15 Swims for 2015

Dec 29, 2015

15 Swims Worth Remembering in 2015… 

The year before an Olympic year is often a bit of a buzz kill. It’s a time when everyone is usually gazing out at the near horizon, with the goal of the Games superseding anything that happens one year out. But not this year. In 2015, we were treated to some all-time performances, from a collection of young and old-ish, from an unknown Turkish teen to the ultimate bold-faced name in the pool.

So, with swimmers immersed in Christmas Training across the globe, and a new Olympic year about to dawn, enjoy this highly subjective look at 15 swims worth remembering in 2015… (NOTE: Links to each swim are provided where possible.)

15.) Viktoria Zeynep Gunes, 2:19.64 in the 200 breast at the World Junior Championships in Singapore… Ever heard of this 17-year-old from Turkey? Me neither. Meet the new gold medal favorite in the women’s 200 breast heading into Rio. Gunes’s sub-2:20 in Singapore was the 4th fastest performance in history, and it ripped three seconds off of her previous best. The women’s 200 breast has long been the domain of the young, always an event ripe for Olympic upsets by upstart teens. But if and when Gunes stands atop the podium in Rio, it won’t be a shocker to anyone paying attention.

14. Ryan Hoffer’s 100 yard Free at the Texas Invite… Speaking of paying attention. Have you watched this kid’s 100 free in Austin last month? Watching his underwaters makes you gasp, literally. 41.23, at age 17. A pool record at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center – a site that’s seen just a few fast sprinters in its waters over the years. He swam over 60% of the race beneath the surface. This kid is redefining what it means to be a sprinter. I cannot wait for his NCAA career. Here’s betting he’s the first man to crack 40 seconds in the 100 yard Free. And he may do it sooner than later.

13.) Florent Manaudou’s 50 Free at the World Championships in Kazan… The dashing French beast posted a scary fast 50 in Russia this summer. His 21.19 was the fastest ever, outside of two suit-aided swims by Cesar Cielo back in the silly summer of 2009. There are plenty of big fast guys out there, capable of gunning to gold in Rio, but let’s be honest – if Florent is on, he’s the heavy favorite. It might take a dip under 21 to touch him.

12.) Ranomi Kromowidjojo’s 50 Free at the Duel in the Pool… The Dutch sprint queen with the broadcaster’s nightmare of a last name still has it. At the Duel in Indianapolis, the defending Olympic champ equalled her short course world record in the 50. In Rio, she’ll be chasing the Aussie Campbell sisters (more on them soon) in the sprints, but big stage experience is huge – especially in events where a single mistake will wreck you. I’ll never be able to pronounce that mouthful surname, but I can spell b-a-d a-s-s.

11.) Connor Jaeger’s 1500 duel with Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri at the Duel in the Pool… The quality and drama of past Duels has been a bit of a mixed bag, but this year may have been its best ever, with world class swims and incredible races in damn near every event. There was no better race than the men’s mile. Gregorio Paltrinieri is the reigning world champion in the mile, and he’s also evidently a good friend of Connor Jaeger, who raced behind him to silver in Kazan. In the small pool in Indy, these friends and rivals put on a show, going stroke for stroke for 60 straight laps, until Connor Jaeger turned on the juice with a 50 to go and charged to an emotional win. NBC may cut to commercial in the middle of the distance events, but they’re broadcasting to the clueless masses. The swimmers and coaches on deck know that there is no race more exciting to witness than a head-to-head battle in the mile.

10.) Mitch Larkin’s 200 back at the World Champs… Ok, admitting a bias here. And not for the 22-year-old Aussie champion. Past posts will indicate that I have a bias for Ryan Murphy, the longtime heir apparent to Team USA’s backstroke throne. He’s a Bolles kid with class; I want to see him succeed. So, when watching the final of the men’s 200 back from Kazan, I hoped to see Murphy charge to his first individual world title. Instead, I watched a skinny Aussie with goofy glasses swim a beautifully split race on his way to dominating gold, while Murphy faded to 5th. I’ll be pulling for a different result come Rio, but beating Larkin in the backstroke will be a tall order for anyone.

9.) Cate Campbell’s short course world record in 100 Free… Watching Cate Campbell swim freestyle reminds me of no one so much as Alex Popov. Like the Russian sprint czar, Campbell’s long unhurried stroke seems to mock the other spinning sprinters in nearby lanes. At the World Champs in Kazan, her sister Bronte stole the show, but Cate saved her best swim of the year for last month in Sydney. At the Australian Short Course Championships, she became the first women in history to crack 51 second in the 100 Free – doing it in the final of the 200, and then taking a nice four-lap victory lap.

8.) Bronte Campbell’s 100 Free at Worlds… Score one for kid sisters everywhere. Bronte Campbell is younger, smaller, and less decorated than big sister Cate. While a longtime presence towards the top of the world rankings in the 50 and the 100, she’s always seemed to race in big sis’s shadow. But not this summer in Kazan. At the World Champs, she raced to gold in both the 50 and the 100, but it was her 100 that came first – the swim that swept her into the spotlight as the new Olympic favorite. 

7.) Adam Peaty’s world record in the 100 Breast at British Championships… The Brits have officially joined the ranks of swimming superpowers, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the men’s breaststroke, led by the 21-year-old Peaty. In April at his country’s nationals, he torched a 57.92, becoming the first man ever under 58. Check out his final 25 meters. His turnover and acceleration is astonishing. No longer a stroke of pure leg-generated power, Peaty’s stroke reveals the trend among the world’s top breaststrokers – who are using high turnover and narrow kicks to generate new standards of speed.

6.) Sarah Sjostrom’s 100 Fly at World Champs… The blonde Swede from outside Stockholm has been the world’s best in the 100 fly for ages now, despite her disappointment in London, when she entered as the world record holder only to finish 4th, and had to watch as Dana Vollmer claimed her record. But Sjostrom has been unbeatable pretty much ever since. In Kazan she was the best female swimmer this side of Katie Ledecky, racing to five medals – including gold in the 100 fly, where she finally reclaimed the record she lost in London.

5.) Chad Le Clos’s 100 Fly at Worlds… Speaking of world titles in the 100 Fly – how about Chad Le Clos’s swim in Kazan? Since his 200 fly upset of Phelps in London, the 23-year-old from Durban has fancied himself the new king of the fly. His ego has reportedly become rather, um, healthy since that London triumph three years ago, and he hasn’t been shy about his new status. At the World Champs, Le Clos posted an impressive 50.56 in the 100 Fly – a time, he was quick to point out, that Phelps hadn’t surpassed in four years. “He can keep quiet now,” said Le Clos. Mr. Phelps, alas, did not.

4.) Michael Phelps, 50.45 in the 100 Fly at U.S. Nationals… All due respect to Chad Le Clos, he’s earned it, but hasn’t one learned not to play with the piranha? (Look up: ‘Cavic, Mike’) Mouthing off like that is ill-advised, though some of us can’t resist. At Nationals in San Antonio, Phelps was not lacking for motivation, he probably would have gone 50.4 regardless, but Le Clos’s comments just made things that much sweeter. Fact is, there may be no athlete in history, aside from Michael Jordan, who’s proven more capable of using slights – both real and imagined – to fuel his greatness.

3.) Michael Phelps,  1:52.94 in the 200 Fly at Nationals… His 100 Fly may have settled a score, and his 200 IM may have proven that he’s back with the complete package, but it was Phelps’s 200 Fly in San Antonio that truly showed just how far he’s come since his DUI crack up in September of 2014. You don’t fake a long course 200 fly. Though Phelps has come closer to doing it than anyone ever. In London, he was mentally checked out and only half fit; he was due for the beating. Meaning this event, the one that came first for Phelps way back in 2000, will be the one that carries the most weight in Rio. His 1:52.9 was his fastest since 2009, and in many ways, the best 200 fly he’s ever swum.

2.) Katie Ledecky’s 1500 at Worlds… Ok, if we’re constructing this list based purely on objective merit, half of it would be filled with swims by Katie Ledecky at the World Championships. Her performance in Kazan was, arguably, the finest overall swim meet ever delivered by a woman. She obviously deserves the top spots on this list, and probably more than that, but for the sake of inclusion I tried to choose just one from Kazan. For me, it was her finals swim in the 1500. A day earlier Katie broke her world record in the mile with a 15:27. (At some point over the last year or so, I’ve become numb to the insanity of Ledecky’s times…) Among the inner sanctum of Team USA, word was that she wanted to get that record out of the way in the prelims, knowing that she had a crazy tough double the next day, with the semifinals of the 200 Free less than thirty minutes after the finals of the 1500. It would probably be best just to swim to win, secure gold and shut it down, save yourself a bit for the 200. Except saving yourself has never been Ledecky’s style. She only knows how to attack. So, Katie did what Katie does. Which no one has ever done before her. She went out and lopped another two seconds off of her world record, going 15:25.48, then hopped out, splashed through a quick warm down, and stepped back out a few minutes later and raced her way to finals in the 200. With less than a year to Rio, here’s where Ledecky finds herself: As THE most exciting Olympian, in any sport, heading into the next Games.

1.) Katie Ledecky’s 8:59.65 in the 1000 Free at the NCAP Invitational… Wait, you’re telling me that the single most memorable swim of 2015 came at a local in-season short course yards meet? Yes. Remember, this is Katie Ledecky we’re talking about. Unless you grew up racing yards in the States, or swam in the NCAA, the small pool yards standards can be hard to translate to friends over borders. The measurement just doesn’t make much sense, not to metric-centric sane folks everywhere else in the world. So, here’s the best way I can put it: It’s time to consider the once unthinkable prospect that a woman may soon be breaking 8:00 in the 800. Long course. Ledecky going under 9:00 in the 1000 – in season – sets her up for that. At the NCAP Invite, she negative split her way to that 8:59, coming home in 4:28. That’s just silly. Some of the best American male distance swimmers in history never broke 9:00 in the 1000. But Ledecky is now way out in uncharted waters. In Kazan, she went 8:07 in the 800, after a body-battering campaign that included two world records in the 1500. In Rio she’ll have 3,000 less meters to swim faster than anyone in history. 7:59 in the 800 anyone?

Happy new year to all…