The Ghosts of Tired Flyers

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Editorial Coverage provided by Suit-extractor-logo

Commentary by Casey Barrett

The 200 fly is one of those races… It sets up for heartbreak. The last 50 is frequently cruel and ugly, as veterans fall apart in the closing meters and are passed by charging young upstarts… Last night in Omaha the old guys were dying, but this time they held on… 

How many times have we seen it? The aging flyer taking it out hard, wanting it so bad, only to feel the piano falling from the rafters… That last lap can be brutal to watch, unless you’re pulling for the young closers.

You know the ghosts – Mel Stewart getting swallowed up by Tom Malchow in 1996; Auburn’s Jeff Somensatto falling apart in 2000 and being passed by none other than 15-year-old Michael Phelps; Georgia’s Gil Stovall charging past Davis Tarwater in 2008; and Tarwater snake-bit again four years ago after turning for home looking Olympian.

That’s what happens in the men’s 200 fly. It’s been a running theme. And last night it looked like the stage was set for more final meters heartbreak. Tom Shields was the most likely suspect – a 24-year-old vet vying for his first Olympic berth. A man loaded with front-end speed with a history of tying up at the end… The headline almost wrote itself.

Except then it didn’t. Phelps and Shields went out flying like we knew they would. By 150 meters they were all alone, with the rest of the field way back. And then you could almost see that ghostly piano begin to fall from the roof. Their strokes got shorter, they sunk lower in the water, the pain was palpable. But the young turks, they moved too late.

At the wall, Phelps and Shields were still standing. 1-2, Olympians, well done. Even with cringe worthy last 50s (31.90 for MP; 32.08 for Shields) they had enough in the tank to punch their ticket to Rio.

Both theses guys know they’ll need to be a whole lot faster next month. Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh has been a full two seconds faster than Phelps this year, while Michael’s Trials-winning time places him just 6th globally right now. Shields now stands at 12th.

Mel Stewart was sitting a few seats over from me in the stands. His immediate response at the finish was: “My time from ’92 Trials would have made it.” He leaned over and added: “but you won’t find that on Cap & Goggles.” Wrong there. Cheers to glory days…

But his point was fair – there’s something wrong when a time from 24 years ago is still good enough to make the Team. These Trials have been anything but fast. They’ve been incredible in every single way, except perhaps the most important one: The numbers on the clock.

It’s too early to start sounding the alarms, but with too few exceptions, the times have not changed much.

The guard is changing, the next generation is moving in, but in the 200 fly at least, the old timers managed to keep those ghosts at bay.

Reposted with permission from Cap and Goggles.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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7 years ago

Mel’s ’92 Trials time (1:55.72) would have beaten Shields last night, but it was not even a personal best for him at the time, falling 0.03 short of his 1991 World Championship performance of 1:55.69.

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