NCAA Swimming Fans Treated to Greatest Distance Race Ever

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By Michael J. Stott.

Meet announcer Sam Kendrick said he’d been looking forward to the 1650 final all week long. The race did not disappoint.

Four swimmers went under the NCAA, meet, American and U.S. Open records. Leading the way was Texas senior Clark Smith in 14.22.41, followed by Michigan’s Felix Auboeck (14.22.88), South Carolina’s Akaram Mahmoud (14:22.99) and Olympian and Northwestern senior Jordan Wilimovsky in 14:23.45.

The race began almost immediately under record pace with Smith out front and Wilimovsky in close pursuit. Smith entered the race with a slight groin pull sustained Thursday night when he jammed the wall on the final 50 of his record setting 500 free swim (4:08.42).

Charging through the first 500 yards the swimmers were metronomic with their stroke counts. The 6’ 10” Smith took 13 pulls per 25,  Wilimovsky 16 and Michigan junior PJ Ransford 15. Smith led through the first 500 before Ransford, as he has done the last two years, began asserting himself from lane 1. Upping his tempo and accelerating his kick, Ransford he led Smith at the 800 by 1.67 and Auboeck by 1.70.

At the 1000, Ransford held a 1.03 lead over Auboeck and 1.13 over Smith.  By the 1350, Wilimovsky had edged in front holding a .26 lead on Smith. At the 1450 it was still the Northwestern Wildcat in 12.15.08, followed by Auboeck in 12:15.52, Mahmoud in 12:15.68 and Smith in 12:15.93  and Ransford at 12:16.15. At the 1550,It was Auboeck in 13:08.20, Smith in 13:07.58, Wilimovsky in 13:07.82. Totally spent, Ransford was four seconds back.

“Coming from SECs, my time was 14:38 and I just wanted to have a spot in the final heat. We had our strategy that we were going to imagine there was nobody in the pool and just me swimming. I was really slow in the first 500-600 and I started to make my move,” Mahmoud said. “I saw that I was really close and then I was coming. It was an awesome race. My goal was to go 14:27 and I ended up 14:22, the third-fastest time in history.”

Outlier Mahmoud, in lane 8, as he did in 2016, began a concerted move at about the 1100 and forced the pace to the end challenging Smith over the final 200 before being bested by the final 50s of Smith (23.75), Auboeck (23.29) and Wilmovsky (24.16) to his 24.29. Over the final 100 Smith powered home in 51.05 while Auboeck and Mahmoud clocked respective 51.39 and 51.17.

“I’ve never been in a race that close and that long,” Smith said. “ I usually just use my arms. I am a better puller than kicker. I figured if I could do a lazy two beat kick and just hang on.”

As if Smith did not have enough to deal with in his three tough competitors, his groin started bothering him midway through.

“The pushoffs really hurt. Around the 800 it started to get pretty bad. Jordan and Felix started to pull away and PJ on the outside was just kicking our asses. It still hurt at the 1200 and my ego kind of finished the race for me.  The last 10 lengths I just sucked it up because I knew no one would feel bad for me.”

When the cheering stopped an exhausted and pained Smith lay beside the starting block clearly spent. Kendricks, the NCAA’s most recognizable voice, pronounced it the greatest race he’d ever seen. No one in attendance would disagree.

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  1. avatar
    Bill Bell

    By winning and setting American/NCAA records in both 500-1650 frees Smuth becomes sixth man in history to accomplish this fest — and first since Muchigan’s Tom Dolan in 1995. Others are: Roy Saari, USC, 1965: John Kinsella,, Indiana, 1971: Tim Shaw, Cal. St. Long Beach, 1976: Brian Goodell, UCLA, 1979.

    Shaw was silver-medalist in the 400 free @ the Montreal Olympics ( 1976) while Goodell won golds/set world records in the 400-1500 frees. He had just finished his junior year @ Mission Viejo Hugh that summer and didn’t enter UCLA until the fall of ’77.

    Goodell remains the only swimmer of either sex to win NCAA 500-1650 free golds plus the 400 IM @ the same NCAAs and he did it thrice — ’78-’80.

    • avatar
      Go blue

      Dolan also accomplished the feat of winning 500, 1650, and 400im, in back to back years no less.

    • avatar

      BILL BELL Thanks for the great reporting and STATS
      LUDES UCLA Asst Coach 1979-81

  2. Dave Mackey

    I give up, these guys are getting way too fast. Sub 1:40 200IM, 51.8 100 breast (by a high schooler, no less) 40 flat 100 free, and ladecky beating the field by 10 seconds…yikes

  3. Sara Jane

    Exciting to read about. Can only imagine watching!!

  4. Schuyler Schmitt

    Tori Trees Smith i cannot say how impressed i am and cant imagine the pride you feel as a parent

  5. Angela Van Wyk

    Insane how fast these guys are swimming!!! Amazing.

  6. Bob Perkins

    Brian, good call on the mile race!

  7. Rich Davis

    This is a race that needs watching. Reading the headline I doubted if it was better than the Montreal 1976 1500 final where the top 3 were within 1.5 seconds of each other, all under the WR and 40 seconds faster than the 1972 Munich winner. But it looks like I may be wrong. ?

  8. Cliff Rossie

    Paige Crimmin… best race ever ?

  9. Kristie Wisniewski

    Do people actually watch the entire race. I would schedule my bathroom break and snack bar visit at the start then catch the last 150.

    • avatar

      Yes as a distance parent and dealing with no one to be around to cheer on the kids, oh hell yes I watch the entire race, if you know the pace your watching you know a great race….this to have the top 4 all together the entire race, yep would have loved to have been there. For women’s NCAA we knew Katy had it, and Leah would be 2nd, but that race for third, we were yelling at the announcer to talk about the remainder of the field because Katy shut it down at the 1000 and still lapped all.

  10. avatar
    John Seelen

    While the 1650 was a great race, it was not the best race of all time. That would have to be the 1976 Olympic 1500 race between Brian Goodell, Bobby Hackett and Stephen Holland. It was neck and neck the whole way with Brian Goodell prevailing. All three broke the existing world record, in the Olympics!

  11. avatar

    “Over the final 100 Smith powered home in 51.05 while Auboeck and Mahmoud clocked respective 51.39 and 51.17.”
    Mr. Stott — The times listed in the article were from the 1500 to 1600.
    For the last 100, the top 4 were all under :50.00:
    Smith — :25.45/:23.75 — :49.20
    Auboeck — :25.33/:23.29 — :48.62
    Mahmoud — :25.51/:24.29 — :49.80 (9th at 450; in lead at 1500 & 1550)
    Wilimovsky — :25.57/:24.16 — :49.73
    Mahmoud’s performance was truly worthy, especially in reflection of the 2016 race where he lead by open water with 50 to go; he came home in :27.17, losing out to a Swanson’s last 50 of :24.38. Even though he dropped to third this year, he finished it out faster than the leg Swanson ran him down with last year.
    Clark built the drama over the last part of the race by doing a descending set over each the final 6 50s, and passing one competitor each 50, until moving past Mahmoud into the lead at 1600).

    • You are absolutely correct. In writing the story Saturday night from meet results I picked up the wrong splits. Truly impressive that these athletes could go sub-49 and 50 for the last 100.

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