Mar 28, 2016
The three greatest swimmers in the NCAA – Ryan Murphy, Joseph Schooling, and Caeleb Dressel – all hail from the same place: Bolles. The single finest place on earth to develop champions in the pool…
It was impossible to choose. Any other year, any one among the three would have been the slam dunk unanimous pick, but this year all three gentlemen were flawless, and so it was only proper to bestow the honor on the trio. On Saturday evening they were named the tri-Swimmers of the Year by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. It wasn’t the first time they’ve shared center stage.
Ryan Murphy, Joseph Schooling, and Caeleb Dressel have known each other a long time, since they were young teens at Uible Pool on the Bolles School campus in Jacksonville, Florida. They’ve always been record breaking chosen-one studs, since they were kids. Murphy has been a backstroke prodigy since he was a boy. Schooling, a butterfly genius since he arrived from Singapore. And Dressel, well, he’s the sort of speed freak phenom that you could see turning pro in any number of sports.
Together, they’re now in the midst of compiling a collective collegiate resumé that has never been witnessed in the history of swimming.
A quick recap of their college years to date:
– Cal’s Ryan Murphy has never lost a backstroke race at the NCAAs. He currently owns the American, U.S. Open, and NCAA records in both the 100 and 200 back.
– Texas’s Joseph Schooling has never lost a butterfly race at the NCAAs. He currently owns the U.S. Open and NCAA records in both the 100 and 200 fly.
– Florida’s Caeleb Dressel has never lost a 50 free at the NCAAs. In addition to his fastest-ever status in the 50, he also just broke the American, U.S. Open, and NCAA record in the 100 free last weekend.
Together on a medley relay, we could put a 10-year-old girl on the breaststroke leg and they would still be a world-class relay. But let’s not stop there. Let’s add a 4th horseman to this multi-headed Bolles beast. Let’s add a Canadian sprint monster named Santo Condorelli. He’s another citizen of Bolles Nation, and he just happens to be among the favorites to win the 100 Free at the Olympics this summer in Rio. He would have been a Junior at USC this year, but Santo chose to take a collegiate year off to focus his energies on the big pool adventures ahead. Safe to say he would have given his old buddy Caeleb a run in the 100 free last week. (NOTE: Can I put down an early bet right now that one or both of these guys break 40 seconds in the 100 free before their collegiate careers conclude?)
Dressel, meanwhile, happens to be one of the best 100 yard breaststrokes in the country, when he’s not scorching to mind boggling times every time he swims the 50 or 100 free. At SECs, he split 51.0 on Florida’s medley relay. So, let’s put together the Bolles Nation 400 medley relay, with Dressel taking the breaststroke leg and Condorelli taking the anchor, using Murphy and Schooling’s actual splits on their school’s relays last weekend; Dressel’s from his conference meet; and a conservative estimate for Condorelli on the end. Take a look:
Back – Ryan Murphy, 43.4
Breast – Caeleb Dressel, 51.0
Fly – Joseph Schooling, 43.3
Free – Santo Condorelli, 41.0
FINAL TIME: 2:58.7
That’s two full seconds faster than Texas went this year to win the 400 medley – and they crushed the NCAA record in 3:00.68!
Unfortunately, this Bolles foursome will likely never take the blocks together. They go to different schools, swim for different countries. A pair of Americans, a Singaporean, and a Canadian, united by a club in Jacksonville known for its rich history of worldly talent.
This is personal for me, so forgive the hyperbole. (Though with this crew, you quickly run dry on superlatives…) I went to Bolles, graduated from there in 1993. Went back every college summer to train. Moved back there for an Olympic year, from the summer of ’95 to the summer of ’96, to prepare for the Atlanta Games. (Like Condorelli, I made my way from Bolles to USC to the Canadian Team, so you know who I’ll be pulling for on the blocks in Rio when the big dogs step up for the marquee 100 free final.)
Back in ’96, we coined the term ‘Bolles Nation’ after swimmers from 18 different countries all qualified for the Atlanta Games, all of whom had been training at Bolles that year in a bit of an O.G. post-grad crew that predated those sort of training groups so in vogue these days. We made t-shirts, with the names and flags of each country on the back, with Bolles in the largest type across the top, as if that allegiance superseded our national ones.
Back then, Coach Gregg Troy was our sworn benevolent dictator of the Bolles Nation. He didn’t care where you were from, didn’t care if your English skills were still rather lacking, didn’t care that some other national coach might swallow up the credit for your performance on the international stage. He cared only that you were willing to put in the work. That part was non-negotiable.
Coach Troy moved on to the University of Florida soon after Atlanta, where he continued to produce an unending line of champions willing to work their asses off, regardless of where their passports were from. Meanwhile, the rule of Bolles was eventually taken over by Sergio Lopez, an Olympic medalist from Spain, who brought both the international pedigree along with the same expectations for record-crushing excellence. Their training philosophies may have differed; their results did not.
Now Lopez has moved on to Singapore, where he’ll be guiding Schooling and his compatriots in Rio, and where he’s currently coaching an eclectic group over there that includes Kevin Cordes. These days the swim boss of Bolles is head coach Jon Sakovich, a 16-year veteran of the Nation. Like his predecessors he comes by his multi-national bona fides honestly. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Sakovich represented Guam; prior to that he represented the Northern Mariana Islands at a host of international competitions; and then later, after a decorated career at the University of Florida, Sakovich also raced his way onto Team USA’s national team – at the 1995 Pan American Games and Pan Pacific Championships, before narrowly missing an American Olympic berth in ’96.
For a conservative city that considers itself much more a part of the South than a part of Florida, Jacksonville seems an unlikely place for this mecca of multi-cultural swimming champions. Indeed, the Bolles School itself is mostly a private day-school filled with the fortunate sons and daughters of well-to-do families from the city’s fanciest areas. But upstairs in the school’s main building, a converted resort hotel for the 1920’s, there are two floors of dorms that have long been filled with a wide-ranging mix of nationalities and languages. The greatest young swimmers from Thailand and the Caribbean and South America were up and down the hall when I was there.
Some say it started with Anthony Nesty, back in the mid 1980s. Hailing from the tiny South American nation of Surinam, Nesty was the Joseph Schooling of his day, owning the National High School record in the 100 fly for ages, before heading to Florida and dominating the butteflies at NCAAs, before showing up at the ’88 Games in Seoul an unheralded 19-year-old – and touching out Matt Biondi for gold in the 100 fly in one of the great finishes in Olympic history. These days, Nesty is one of the heir apparents at Florida, when Coach Troy decides to bow out into a golden retirement.
Since Nesty, other Bolles Olympic medalists have included Martin Zubero (Spain, gold in the 200 back in 1992); Greg Burgess (USA, silver in the 200 IM in 1992); Gustavo Borges (Brazil, two silver / two bronze in 1992, ’96, and ’00); Trina Jackson and Ashley Whitney (USA, both members of the gold medal winning 4×200 relay in ’96); and George Bovel (Trindad & T0bago, bronze in the 200 IM in ’00).
It’s a safe bet that Ryan Murphy, Joseph Schooling, and Caeleb Dressel will all be standing on Olympic podiums this summer. Santo Condorelli too.
If and when that happens, the current standard bearers of Bolles Nation will have taken its legacy to extraordinary heights. But for now, it’s time to bask, if only for a moment, in the NCAA achievements of one of the most astonishing trios ever produced by a single club.