More Irvine Magic Coming This Week at USA Swimming Nationals

Photo Courtesy: Andy Ross

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Morning Splash by David Rieder.

Katie Ledecky walked on deck at William Woollett Aquatic Center on Monday for the first time in four years. Immediately, the memories came flooding back—specifically, the scene four years earlier when she set her first world record in the 400 free, the only time she has ever broken such a record at a Nationals or Trials-level meet.

“I remember walking out for that race and just hearing the music playing as we were walking out—I remember it clearly—it was Timber,” Ledecky said, humming a few notes from the song. “And I was like, ‘It’s going down.’”

Katie Ledecky after her 400 free world record in Irvine in 2014 — Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Ledecky was in gear that night, and so was a 2,000-person crowd filling up temporary bleachers on the lane eight side of the pool. All that culminated in a magical moment, one when everyone watching realized just how special the then-17-year-old could be.

So will we see that again, another world record this week in Irvine? Maybe, but don’t count on it. Going back to 2013, only three Americans have set individual long course world records, and two of them, Ledecky and Lilly King, admitted in their pre-meet press conferences that they are pointing to faster swims at the Pan Pacific Championships next month in Tokyo.

The other swimmer in that category, Ryan Murphy, noted that he has to make a small adjustment in his stroke to deal with swimming outside. “I do think it slows me down a little bit,” he said.

Caeleb Dressel is the only other realistic candidate for a world record, as his marks from last summer’s World Championships put him in range in the 50 free, 100 free and 100 fly, but he, too, may be looking ahead to faster times at Pan Pacs.

During his press conference Tuesday, Murphy was posed this question: What’s more impressive, sweeping the backstroke events and setting a world record at the Olympics, sweeping the IM events at a World Championships or winning seven golds at Worlds? In other words, compare your accomplishments to Dressel and to Chase Kalisz.

Unsurprisingly, Murphy declined to answer.

“I’ve never been someone where I want to get competitive across events,” he said. “I’m competitive enough with the backstrokers that if I tried to move over and see if I’m better than Chase it would just drive me crazy.”

But when it comes to superstars, the new faces of American men’s swimming in the post-Michael Phelps era, it’s these three. On the women’s side, it’s Ledecky, it’s King, and it’s Simone Manuel, who spoke Tuesday of creating change in the sport through her new apparel deal with TYR.

But the central tenant of sustained American swimming success internationally is that it’s more than just those superstar figures. Nathan Adrian, a 10-year Team USA veteran and longtime team captain, put it best.

“There’s so many people that have just been ready to go and not fired off for whatever reason — and maybe it’s going to be here. Maybe it’s going to be tomorrow, maybe it’s going to be this week. I think that’s why I like watching this meet—and what makes Team USA great,” he said. “We’ve got to be fighting so hard just to make our team. And through that some extraordinary athletes are made and some extraordinary performances are done.”

One coach summed it up best during warmups Tuesday afternoon: There will be a breakout star this week. The coach didn’t know who, and didn’t even predict it would be any of their own athletes. But it will be someone.

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Zach Apple after qualifying for the 2017 World Championships — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Just think about 2017: In the very first event of Nationals, 17-year-old Dakota Luther, the daughter of an Olympian, unexpectedly qualified for the World Championships. Later that same day, Zach Apple pulled out an unlikely World Championships berth, and 15-year-old Regan Smith added her name to the list the day after that.

You could try to predict who the magic-makers will be this week. But mark this down in Sharpie: Someone—maybe more than one—will steal the show.

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Author: David Rieder

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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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