5 Things We Learned from the AT&T Winter Nationals
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
The AT&T Winter Nationals taking place down in Austin, Texas were a breath of fresh air for the championship-deprived masses. American records broken. Meet records smashed. Age group records falling everywhere. And – hooray! – swimming came back on NBC, with a nice Rowdy-commentated hour on Sunday afternoon. (I’d watch Rowdy over the NFL any day of the week.) With the Short Course World Championships on the horizon, this meet was the perfect mid-season kick-off for what should be a thrilling, exciting, edge-of-your-seat Olympiad.
Here are 5 Things We Learned from the AT&T Winter Nationals:
5. Katie Ledecky Continues Her London Olympics Momentum
You have better odds winning the Powerball than beating Katie Ledecky in the 1650 for the next decade. I know, people said this about Katie Hoff back in 2008, too. The difference, Katie Ledecky has proven herself already in the Olympics. At just 15-years-old, Ledecky, winner of two Golden Goggles this fall, has the mental fortitude. Her winning time (15:28) in the 1650 was 10 seconds faster than last year’s NCAA Championship winning time, and Ledecky is only a sophomore in high school. She took down Olympic silver medalist Haley Anderson en route to also demolishing her own National Age Group record in the event. Her time in the 500 freestyle last weekend would have placed 2nd at last year’s NCAA Championships, too. Swim fans everywhere were abuzz after Ledecky’s performances this weekend. We only can wonder how fast she’ll go this year.
4. Ricky Berens Is Not Retired!
After the Olympics concluded, there was talk that Ricky Berens might hang up his suit, initiated by Ricky himself. Put those fears to rest. Berens competed at his alma mater’s pool this weekend, and he swam some incredible performances, including the 200 freestyle. There, he used some epic underwater dolphin kicks and lightning-fast flip turns to surge ahead of Ryan Lochte and company. He swam a blistering 1:31 – a new best time for Berens. Best times deserve to be celebrated, and frankly, as a Ricky Berens fan myself, I’m glad he’s still in the pool competing as fast as ever.
3. Kevin Cordes Smashes Two American Records, Becomes New Brendan Hansen?
Remember the name Kevin Cordes, if you don’t know it already. The Arizona breaststroker broke two American breaststroke records this past weekend, in the 100 and 200 events, respectively (51.10 and 1:50.73). He even took down former American record-holder Mike Alexandrov to do it. Cordes is an amazing talent. It’s ironic that in a pool where we once saw Brendan Hansen compete, now we have someone who could possibly take over the reigns in Cordes. Fantastic meet for the 19-year-old superstar in the making. Let’s hope these swims will translate well to the long course season next summer. Team USA will need him.
3B. Ryan Murphy = A Superstar on the Rise.
When a 17-year-old swimmer goes a 1:38 in the 200 backstroke, all you can do is gasp, and say, “Wow.” Bolles’ Ryan Murphy is just incredible. He’s not even in college yet. There was a moment when he was swimming where I thought, “This guy is conjuring the Ghost of Peirsol Past.” That’s how good he could be – he could be the next Great American Backstroker. The sky’s the limit for this swimmer, and it’s fair time now we also acknowledge his coach at Bolles, Sergio Lopez. Lopez had an incredible fall coaching the Bolles swim team, breaking numerous National High School records, including guiding Murphy to setting a number of them. The success only continues down in Jacksonville, where the Genius of Jacksonville – Lopez – will only continue to guide Murphy to what could be a very special spring/summer season. Kudos to Murphy (also a Cal commit) and Lopez for their outstanding work at Bolles.
2. Is There Anything Missy Franklin Can’t Do?
Happy swimmers are fast swimmers. Just look at Missy Franklin. The high school senior (who also just announced she would compete this high school season) has been riding a wave of momentum since London. It isn’t about to stop now. She just missed an American record in the 200 backstroke by two one-hundredths of a second, a record that is held by future Cal teammate Liz Pelton. By the end of the weekend, Missy won the female high point award. Missy’s on fire. She smiles in every interview. She dances on the pool decks. She seems like she’s having a great time. There’s definitely no senioritis when it comes to her swimming this year. My guess is, we’ll see some American records fall very soon…. Sidenote: I’d pay money to watch Cal backstroke practices next year. Missy Franklin vs. Liz Pelton vs. Rachel Bootsma vs. Cindy Tran? Are you kidding me?
1. Matt Grevers Shatters the 100 Back American Record.
Heading into this meet, I picked the men’s 100 backstroke as my “Can’t Miss Race.” I guessed Matt Grevers would win, since he’s obviously the Olympic gold medalist, but I didn’t figure he would absolutely crush the field en route to setting a new American record. Incredible. Grevers swam a blistering 44.55. This, coming off a fantastic 50/100 freestyle performance as well. (Though it’s too bad Nathan Adrian injured his hand prior to the 50 freestyle final, as I would have loved to see these former Olympic roommates battle in the splash-and-dash event. Grevers ultimately won in an 18.88, but Adrian swam slightly faster that morning pre-injury, 18.82.) Simply put: Matt Grevers is having a great 2012. He found a fiancé. He won an Olympic gold medal. Now he broke a short-course American record, one that was held previously by Ryan Lochte. Nice work this year, Matt.
Also, after Grevers’ American record, two things occurred to me: 1.) When Grevers accepted his Olympic gold medal in London, the BBC commentator on the Olympics webcast suggested that Grevers should perhaps retire, as this could be the climax of his career. Nope. Wrong. This Winter Nationals suggests that much more will be accomplished. 2.) In Grevers’ NBC interview broadcast on Sunday afternoon, Grevers said, commenting about short course yards, “The flags are really short.” Uhhh… are they short? Or are you just really, really, ridiculously tall?
Only kidding, Matt. Fantastic meet. And here’s to looking forward to the upcoming Short Course World Championships, beginning December 12-16. Stay tuned for previews, predictions, and more content here on USASwimming.org.