How Mallory Comerford Almost Proved Me Right

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By Jason Tillotson, Swimming World College Intern.

A few months ago, I made five predictions for 2017. Among those five predictions, I predicted the Stanford women and the Cal men would win their respective NCAA championships. With that, it looks like I’m one-for-one, right?

Except for the fact that, despite many opposing opinions, I predicted Katie Ledecky would not win the 200 freestyle at the NCAA championships. Which, she technically did. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Ledecky fan. I just didn’t think she had the speed for the 200-yard freestyle to out-swim the nations’ fastest sprinters in the short-course version of the race.

My thought process was rooted in the fact that Simone Manuel held the top time in the event at that time, and had beaten and out-split Ledecky several times in mid-season races. The front half of the race clearly belonged to Manuel. I sincerely thought with more rest, she would have the edge over Ledecky.

My prediction was wrong, but it wasn’t Manuel who almost proved my prediction, instead, it was Louisville Cardinal Mallory Comerford. Comerford tied Ledecky the the win, shocking the world in the process.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Prior to this season, Comerford had never been under 1:42.5. In the preliminaries of the NCAA championships, Comerford cruised to a 1:42.99, a time well off her 1:41.70 from this year’s ACC meet, but a time that would easily secure her a spot in the finals, nonetheless. There, the sophomore Cardinal would drop almost two full seconds from her previous best time to tie with Ledecky for the win.

Comerford was not only able to come out of nowhere to share the top spot on the podium, but how she got there is most intriguing. Five swimmers took the race out in under-50 seconds, which created a bunched up field at the halfway point. Comerford, despite her natural 100 speed, actually took the race out a half-second slower than Ledecky.

What’s perhaps even more impressive is the fact that she was able to actually bring back the second half of the race faster than Ledecky, which is something few swimmers can say they have done since usually Ledecky is one to go out fast and dare anyone to rise up to the challenge. This time, however, it was Comerford who answered the call.

Ledecky has created somewhat of a stranglehold on the freestyle races ever since she debuted on the collegiate scene. Her ability to break NCAA and American records in-season has certainly solidified her dominance and, perhaps, made her seem increasingly more intimidating on the bigger stages like Pac-12’s or NCAA’s. Comerford clearly wasn’t intimidated last week, however.

So, while my one of my predictions for this calendar year may not have come true, Ledecky is the NCAA champion in the 200 freestyle, however, at the same time, so is Comerford.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. avatar

    Comerford swam a great race, BUT…

    My guess is that teammates Manuel and Ledecky, didn’t really expect any real challenges. I suspect that Manuel thought that she was racing to a 50/100/200 trifecta, and never saw Comerford coming up on her right side. Ledecky did see Comerford and reacted.

    I suspect that if they were to race again, there will be a much different out come (i.e. 100 final: be careful not to wake the dragon)

    • avatar

      what dragon…Simone…..please…she got beat and she was poed….so the 100 was a record,,,,GREAT SWIMMERS swim like that all the time not becuase they got beat…she should of swam the 200 with the same intensity….

  2. Susan L. Lansbury

    Katie really showed her disappointment at not winning outright ?

    • Dave Hoover

      I think Ledecky fully expected to go sub 1:40 and at least make a decent challenge at Missy Franklin’s American record which she was well off. No wonder her disappointment. Comerford had a career swim not so for Ledecky.

  3. Allie McKibbin

    I slightly disagree. Katie DID win. Just because it was a tie, should not mean the winning title should be taken away from Katie. She deserved that title just as much as Mallory. They both touched the wall first. Katie cannot independently win every meet…as much as her fans want her to. This is not her best known race but I am proud of her for winning. Congrats to Mallory. It was a well fought race!

  4. avatar

    I don’t think KL was disappointed at all, it was a wonderful swim by MalCom and it is great that Ledecky is helping to lift so many hard-working NCAA/USA swimmers to faster performances. Ledecky was so clear of the field this year as the best swimmer in the NCAA that it was quite inspiring, perhaps having the top season of any NCAA swimmer EVER. Somewhat overlooked is that Ledecky set 9 American Records (now has 30 ARs in career to go with 13 WRs) and 12 NCAA records this season (across 4 different individual events and relays). She was the only swimmer at NCAA Champs to stand at the top of the podium 5 times (3 indiv, 2 relays) plus one more time for the team championship–not many have done that in a single NCAAs historically (check it out)–helping to lead Stanford to its first NCAA title in 19 years. She was the first woman in 29 years to win the 200-500-1650 Free races in the same NCAAs, and the first Stanford swimmer since Misty Hyman (1998) to win three indiv races in the same NCAAs (coincidence that Stanford won its last title in 1998? I think not). In the process, at NCAAs KL broke an individual AR in the 500 Free by 1.1 seconds, helped break 2 relay ARs, 4 NCAA records, and had 4 NCAA Champs records, one by 18 seconds in the 1650 Free while breaking another NCAA record in a 1000 Free split! Just two weeks earlier at Pac-12’s, also won by Stanford, Ledecky broke 2 other indiv ARs (one in an “off” event, the 4 IM, over a now 2-time NCAA champ and new AR holder in the event) and was part of two Relay ARs. So, all in all, a great swim by MalCom, a great HISTORICAL and uplifting SEASON for Ledecky, the Stanford team, and the NCAA record books.

    • avatar

      CJ . I totally agree, so with many accomplishments at the NCAA championships and throughout the year, how did the NCAA award the Swimmer of the Year to someone else?

  5. avatar

    200 free event wasn’t about personal bests and records. It was the race for the championship first of all. After Pac-12 race between Semone Manuel and Katie Ledecky it was clear what will happen at championship race. Same tactic against sprinters as was undertaken racing Missy Franklin: stay close up to the final part of the race with strong finish knowing that Simone won’t be able to accelerate. And that is exactly how it went. But when Simone slowed down at final turn so was Ledecky.
    Racing against Comerford required completely different approach – similar to racing Sarah Sjostrom. That is stay even at first 50, push strongly at the second one and keep the advantage to the end.
    It is obviously that Ledecky didn’t plan to fight at two fronts simultaneously.
    In my opinion it is good that it was a tie. A couple of one hundreds advantage in either way would be unfair to both girls. They both deserved first place.
    Comerford’s successful performances from 100 through 500 give a hope that American 800 relay will get such necessary help. The only things that keep me cautious is her very strange splits at 200 y where the third 50 yards were the fastest ones and unimpressive 1:59 at 200 LCM at PSS where she excited us with 53.9 at 100.