Zalan Sarkany Could be Distance Game-Changer for Arizona State

Photo Courtesy: Mia Jones/Arizona State University

Zalan Sarkany Could be Distance Game-Changer for Arizona State

Hopes at Arizona State were high for a midseason addition, a Hungarian standout with an Olympic pedigree. And while Hubert Kos does indeed add plenty to the mix for the top-ranked Sun Devils, another arrival may prove even more decisive come championship season.

In short order, Zalan Sarkany has established himself as one of the nation’s top distance swimmers. Events in which Arizona State would previously have been on the periphery of finals have suddenly become strengths, thanks to Sarkany’s torrid first month-plus in the college pool.

“It’s a huge change because we haven’t been doing distance swimming on the highest level since I’ve been here, and it’s something that’s near and dear to my heart,” Arizona State coach Bob Bowman said. “I’m happy that we have someone who will compete for a championship in those events. It also raises the level of everyone around him, because having him in training has really raised the level of all the rest of the group, so it’s going to make that area of our team incredibly strong.”

Sarkany made headlines by taking down, then twice lowering, the Arizona State record in the 1,000 freestyle, a mark that had stood since 1984 in the hands of Scott Brackett at 8:57.64. Sarkany has cut that to 8:49.31. He has also clipped the program record in the mile at 14:49.68, downing a Gordon Mason mark from last year. He’s yet to quite put together an elite 500, his best time a 4:17.81 from the dual meet with Cal. But he’ll have another chance this week at the Pac-12 Championships.

Nationally, he’s 15th in the mile. (He’s fifth in the 1,000, though that’s not a postseason NCAA event.) His 500 time is just outside the top 50, but the Pac-12 is the last major conference to conduct its championships, and the midseason arrival means he doesn’t have a rested fall invitational to post times. But he has drawn admiring looks from another swimmer of some note connected to Bowman.

Sarkany adds options for the Sun Devils. They have a solid distance leader in Julian Hill, who has the 16th fastest time in Division I this year at 4:13.69 and had owned the school record in the 500 at 4:13.18 from last year. (That school record belongs to Leon Marchand, whose all-conquering season included a 4:07.81, but it would be a significant surprise if he opted for that event at NCAAs.) Hill finished 16th at NCAAs last year.

The Sun Devils have a deep sprint and fly group that extends up to 200 with Grant House, in the title conversation in that event. Kos gives them a potent 1-2 punch with Marchand in the IMs and 200 strokes.

Sarkany has come very far very quickly in the desert. The 19-year-old doesn’t have much international experience, his chance to swim a first senior meet for Hungary at the 2022 European Championships cancelled due to weather conditions in the 25-kilometer open swim. He’s won medals at Hungarian national meets, but he hasn’t represented his country even at the European Junior Championships level.

Contrast that to Kos, the bigger of the midseason additions, who at age 19 has already been to the Tokyo Olympics and medaled at European Championships over both long and short course. He’s also a world junior record holder in the 200 IM. In both cases, and with Marchand last year, Bowman has proven a touch with midseason additions, getting them up to speed quickly and adjusting them to the rigors of college life and short-course yards.

Sarkany plugs one more weakness in Arizona State’s quest for a national title.

“It’s added a level of excitement about those events, and certainly scoring more points,” Bowman said. “Those are the things we’re looking for.”

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