Sub 1:30 200 Free — History in the Making?

Townley Haas - Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By Michael J. Stott.

At the NCAA Men’s Championship meet in 1978, Olympian and University of Southern California swimmer Bruce Furniss set one of his 19 American records in winning the 200 yard freestyle (1:36.16). Forty years later, American swimming stands on the precipice of witnessing another landmark performance.

Ever since last year’s NCAA meet in Atlanta there have been whispers of Townley Haas lowering his American, U.S. Open, meet and pool record time of 1:30.46 to sub 1:30. In that swim he was last (.74) off the block before clocking 20.90, 22.71, 23.31, and 23.54 50 splits, leading the rest of the way and beating second place Matias Koski of Georgia by 1.08 seconds. 

In Atlanta Haas also prevailed in the 500 free (4:09.00 — fifth fastest all-time) and swam the second leg (1:30.52) on Texas winning 800 free relay. On the meet’s final day he posted a prelim 42.43 flat start 100 on the 400 free relay and finished fourth in 1500 free in 14:34.36. That time bettered his seed by 6.73 seconds and put him in the conversation for swimmer of the meet.

Since then Haas captured an Olympic gold medal, teaming with Conor Dwyer, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps to win the 800 meter freestyle relay in 7:00.66. His split of 1:44.14 was the fastest of all swimmers, seven tenths of a second faster than the next fastest time by James Guy of Great Britain. In his Rio individual event, Haas finished fifth in the 200 meter freestyle in 1:45.58.

In late March 2016, Haas’ college coach Eddie Reese of Texas was asked what Haas had to do to improve. “Starts, turns and kicking,” he said. Haas himself acknowledges his shortcomings regarding turns. “The further you get off the wall means the more speed you have off the wall. It’s easier to gain more speed off the wall than anywhere else and to maintain it. He does a great job of maintaining speed or even picking it up,” noted the Texas coach.

Earlier this week USA Swimming’s National Team High Performance Director Russell Mark was asked of Haas prospect of going low.

“Our athletes nowadays, Townley included, Katie Ledecky, Simone they’re breaking time barriers people didn’t think was possible so I would not put it past anybody to break 1:30 in the 200 free.

“Seeing what he has done. He surpassed expectations last year and that to me is a reason he can do it. There is no reason to doubt Eddie’s training program. Townley’s ability — he showed it at NCAA’s and at the Olympics,” – Russell Mark.

Asked if there was a reason people couldn’t go sub 1:30, Mark said he personally wouldn’t count anyone out. “What is surprising is Townley’s ability to do it without the same skills off the walls that other swimmers have. Improving his starts, turns and coming off the walls makes it even more possible.”

So will the floodgates once open lead to a landside of followers? “I think there will people who follow,” said Mark. “There have been few time barriers broken where people haven’t. I don’t know that there is some mental hurdle with the 1:30 200 free as there was with Roger Bannister and the four minute mile, but I’m not sure there will be a huge flood of people after it is done.”

That said the list of contenders grew exponentially during Wednesday night’s 800 free relay. Four swimmers led off their respective quartets with times under 1:32 evoking memories of Arizona’s Simon Burnett whose NCAA and U.S. Open record of 1:31.20 had stood since 2006 until Haas threw down his epic 1:30.46 a year ago.

Fastest of the four was Indiana’s Blake Pieroni (1:30.87), followed by Southern Cal’s Dylan Carter (1:30.95), NC State’s Ryan Held (1:31.37) and Longhorn Jack Conger (1:31.54). Four others posted splits under 1:32. Florida’s Mark Szaranek clocked a 1:31.46, Golden Bear Andrew Seliskar recorded a 1:31.58 while Wolfpack senior Soren Dahl anchored in a 1:30.67 as did Haas with a 1:30.54.

So, as we enter Friday’s program, the question before the house is “are we about to witness history?”

THE FURNISS PERSPECTIVE

Bruce Furniss

Bruce Furniss – Photo Courtesy: Swimming World

Bruce Furniss was in the final heat of the 200 free at NCAA’s four years running. He won the event in 1977 and 1978 and lost it to outside smoke efforts of Jim Montgomery in 1976 (1:36.53) and the late Andy Coan of Tennessee (1:35.62) in 1979.

After Coan’s triumph five NCAA winners in the next eight years (Rowdy Gaines – twice, Matt Biondi-thrice) bested 1:35 in the 200 free.”In that era breaking 1:40 was considered a fast time,” says Furniss. “In the ‘60’s and ‘70’s the 200 was more tactical… more like the 800 meters in track and field. Over time it has become a sprint, so it is a different race. I don’t think we were as honest in that first 100 as swimmers are today. That’s where all the time difference is.

“For example in Montreal I was out in :54.6 or .7 and came back in 55.03. If you take the dive out of the first 100, I almost negative split the race… way too slow. Today a lot of kids can go 1:45 or 1:46 and come back in :55 – and they are going out in 50 point or :51. My best time in the 4 x 100 free relay, and I didn’t get to swim the 100 shaved, was :44.5 and I was proud of that. I got all time points at SC for that. So he’s coming back in what I swam going out. That’s another language.

“My dream in life was always to beat Schollander. I’m sure if you asked him he’d say the same thing about my era, maybe Rowdy’s era, so it’s all relative. It’s the way the sport is – faster and better. We thought we were ahead of the game because we had lycra suits, goggles and high performance lane lines.

“Townley… good luck to him.”  – Bruce Furniss.

7 Comments

7 comments

  1. Susan L. Lansbury

    Saw him at Olympic trials and he looked like his whole body was on top of the water?

  2. David Silvestri

    In ten years’ time, we might be asking ourselves if anyone is primed to break the 1:25 mark, or so it would seem.

  3. Aleksandar Tasic

    To respond to above hyped up 50FR and this event, I believe your magazine and your counterpart are hyping these swims up. It is a post olympic year, keep that in mind.

Author: Brent Rutemiller

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CEO of International Swimming Hall of Fame and Publisher of Swimming World Magazine

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