Swimming Just Gets Faster

The thing about a sport like swimming is that the swimmers always get faster.  Every few years, there is a breakthrough – a new suit technology, a new superstar who is a physical anomaly – something that makes people say, “That record is untouchable.  No one can physically go faster than that!”  Every time, they have been wrong.  Year after year, we have to re-learn the lesson that, in swimming, there are no limits.

The evidence this time around are the results that came out of this weekend’s Men’s Division I NCAA meet in Indianapolis.  NCAAs are considered the most competitive meet in the world; it is a far deeper field than World Championships or the Olympics, and seeing these kids swim for their schools is the same reason that we all love March Madness.

This next part is for swimming geeks only – otherwise these times will be meaningless.

  • Kevin Cordes of Arizona (and Naperville, Illinois) swam the 200 breaststroke in 1:48.68, and he had a relay split 100 breaststroke of 49.56.  By comparison, the first time I saw someone swim a 100 breaststroke in less than a minute was in 1976, when my Illinois teammate, Jim Shanel, won the event at the Big Ten Championships.  Cordes’s swim was fully 10 seconds faster.  
  • Tom Shields of Cal Berkeley swam a 200 butterfly in 1:39.65.  Shields also swam a relay split 100 butterfly in 43.48, and was 19.68 at his 50 turn.  Again a comparison – my best 200 butterfly time was 1:49.90 in 1979, and I was 18th at NCAAs.  Shields’s swim was more than 10 seconds faster than that time; ten seconds is an eternity.  
  • Vlad Morozov of USC (pictured above) ripped off a 100 free in 40.76, and swam a 50 free relay split of 17.86.  As for comparisons on this one, I am at a loss.  These numbers are simply other-worldly.

The reason that we love swimming is that nothing is untouchable.  Records will be set and they will stand, but they will stand only briefly.

There are good analogs between pool swimming and channel swimming.  Bodies of water that were once considered impassable are crossed routinely.  Other channels that are currently considered too long or too dangerous will be gobbled up, maybe even by an old guy.

My college swim coach, Don Sammons, always reminded us that the only thing that limited us were our imaginations.  “Your mind is your most powerful weapon.  If you can think it, you can do it.”  All you have to do is watch the results of the NCAA meet, or climb up on the beach in France, and you realize that Don was right all along.

Always faster.  Other-worldly performances.  No limits.  You’ve gotta love this swimming thing.

See you at the pool.  I will report back.