WUGs Pool Wrap-up
The World University Games, one of the most competitive swim meets of the year, has wrapped its pool competition. While most of Team USA travels home, some WUG swimmers continue on to the World Championships, like a rock band touring the world. The WUGs were a successful meet for Team USA. Many younger swimmers gained invaluable experience exchanging their club team caps for Team USA caps. Representing the USA in a swim meet is not only a thrill, but should provide these swimmers with additional motivation and mental experience needed to push on.
Who impressed? Who rose to the occasion? What swimmers had great performances?
1. Sean Ryan breaking 15:00 in the mile.
Before the meet started, I mentioned that fans should keep an eye on the Ann Arbor distance contingent. Ryan, one of the elite distance swimmers at Michigan, rose to the occasion. He broke through that formidable 15:00 barrier in the 1500m. He scored his first-ever individual international medal (a huge accomplishment). It's not easy traveling halfway across the world and keeping "distance fit" and ready to swim a 1500m. Ryan now becomes one of just a handful of swimmers this year to have broken that barrier. Heading into his senior year, Ryan now takes with him an international gold, which was the first gold medal won by the U.S. at WUGs this year.
2. Laura Sogar and Mike Alexandrov look good for 2013-2014.
While both swimmers didn't qualify for the World Championships, they both took advantage of the opportunity presented at the World University Games. Sogar went head-to-head with Yuliya Andreyevna Yefimova of Russia, former World Champion in the 50m breaststroke. Sogar scored a silver medal, solidifying her momentum after winning an NCAA title earlier this spring. The breaststroke events are hugely competitive in the U.S., with the likes of Rebecca Soni and company competing for limited roster spots. But in the 200m distance, there is a little more wiggle room to qualify for international rosters. Sogar could be in the hunt throughout the next Olympiad in that longer distance. Keep an eye on her. Meanwhile, while Alexandrov came oh-so-close to breaking that 1:00 barrier, he did earn a silver medal. The former American record-holder should feel great about his performance. The breaststroke is a tricky event to taper twice (the Nationals and now the WUGs) and come close to best times. Alexandrov and Sogar kept their strokes together, secured a few individual medals, and proved they'll be formidable in the future.
3. Welcome to the big leagues, Jack Conger.
Talk about making a statement. While many people are talking about other up-and-coming swimmers like Ryan Murphy, 18-year-old Conger takes the WUG title in the 200m backstroke, nearly eclipsing legendary Aaron Peirsol's NAG record in the process. Conger dominated with a 1:55.47, a time that's just phenomenal, especially considering Conger's young age. It's quite a feat for any teenager to see his/her native flag hoisted and hear that anthem playing. What kind of effect will this have for Conger? Time will tell. The Phelps-less future on the men's side is looking promising, though, when you consider the talents of these teenagers. Conger made a name for himself at WUGs. Now, bring on the world.
4. Michael Weiss breaks through with a big win.
No event over the past few Olympiads has been more difficult to swim than the men's 400 IM. Not only because it's a grueling event, but also because any competitor would have to battle names like Phelps, Lochte, and/or Clary. These are/were three of the best swimmers in the world for the past few years. Michael Weiss, a 400 IMer from Wisconsin, is one of those swimmers who had to take a backseat to Phelps and others. But Weiss's 4:12 is a solid time, a time that could have challenged for an Olympic medal not too long ago. With a little bit more time shaved here and there, Weiss could be a name to watch in swimming's most difficult event. Needless to say, an individual win in any international context is a big deal. Congratulations to Weiss for earning his moment atop the medal podium.
5. Megan Romano: Onto Worlds...
Romano, swimming in the most events of any swimmer at WUGs, had some very impressive swims in Russia last week. She broke the 1:00 barrier in the 100 back. She helped the 800 free relay win a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat victory. She swam some lights-out splits, including a 52.9 (!) split in the 400 freestyle relay. Now, Romano heads to the World Championships to compete in the 400 free relay. Romano is one of the most exciting relay swimmers out there. She seems to drop insane amounts of time when she's swimming with teammates. If she can put together an individual performance like she does for relays, watch out.