United States National Championships

By David

The United States National Swimming Championships have come and gone. Just like the New Zealand version they too have highlighted the good, the bad and the ugly.

Without question, the good was the general standard of swimming. Year after year the US produces a group of swimming super stars. Behind them, in every event there are a dozen others clamoring for their moment in the sun. This year was no exception. Phelps, Lochte, Soni, Volmer, Vanderkaay, Hoff, Coughlin, Beisel and Adrian came, saw, conquered and left. I was particularly pleased to see Lochte swimming so well. I once had a conversation with his father coach at a swim meet in Ft. Lauderdale. He described the huge mileages (90-100 kilometers a week) his son had swum as he worked his way to the top of American swimming. It’s always pleasing when that level of application is rewarded. Beating Phelps and winning the 200 IM in 1.54 was especially memorable. Phelps is the world’s best swimmer. To better him at anything, especially a National 200 IM, is huge. I would imagine Phelps is not best pleased and will be looking at the Pan Pac’s race as an opportunity to put the record straight. It would be wise not to bet against an angry Michael Phelps.

Other Americans who will win at the Pan Pacific Games include Soni in the breaststroke, Lochte in the 400 IM and Coughlin and Peirsol in the 100 backstroke. I was surprised at the versatility demonstrated by Peirsol at this meet. There was nothing unusual about his 53 second placing in the backstroke but his fourth place 52 in the butterfly was more than I expected. Although New Zealand’s National Coaches have told the world it is the Commonwealth Games that are the real 2010 test for New Zealand’s swimmers, it is actually this group of American athletes they should be after. This is where the 2012 Olympic Games are going to be won and lost. All the rest is just political flannel.

Two “old-timers” swam well at the US Nationals; Amanda Beard and Sabir Mohamad. Amanda Beard managed a really impressive 2.26 second place in the 200 breaststroke. She’s 28 years old and has been swimming fast breaststroke since she was 12. A few years ago I watched her compete in a World Cup series. She displayed that deep seated toughness that true champions usually bring to their trade. I imagine the National 200 result will see her on the team for next week’s Pan Pacific Games. What a fantastic story her swimming life has been. Sabir Mohamad is 34 and swam 23.20 in the 50 freestyle. His best event is actually the 50 fly. I remember him swimming in European World Cup events. He was an expert at sending Swedish female spectators wild by standing on the blocks before a race and rolling his mightily impressive abs. He clearly enjoyed the moment as much as they did.

The Swim MAC Club from North Carolina had an unusual disqualification affect one of their swimmers. The disqualification of Josh Schneider from the men’s 50 free and his reinstatement raised some interesting administration issues. Schneider was entered in the 100 fly but did not report for his heat and was disqualified from his next event, the 50 freestyle. According to Craig Lord, who I admit is not the World’s most reliable source; Schneider said “It’s something I’ve never trained for. I didn’t even look in the heat sheet for my name.” If that’s true, for a Club to enter a swimmer as good as Schneider in an event at the US Nationals and not tell him doesn’t demonstrate particularly good management. Swim MAC appealed the disqualification and could win on a technicality. It may be possible for the “no show” penalty to be dismissed at this meet since missing his swimsuit check before the 100 fly would have already resulted in Schneider being disqualified and therefore not required to report for the race..

A second MAC swimmer at these Nationals was coached by me for eighteen months. In that time he swam personal best times for the 50 and 100 freestyle of 23.38 and 50.95. In the year he’s swum at MAC his 50 has improved to 23.11 and the 100 hasn’t improved at all. His best 100 is now 1.1 seconds (2%) slower. Even the 50 is only 1.1% faster; well below the 3% annual improvement expected from potential international swimmers. I recall being told of the wonderful progress expected as a result of the change to Swim MAC. Whatever the reason, it hasn’t worked.

One other swimmer at these Nationals was coached by me about four years ago. She ended up swimming 8.49 in the 800 at this year’s Championship. That’s a good time and was worth a mid-20s place. It is still most of the pool behind Chloe Sutton who won the 800 in 8.24. But, the ex-Florida swimmer may have been faster without the influence of a mother who was responsible for an anonymous poison letter sent to one of our swim team’s sponsors and other disruptive behavior. You may recall her antics were the subject of a post on Swimwatch, written about six months. That can’t be good for anyone’s swimming career. There are some strange folk in the swimming world.

And so the National week is over. The Championships are great entertainment and serve as a valuable teaching tool in a country as far away as New Zealand. The reality of how well the world’s best swimmers do their job is a good lesson for us all.