In the Blink of an Eye

Braden Holloway NC State
Photo Courtesy: Swimming World

Editorial content for the NCAA Division I Championships is sponsored by Nike Swim. For full Swimming World coverage, check out our coverage page.

Commentary by Michael J. Stott

Relays at any level of competition are often decided in the blink of an eye — especially at NCAA championships. Last year at the men’s meet six teams were DQ’ed in the opening session. This year, just three (Georgia Tech, Louisville, Tennessee) all by premature jumps of .04.

The morning began with top finisher NC State, whose meet hopes ride largely on sprinters and relays, earning a disqualification. After following appropriate procedures coach Braden Holloway had the infraction overturned after officials detected an equipment malfunction. That was not the only equipment issue of the morning and the last timing problem occasioned a ten minute delay prior to the 400 medley relay.

USA National Team Director Frank Busch calls the opening event the “most testosterone-fueled of the meet.” And the masculinity was clearly on display with the second (Southern Cal) and third place (Texas) teams trailing the Wolfpack 200 free quartet by .14 and .12 respectively. Busch always preached good starts in prelims. “You don’t have to be great,” he says “just good enough”. The former Arizona coach he still recalls heartbreak when a backstroke flinch ruling against his top seeded Wildcats resulted ultimately in a lost 2009 team title.

Holloway fought the good fight and won his bout with officials this morning. Louisville coach Arthur Albiero was not as lucky. A newcomer to ACC wars this year his Cardinal men and women have continued an upward NCAA trajectory. He too filed a protest against the DQ of second swimmer Thomas Dahlia in the medley relay. When not reversed he could only reiterate the concern he expressed when he launched the protest. “Unfortunately we had malfunctions with the system all morning, including a 10 minute break before the 400 medley relay, to fix the system. It makes the system very unreliable and the fact that both judges need to agree (and didn’t he notes) had him questioning the process to the student-athletes.

“In all fairness I thought it was a good start and I didn’t think it was that close. The precedent has been set and, unfortunately the machine has been malfunctioning all session. To me that is alarming and I think that needs to be taken into consideration” Albiero said.

The 10 minute delay certainly interrupted the flow of a very fast meet that saw freshman Caeleb Dressel (18.86) best last year’s co-medalist Kristian Gkolomeev by .06 for top seed in the 50 free. The other 50 free co-champ Arizona’s Brad Tandy finished seventh in 19.17. The delay actually provided a settling effect for some athletes.

Virginia Tech coach Ned Skinner remarked that “typically as a coach you want a rhythm. You want that race to go. This time it is weird because I think it worked to our advantage. At the time of the delay the natatorium was flat, the crowd was dry and there wasn’t much energy. Our guys used that delay to loosen up. I went over to them and had a few choice words. I may have used a little colorful language to fire them up. I said reset, recharge, re-energize; we can do this. We are not going to let anything to get in our way. We are going to draw on the things we have done all year long.”

Skinner’s Hokies returned in the 16th spot. “We got a fortuitous bounce that three of the teams ahead of us were DQ’ed., but I’ve been on that side too. It’s just part of the sport. You just have to move on.”

“Tonight we have three seniors and one sophomore and we’re just going to throw caution to the winds, outside smoke. Let’s go after them and race people. We are going to be confident with our relay takoffs. We don’t want to do anything stupid, but why not go for it. It’s the NCAA championships.”

Indeed it is.