas, maybe this short course world title turns out to be a jumping-off point, the spark he needed to regain the momentum that came to a screeching halt in June. The first real test will come at the U.S. World Championship Trials in late April, when he will need to finish in the top-two in an individual event to book himself a spot at the long course World Championships. Only there can he test himself against all of the world’s best backstrokers and not just those who made the trip to Abu Dhabi.

Of course, before we get too far ahead, Casas still has a busy week remaining in Abu Dhabi. He will race as a medal favorite in the 50 back (Saturday and Sunday) and 200 back (Tuesday), and he will swim the leadoff leg on at least two and likely three American medley relays: the men’s 400, men’s 200 and mixed 200. He chipped in a leg on the 400 free relay and ended up with a bronze medal, so he could be in line for action on the men’s 200 or 800 freestyle relays as well.

So here you go, world. Here is the Shaine Casas that was the talk of college swimming just last season. One Olympic Trials performance can be career-defining, but Casas looks ready to prove that it won’t be the case for him. Keep an eye on Casas, and the 100 back final from Abu Dhabi could be the start of something big.