U.S. Nationals: Matt Fallon Crushes 200 Breast Field With 2:07.91, Third-Fastest in the World in 2022 (VIDEO)

Matt Fallon -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Nationals: Matt Fallon Crushes 200 Breast Field With 2:07.91, Third-Fastest in the World in 2022

Over the last year, Matt Fallon had shown signs of his potential to become one of the country’s best in the 200 breaststroke. He was the fastest swimmer in semifinals at the 2021 Olympic Trials, although he fell to eighth in the final. He placed third at his first NCAA Championships in the 200-yard breaststroke. He missed the U.S. International Team Trials in April because of a conflict with his final exams at Penn, ruling himself out of a shot at the World Championships, but the 19-year-old exploded Wednesday evening at U.S. Nationals.

Fallon is known for laying off through the first half of his race before surging on the third 50, and indeed, he was in eighth place at the 50-meter mark, 1.3 seconds off the lead. He was seventh at the 100 as Virginia Tech’s AJ Pouch and Texas’ Jake Foster were pacing the field. But then Fallon switched gears. He shifted his tempo into overdrive, and he split 32.02 on the third 50, more than a second quicker than anyone else on the field to move into second place. On the way home, no one could match Fallon’s lightning-quick tempo as he pulled more than a second ahead.

Fallon finished in 2:07.91, knocking exactly one second off his lifetime best set at Olympic Trials, and he became the third-fastest swimmer in the world this year behind world-record holder and world champion Zac Stubblety-Cook and former world-record holder Anton Chupkov. The mark would have been good enough to win silver behind Stubblety-Cook at Worlds, and Fallon is now the seventh-fastest American in history behind Josh PrenotKevin CordesEric ShanteauNic FinkWill Licon and Andrew Wilson.

As Fallon pulled away from the field, a tight battle emerged for second place, with the Texas duo of Caspar Corbeau and Licon moving up to challenge Foster and Pouch. In the end, Foster touched out Corbeau for second, 2:09.00 to 2:09.03, with Pouch (2:09.07) and Licon (2:09.13) marginally behind. Foster and Pouch improved to 13th and 14th-best ever among Americans in the event, respectively.

Fallon is representing Athens Bulldog Swim Club at Nationals after spending the summer training with the team at the University of Georgia. He credited the experience in Athens with helping him improve technically, giving him a chance to train with other elite swimmers and practice more extensively in long course.

“I was there for two-and-a-half months,” Fallon said. “I’d say the training is different than Penn and other teams I’ve been on, so it was good to get that variety in my training. I definitely picked up a lot, maybe more stroke-oriented, focusing on drills. Focusing a lot more on separating the pull and kick is something I’ve really improved on this summer. Originally I was more of a pure breaststroker. I think it really helped my overall breaststroke to start doing a lot of individual breaststroke pull, a lot of individual breaststroke kick. It was also good to get a lot of long course training in. This was the longest stretch of long course racing I’ve done probably ever, so that definitely gave me great momentum heading into this meet.”

Fallon’s style of racing the 200 breaststroke is certainly unique among his competitors in the United States, but the back-half-focused strategy has been deployed to great effect on the world stage in recent years. Both Stubblety-Cook and Chupkov are back-half swimmers who rarely hold the lead early on in their races, and Fallon said that it has been encouraging to watch swimmers with that strategy have so much success on the international stage. Fallon remembered back to the 2016 Olympic Trials when Prenot set the American record (which still stands) as he used a brilliant back-half to track down Cordes and claim the win.

“I’ve always been sort of a back-half swimmer. That’s just me. I’ve always been a distance swimmer. I think that race is the first time I really saw and internalized it,” Fallon said.

Would he like to have more speed and get out quicker? Sure, but not at the cost of the closing ability that has become his signature, the skill that has helped him become arguably the country’s preeminent 200 breaststroker while just a teenager.

I’ve been trying to go out a little faster,” Fallon said. “Maybe it doesn’t work all the time, but I’m still working on it. It’s a work-in-progress. I obviously know that going out faster is going to help in the long run because there’s a lot of time to be taken out there, but I don’t want to turn into a complete sprinter. I don’t want to take out what’s been working for so long. I just want to improve on what’s already there on the first 100 rather than trying to add a lot of sprint stuff in.

“Going out in 28 on the first 50, that’s just not really me, but improving on start work, improving on composure on the first 100 and feeling my stroke a lot earlier in the race are definitely going to help as I go along.”