Hunter Armstrong On His World Title, Coach’s Move, Close Qualifications and a Touching Tribute


Hunter Armstrong On His World Title, Coach’s Move, Close Qualifications and a Touching Tribute

In a recent interview, I spoke with 2023 world champion Hunter Armstrong on the Last One Fast One Podcast. Armstrong gave insight into his World Championships performances, Matt Bowe leaving for Michigan, and his plans and goals for Paris.

Matt Bowe Heads to Michigan

Right off the bat, Armstrong expressed that this World Champs was a much different experience than his previous international competitions. Armstrong explained that his first setback occurred before he set foot in Fukuoka, Japan. While in Colorado Springs, he found out his coach, Matt Bowe, was leaving Cal for Michigan. “We went to the Colorado training center to taper, and I find out my coach is going to Michigan,” Armstrong said. “That sounds a lot worse than it is. He didn’t want me to focus or stress about it, but it doesn’t change that it definitely messed with me.”

Near Catastrophe in Prelims of 100 Backstroke

Armstrong avoided a near disaster in the prelims of the 100 backstroke at Worlds, qualifying for the 16th and final spot in the semifinals. Armstrong attributed that prelims performance to a couple of things. He noted: “Last year, (I had) the relay, so I could get a swim under my belt, and I didn’t have that this year, so I made the mistake of assuming it’d be pretty much the same.”

Armstrong also decided not to shave for prelims of the 100 back. He said: “First race of the meet, I decided not to shave and cruised through, and I learned an important lesson: you can either (shave and not try), (not shave and try), but you can’t do both, especially not on the first race of the meet.”

Armstrong also detailed that he didn’t see the outside smoke in the heat, and when he thought he would get second or third, he ended up fifth for the heat. Luckily for Armstrong, his 53.93 was one hundredth faster than 17th-place finisher Isaac Cooper.

Squeaking Through Semifinals

Armstrong knew he couldn’t mess around in the semis, but this time, it was technical errors that almost cost him a chance to swim in final of the 100 back.

“I overcorrected in the semis,” he said. “I looked at the data, and my tempo was faster than my 50 back on that second 50. I didn’t have easy speed that entire meet.”

Still, his time of 53.21 was good enough to qualify eighth for the final. With the medals on the line, Armstrong produced his best race and a swim of 52.58 earned him the bronze medal. Armstrong said: “Of course, I was a little upset with the time, but you can’t be upset at a medal.”

Winning For His Grandfather

Armstrong’s grandfather had been fighting cancer since 2003 and was in his final days while his grandson was in Japan.

“During Worlds, he couldn’t even open his eyes, and I knew he didn’t have much time left,” Armstrong said. “The 50 back was his favorite race, and he actually passed the night before the final. I remember praying in the ready room. I’m like, ‘I want this to be for him.'”

Armstrong came through, winning the 50 back in 24.05, nearly two-tenths ahead of fellow American Justin Ress, who finished in 24.24.

“He couldn’t open his eyes, (but) that race he got to see. He got to see my first world title, from heaven, of course.”

A Busy Slate for Paris?

With Paris looming, Armstrong indicated he has plans to expand his program for the Olympic Games. Armstrong said: “I want to add a couple events. My goal for Paris is 100 back. (The) 50 back won’t be a thing, but I’d love to be on the 400 free relay, mixed medleys, of course, the normal medleys.”

Expanding on his aspirations for Paris, Armstrong expressed his desire to add the 200 freestyle to his event roster. “No one has seen me do a 200 freestyle,” Armstrong said. “I was pretty good at it in yards. I haven’t swam it in meters in forever. I have no desire to be an individual 200 free, nor am I good enough, but I think it’d be fun to hop on a prelim relay for it.”

Staying in Cali

Armstrong plans to stay with the Cal Pro group in Cali and not follow Bowe to Michigan. “I’m staying here in Cali. You just can’t beat the coaching staff. I miss Matt. I love working with him, but it took me so long to get into the swing of things when I moved, and moving was an absolute pain, and that’s not something I’m willing to do right before the Games.”

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