Monday, August 27, 2012

Quick Splashes: Jr. Pan Pacs, Diving, and More

Yeah, I know, the title’s cheesy. Better suggestions? Please, leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet them to me. Much has happened in the two weeks since the Olympic Games ended, mostly in the world of junior swimming. No one has drawn more attention as of late than Japan’s Akihiro Yamaguchi. Just 18, Yamaguchi swam times of 59.56 in the 100 breast and 2:07.84 in the 200 breast earlier in the month at a high school meet. Just to prove those swims weren’t flukes, he won both events in Hawaii at Junior Pan Pacs last week in times just marginally slower.

Just how fast, you might wonder? Yamaguchi’s time in the 200 breast would have won a bronze in the 200 breast ahead of countryman Ryo Tateishi, and that’s faster than Tateishi or Kosuke Kitajima swam this year. No one in the world beat that time the last two years. The 100 time wouldn’t have medalled in London, but it would have put him into the final. At the very least, he can provide a solid replacement for the retiring Kitajima on the medley relays, and he could be a real threat to win the 200 breast world title as early as next year.

For the American men, Jack Conger and Chase Kalisz starred at Jr. Pan Pacs. Conger won both backstrokes in impressive times – 54.07 in the 100 and 1:57.20 – and he threw in a 50 free win to show off his versatility. Having already rocked the high school swimming world with an impressive time in the 500 of 4:17.51 this winter, Conger will be a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school this fall, and he could make a splash with the U.S. National team sooner rather than later.

As for Kalisz, he should be favored to make the U.S. World Championship team next summer. Yes, Kalisz hasn’t even begun his freshman year at Georgia, and no non-professional swimmer even made the Olympic team this summer. Kalisz, though, has emerged as one of the top IM prospects for the U.S. in this Olympiad. Kalisz won the 400 IM in Hawaii in 4:12.59, good for 14th in the world and fourth-best among Americans. However, with Michael Phelps retiring and Ryan Lochte stepping away from the event, Kalisz has to be a favorite alongside Tyler Clary to make the World Champs team in the 400 IM. With the incredible amounts of time Kalisz keeps dropping, don’t be surprised if he’s much faster a year from now.

For the women, 14 year old Becca Mann took three wins in the three toughest races – the 400 IM, mile, and 10k open water. After making four finals at Olympic Trials, watch for her to take the next step in 2013. Like Mann, Allie Szekely hopes her Trials notoriety leads to some international success down the road. The winner of the much-hyped swim-off for 17th place in the 200 breast in Omaha, Szekely swept the breaststroke events at Junior Nationals with a 2:26.35 in the 200. Remember, she didn’t break 2:30 in that swim-off, and a 2:26 would have made the finals at Trials.

Four years ago, Dagny Knutson used a strong performance at Olympic Trials, where she finished seventh in the 200 IM, as a springboard to a breakout fall. Knutson took off in the freestyle and IM events, including a short course yards American record in the 400 IM, and she went on to win relay medals at two straight World Championships. Knutson, however, did not swim at Olympic Trials this summer, and she recently told her story of a fight with bulimia to Swimming World. Check out all five parts, posted together here. You will find an inspiring story.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens cut kicker Billy Cundiff over the weekend. Cundiff’s name might sound familiar after he missed an easy kick in the AFC Championship Game that would have sent the game into overtime and given the Ravens a shot at the Super Bowl. The Ravens signed rookie Justin Tucker to compete with Cundiff, and Tucker ended up winning the job. What does this have to do with swimming? Tucker’s sister Samantha swims at the University of Texas and has long popped up at national meets in the sprint events.

Speaking of football, most college campuses have their eyes firmly on the start of NCAA football this weekend. Not so much here at Duke. Two Olympic medalists returned to Duke this year, divers Abby Johnston and Nick McCrory. Johnston won silver in the women’s three-meter synchro, and McCrory took bronze in the men’s synchro platform. The pair welcomed my freshman class to campus last week, and today they helped some prospective divers learn the skill. While I was swimming, I dealt with the distractions of splashes and clunks while the Olympians perfectly slipped into the water. In case anyone asked, diving isn’t easy.

UPDATE: I have learned that those "prospective divers" turned out to be minor league baseball players with the Durham Bulls. Nick and Abby threw out the first pitches at the Bulls' game against the Norfolk Tides, so the Bulls decided to visit the divers in their element. Having been at the game as well (by coincidence), let's just say that the divers had more success on land than the baseball players on the boards.

Olympic medalists Abby Johnston and Nick McCrory talked to the freshman class at Duke last week.

No comments:

Post a Comment