How Mallory Comerford Can Represent the USA at World Champs

Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

Morning Splash by David Rieder.

Morning Splash by David Rieder.

In March, Mallory Comerford went head-to-head with two Olympic gold medalists, taking down one (Simone Manuel) and tying the other (Katie Ledecky). The Louisville sophomore shared the NCAA title in the women’s 200-yard free, completing her stunning ascendance to one of the fastest short course freestylers in history.

Four weeks later, Comerford was in Mesa, Ariz., racing in the 50-meter format that she had yet to master. She finished as high as second at her first NCAA championships in 2016 and first, third and fourth as a sophomore, but her best finish at last summer’s Olympic Trials was 12th.

“She was heartbroken that she was not in the final,” Louisville head coach Arthur Albiero said of Comerford’s experience at Olympic Trials. “In her mind, she was going to make the team.”

Since Trials and particularly since the end of the college season, Comerford has been on a mission to prove that she can indeed swim long course. So far, so good.

“Before college, I had never trained long course, so being able to train it more and more has helped me,” Comerford said. “We have made my race strategies better, and it’s made it easier for me to swim the race comfortably. Just being more confident in my strengths and where my strengths are.”

In her first long course opportunity of the year, the Arena Pro Swim Series meet in Indianapolis in early March, Comerford won the 100 free. Her time of 53.91 was a lifetime best by a half-second and one hundredth quicker than Dana Vollmer swam to finish sixth in the event at Trials.

mallory-comerford

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Six weeks later, in Mesa for the next stop of the Pro Swim Series, Comerford finished second in 54.22, a half-second behind the co-Olympic gold medalist in the event, Manuel.

As for the 200 free, the event in which Comerford has made her presence felt in the short course pool, she has yet to convert that collegiate success to long course. But she’s optimistic.

“My 200 is definitely getting there,” she said. “After Indy and after [Mesa] I feel pretty good about how it’s going, and I’m just excited to develop that race.”

Comerford scratched the 200 free final in Mesa after feeling sick, but she called her prelims swim, when she posted a time of 2:00.41, “the best I’ve ever raced a 200 free long course.”

“That’s just a really good feeling, knowing that I’m learning how to race it instead of struggling while I’m racing it and being comfortable with each lap and my strategy throughout the entire race, so it’s exciting,” she said. “Instead of scrambling, I’m pulling a lot more water. Even watching videos from a year ago, it’s crazy for me to see the difference between now and then.”

One year ago, Comerford was a dark horse but very much an underdog looking for massive improvements if she wanted to make the Olympic team. But everything she’s been through since—including a trip with Team USA to the Short Course World Championships—has her feeling like she now belongs.

U.S. Nationals at the end of June will be Comerford’s third meet in Indianapolis this year and arguably the most important meet of her career thus far, given what’s at stake.

USA Swimming will select the top six finishers in both the 100 and 200 free to swim at the World Championships in Budapest, as well as four swimmers in each event to head to the World University Games in Taipei.

Comerford wants one—or two—of those spots for Budapest, and she even admits that she’s thought about the times it will take to her to make the team.

“You have to think about it,” she said. “You have to know what you need to go.”

In the 100 free, the times she has already posted put her already very much in the conversation. Only two Americans have swum under 54 this year, Manuel and Comerford, and Comerford’s time from the Indy meet could end up being quick enough to finish top-six this summer.

There figure to be some openings in the 200 free as well. The Americans are undefeated internationally in the 800 free relay over the past seven years, but this year’s team will turn over at least half of its roster from last year.

dirado-smith-ledecky-schmitt-gold-relay-rio

Photo Courtesy: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

Of the foursome that won Olympic gold last summer in Rio, Ledecky and Leah Smith return, but Maya DiRado is retired, and Allison Schmitt has not competed since Rio. As for the three others who swam on the prelims relay, Missy Franklin is dealing with injuries, Cierra Runge had a rough NCAA season, and Melanie Margalis might not even swim the 200 free at Nationals.

Comerford’s best time in the long course 200 is 1:59.24, set last year at Trials when she finished 13th. But in that time frame in short course, she has dropped her 200 free lifetime best from 1:42.54 to 1:40.36. She cut two seconds off her 500 free time as well, going from 4:38.01 to 4:36.16.

This time around, many expect big things from Comerford, and she admits she’s felt a little bit of pressure. Quite the contrast to the position she was in last June in Omaha.

“But I’m just having fun,” she insisted. “I love to race, and I love getting better and learning from all my races and just improving. It’s been a fun process.”

Still, even with her sights set on some big performances in the long course pool this summer, when she was asked about the last 50 of her 200 free at NCAAs, when she came from behind to pass Manuel and tie Ledecky, Comerford could not help but grin.

“I try not to think about it that much,” she said. “It was a great moment, very special, but it’s time to keep working hard and get back to the grind.”

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

6 Comments

6 comments

  1. avatar
    Michael Maloney

    we shall see…..a lot on the line….gag…choke?????? just saying

  2. David C. Mishalof

    800m relay s/b all Stanford – manual,neal, ledecky, drabot

    • avatar

      sorry but LEAH SMITH is still alive and kicking……so drabot or manuel who fades like no one else the last 50m of the 200 will be out…

  3. Katie Perry

    Dang Laura and Scott time to get the girl an agent. ??

  4. avatar
    Ger

    How many swimmers fall through the net because of lack of experience of long course swimming?

  5. avatar
    YY

    After NCAA there was a lot of hope that Mallory Comerford will bring comfort to Americans relays. 53 low – 1:56 swimmer is needed. I’m not sure that Mallory will be at such level in three months. If she isn’t then Manuel has to split under 53 and Ledecky under 1:53

Author: David Rieder

avatar
David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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