Yes, Michael Andrew is Really a Contender for 200 IM Olympic Gold

Michael Andrew after recording the top qualifying time and a massive personal best in the men's 200 IM semifinals -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Yes, Michael Andrew is Really a Contender for 200 IM Olympic Gold

Michael Andrew going out under world record pace in the 200 IM? At this point, that’s become the norm for the 22-year-old. He blasts out on the butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke, but the field comes back and catches up on freestyle. It’s become so familiar that every time Andrew races a 200 IM, viewers know to ignore the superimposed world record line since he will surely fade down the stretch.

Well, it’s impossible to not take notice when someone is 1.2 seconds under world record pace. That is massive. As Andrew turned for home in his semifinal at 1:25.30, you couldn’t help but wonder: Could he actually hang on and do this? Well, no, he could not. His final split was a 29.96, almost 2.5 seconds behind the split from Ryan Lochte’s world record performance a decade ago. But the final time? That was legit.

Andrew’s 1:55.26 made him the fifth-fastest performer in history, and the list of names ahead of him is a really good one: Lochte, Michael Phelps, Kosuke Hagino and Laszlo Cseh. The group of men he jumped on the all-time list includes the 2017 world champion, Chase Kalisz, and the 2019 world champion, Daiya Seto. It’s the fastest time in the world, not only this year but in the last five years. Yes, the fastest since Phelps pulled away from the field in the Olympic final in Rio to secure his fourth consecutive Olympic gold in the event, making him the only swimmer to ever pull off that feat.

After the race, Andrew said he had been aiming to break into the 1:55 range, so he certainly accomplished that goal. He had hoped for improvement on the end of his freestyle, but given that his freestyle split was the slowest of all 16 semifinalists, he did not execute on that goal.

“There’s so many variables when it comes to swimming a perfect race,” Andrew said. “Coming off this morning, I think we were more focused on time than we were on technique. We were pretty happy with stroke all around. I did feel like the last 15 meters of my breaststroke this morning broke down a little bit in terms of technique. What we were mainly focusing was on that freestyle and that back half. I was a second faster, I don’t think it came from the freestyle. It came from an aggregate of the rest of the strokes.”


Michael Andrew racing at Olympic Trials — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Some of the issues on Andrew’s freestyle appear technical, such as the timing of his breath or losing his catch as he gets tired. Phelps told Swimming World that he attributes the flaws to holes in Andrew’s training. Regardless of the final time, he has to address that and execute a more balanced swim. No qualifications there. Winning and placing in major races while completely collapsing on the last 50 is not a sustainable strategy.

At the same time, there is so much to like about Andrew’s 200 IM—his early get-out speed, the combination of three great strokes and, in particular, that breaststroke split. Andrew split 32.21 in the semifinals, and the only person who has ever been quicker on that leg is Eric Shanteau, a 200 breast Olympian who went 31.51 with the aid of a now-banned polyurethane suit on his way to bronze at the 2009 World Championships. But Andrew is in elite territory, and no one else swimming right now can replicate that speed on lap No. 3.

Those positives make Andrew a certain Olympic gold medal contender in the 200 IM. That’s not a hot take, not when he has the fastest time in the world by more than a half-second. He certainly needs to show that he can swim his best in a final, when all the pressure is on, after he was a half-second off his 100 breast American record in Monday’s final.

Let’s pause for a second. We’re talking about Andrew in a conversation about an Olympic gold medal, only seven months after he slogged through an unremarkable ISL season and then began the year struggling so much that he was at risk of missing out on the Olympic team altogether. His breakthrough performances in April and particularly in May elevated Andrew back to the level of serious international contender in Olympic events, and he has only boosted that status in Omaha.

Now, if he can back up his eye-popping semifinal magic with a really good final (and maybe a smoother and quicker freestyle leg), he will be on track to head to the Olympics and accomplish something special.

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