Sean Ryan: Early Birthday Present
BY MIKE WATKINS//Correspondent
Sean Ryan turns 18 today, but his birthday present came a week early when he made his first U.S. Pan Pacific Championship Team.
With few personal expectations, he shaved more than 11 seconds from his previous best time to finish third in the 1,500 freestyle at last week's ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships.
In the process, he earned his second National Team designation and an extended stay in Irvine, Calif.
“I honestly went into the meet – and even into Saturday night’s 1,500 final – expecting to go back home the next day,” said Ryan, who hails from the Chattanooga, Tenn., area and was a member of the 2009-10 National Team as a 25K open water competitor. "But during the final, when I saw that Peter (Vanderkaay) and Chad (LaTourette) weren't pulling away from me, and I was holding my own, I had a good feeling that I would swim a great time and be right there with them at the finish."
And even though he finished in 15:04 (down from his previous best of 15:15 he swam in morning preliminaries), Ryan came in third behind champion LaTourette and runner-up Vanderkaay and initially believed he was left off the Pan Pac team.
"As I was walking away from the deck, I heard Mark (Schubert) yell at me that I had also made the team, and I was so happy and surprised," said Ryan, whose time is the seventh best in the world this year. "The whole race, I never realized how fast I was going. I had solid times in the 200 and 400 (freestyles) earlier in the week, so I was feeling pretty good about the whole meet before finding out I was on the team."
Up until last week, Ryan, who will enroll at the University of Michigan this fall to train under Mike Bottom and distance coach Josh White, had largely been regarded as more of an open water than pool swimmer.
Leading up to Nationals, he said he took a different approach to his training and preparation so he could make his mark between the stillness of the lane lines instead of in open, choppy water.
When he finished seventh at Open Water Nationals earlier this summer and missed making the Open Water Pan Pac team, he dedicated himself to being in the best possible position in the pool.
Under the instruction of Jon Urbanchek, Ryan said he changed up his training to make it more intense, pushing himself harder but doing less yardage in practice to build up his aerobic base and stamina.
"From April to May this year, I was in the pool a lot getting ready for open water. When that didn't happen, I shifted my focus and made making the National Team in a pool event my goal," said Ryan, who, at a lanky 6-foot-3 and just over 140 pounds looks more like a basketball player than endurance swimmer. "In the words of my coach, 'tall, skinny butts go fastest.'
"I may not be as big mass-wise as Chad or Peter or some of the other distance swimmers, but I make up for it with my high stroke turnover rate. I use my body and strength best as I can."
With Pan Pacs starting next weekend in Irvine, Ryan is aware that, due to the format, he won't be swimming in the final heat with Chad and Peter. But he is committed to go out fast and maintain the pace in his own heat he needs to have a fighting chance at a spot on the medal podium.
He definitely believes he has a faster time in him than what he swam at Nationals. He realizes he is going to have to push himself in order to be a true contender among the top distance swimmers who will be competing at Pan Pacs.
"I still think I have lots of room to grow and improve," said Ryan, who started swimming as a five-year-old. "It's going to take a really fast time in my heat to compete with the times in the top heat (that Chad and Peter will swim in). But I feel I'm up to the challenge.
"After Pan Pacs, I plan to really start looking toward the Olympics in 2012 and get myself ready for that. It was my dream as a kid to be an Olympian, but then I kind of grew out of it. Now that I've been on two National Teams, that desire is back and very strong. I'm excited to see where I can take things from here."