By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Last spring, Dax Hill was part of a historic swimming race. He didn’t break any NCAA records. He wasn’t even the fastest person in the heat. But Hill, a 6-foot-8 swimmer from the University of Texas, was the runner-up at the NCAA Championships in the 200 freestyle, second to Florida’s Brett Fraser. They are both black.
Their 1-2 finish was the first time in history, according to Swimming World’s Jeff Commings, that any major national championship race featured two African-American swimmers at the top of the podium. It was historic. Never before seen. And it was a small step toward adding some much-needed diversity to the sport of swimming.
While Fraser will likely represent the Cayman Islands at the 2012 Olympics (he represented the Caymans in 2008), Texas native Dax Hill looks to make his first Olympic roster for the United States. In an interview just a few weeks after his NCAA runner-up 200 freestyle performance, Hill said that he did not consider that swim to be his “breakout swim.”
The interaction went like this:
Peter Busch, Swimming World: “Was this the breakout swim?”
Hill: “Uhhh, not yet.”
Busch: “You have to make the Olympic team before you consider it a breakout swim?”
However, Hill’s second-place finish WAS a breakout swim. He launched himself into the limelight and catapulted himself into the discussion for potential Olympic qualifiers. Before, he wasn’t even on the radar. Not many outside of Texas, had heard of him. But Hill dropped four seconds in his 200 freestyle from his time as a freshman – a major time drop, even if he did battle illness his freshman year – and now has that all-important “momentum” leading into 2012.
The scary part? The 200 freestyle might not even be his best event.
Five days ago, the new collegiate swimming season began for the University of Texas. Dax Hill was back in action. He won the intra-squad meet’s 100 freestyle in a stellar 44.5. This summer, Hill gained solid international experience while representing the USA at the World University Games. He scored gold medals in freestyle relays. Hill has been quoted to say that he enjoys the 100 distance more, and could potentially concentrate on that as time goes on.
What’s especially amazing, though, is that some feel Hill’s talent is just now being utilized. Though he has already accomplished as much as just about anyone could hope throughout a swimming career, Hill, with his size, speed, and talent, could drop a considerable more amount of time between now and Omaha.
Consider these numbers:
In 2009, when Hill was in high school, he swam a 1:38 in the 200 freestyle (and a :54 in the 100 breaststroke, which leads me to ask the question, will we be seeing more breaststroke from Hill in the future?). In 2010, Hill got sick, lost 30 pounds, but still managed a 1:36 in the 200 free. Last spring, Hill placed second at the NCAA Championships with a 1:32.
That’s 6 seconds in just two years. Though Hill would like to be more of a sprinter and concentrate on the 100 freestyle, something tells me that his ultimate opportunity to drop the most time is in that 200 freestyle. See, Hill played a few sports growing up, namely, basketball. Many times, to reach an elite status as an age grouper, swimmers will drop all other sports and concentrate only on swimming. But Dax Hill was a multi-sport athlete. Hill was a standout basketball player who balanced his training while swimming year-round. This, obviously, could be a reason why Hill has been dropping so much time. He’s had to focus on swimming. Though he’s been swimming year-round since he was 8 years old, he’s just now getting the training he needs to make the next step.
“There’s nobody else to bring you down [in swimming],” Hill once told FloSwimming. “It’s all based on you.”
Many eyes will be focused in the coming months on Hill, who will surely be the favorite at the NCAA Championships now that Brett Fraser graduated. Combined with Hill’s increased experience last summer, and growing from last season’s momentum-building NCAA swim, Hill looks poised to claim his first-ever NCAA Individual Championship.
But would that finally be Hill’s official “breakout swim”? Nope. Not yet.