By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Even though he went to Omaha this summer confident that he would swim fast, it was Kevin Cordes’ support system – his club and college coaches, in particular – who were the most ardent about his chances of making the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.
In the months leading up to Olympic Trials, his Fox Valley Swim Team coach Dave Krotiak told Cordes he’s the best breaststroker in the world, and his University of Arizona coach Eric Hansen boasted that, based on his tremendous improvement over the course of his freshman year, he liked his pupil’s chances of making the team.
In the end, the only person who really needed to believe it was Cordes – and he did. Unfortunately, Olympic veterans Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau believed in themselves equally as much and out-touched Cordes at the wall after the Wildcat sophomore led at the 50-meter turn.
And while third place is the odd man out when the top 2 usually make the team, Cordes has chosen to use the result as a motivating building block for the future rather than lament over what could have been.
“After I went 51 (51.76) at Texas (Texas Invitational last December) – down from my personal-best 53.67 – in the 100 breast, I thought I had a chance but also knew Brendan, Eric and everyone believed the same about themselves,” said Cordes, who started swimming at age 6 but didn’t really take it seriously until his freshman year of high school.
“When I looked up at the finish of the race and saw “3” beside my name, I was disheartened, but considering I didn’t even qualify for Trials four years earlier, I was really proud of all that I had accomplished. Now, I’m ready to see where I can take things with my training and getting faster.”
In addition to swimming one spot from the Olympic Team in the 100 breast, Cordes also made the semifinals of the 200 breast – an event Hansen has been quoted as saying he believes will eventually be his best event.
At 6-foot-5 and not quite 200 pounds, Cordes certainly has the build of the growing trend of long, lean breaststrokers with large feet and big wingspans. When he arrived on the Arizona campus in 2011, he was a spindly 177 pounds and has since packed on more than 15 pounds of muscle to his frame.
He’s also gotten remarkably more efficient with his stroke, resulting in more than a 2-second time drop in the 100 (as evidenced by his time at the Austin Invitational and subsequent NCAA title earlier this year) and over 5-second improvement in the 200.
Citing turns as the part of his race that needs the most work, he becomes even more efficient competing in meters rather than yards (NCAAs) because he only has one turn in the 100 breast.
“I didn’t really have any expectations at NCAAs, but I felt confident because I had seen consistent improvement over the course of my season,” said Cordes, from Naperville, Ill., who chose Arizona over a host of top swimming programs. “Having a title to defend this season is great motivation for me – especially after coming so close at Trials. I have a lot that I still want to prove to myself.”
A few weeks after Trials, Cordes competed in Indianapolis at the U.S. Open, where he finished second in both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes and earned a spot on the 2013 World University Games team that will compete next summer in Kazan, Russia – his first international team.
While he’s definitely looking forward to being a member of the team, he’s also circled the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – which happen before WUGs and where the U.S. World Championship team will be selected – on his calendar.
Based on his performance at Trials and the U.S. Open, he knows he’ll be in the mix for a spot on the World team and is excited to swim fast and possibly swim in Barcelona instead.
“Watching everyone at the Olympics and knowing I came so close to being with them was difficult, but it also made me want it even more,” said Cordes, who finished seventh in the 100 breast at 2011 Nationals. “All I can do is keep improving and swimming faster, and if that gets me on the World team, great. If not, I am equally excited about swimming at World University Games.”
Now in the heart of his dual competition season at Arizona, Cordes said he is focused on continuing to get faster and help his team through the rest of the NCAA season. He said he would love to defend his title in the 100 breast at NCAAs and potentially add a title in the 200.
But as the consummate team player, he said he would ultimately love to share an NCAA title with his teammates, the guys who motivate him every day to swim faster.
“We’ve really trained hard as a team and pushed each other to get better,” Cordes said. “We have a deep, fast team, and we’re excited to show people what we can do at NCAAs. I just want to help my team any way that I can.”