By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Kevin Cordes did not just break records set in “the old era,” he set marks that astounded the entire swimming community at NCAAs in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. The American breaststroke was so thinned out that Brendan Hansen had to come back and rescue the event, and the relay, for 2012. But now, Cordes gives the U.S. a legitimate rising star in the event. The Arizona swimmer talks about what it takes to get better, and what the records mean, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How does it feel to set those records?
Kevin: I feel ... I don’t know how I feel; I am trying to take it all in. It’s kind of surprising. It’s fun to be part of Arizona getting third place (at NCAAs in the team standings).
2. Is it an attitude of getting better every swim?
Kevin: Every time I go into a taper meet, I just want to improve on my times. That’s all I can do at this point – stay focused on that and take it one step at a time.
3. Being part of a team means a lot to you doesn’t it?
Kevin: I like to do everything for our guys. Just being there with them, and bearing down for ‘Zona. That was the most fun race I have ever been a part of, the 400 medley relay (at NCAAs), having your team there with you and being there with them.
4. When did you know you could eclipse the mark in the 200, or that it was possible?
Kevin: After prelims in the 200, I was kind of loosened up a little bit going into finals and wanted to have some fun in the finals, and just go with it. That helped me being lose and sticking to the game plan of stroke counts – that’s a big thing for me. At that point, racing took over. When I touched the wall I was really happy. It was just fun.
5. So you were happy with the technical performance of your record-setting race?
Kevin: Yes, that has to be one of my best technical races, just from getting my stroke count, turns and pullouts better the last few years. To see it all come out like that is good. But I have to find other things to work on so I can keep dropping time.
6. What was it like to look up and see that record time?
Kevin: I can barely describe it. Pure excitement. Seeing 1:48 was kind of like … I had to double take kind of. It was a great feeling. I was just really happy. But getting third place in the team race was awesome, the most important thing. The whole night was sweet, just being with my teammates.
7. What happened in the 100 – what did you do well?
Kevin: My 100 – that’s just the racing aspect of me taking over, just going out and racing. I think that really helps my 200 the most, just going out and leaving it all out in the pool and developing that speed in the 100. It’s just fun doing more sprinting stuff.
8. Have you enjoyed college at U of A?
Kevin: Tucson has been awesome. Being able to train outside is great. Coming back from being in Indy and it being 80 degrees here is just a good feeling. Training for U of A has just been a blessing. I couldn’t have picked a better school to go to.
9. Is there also a tech aspect to the 100?
Kevin: Absolutely there is. Being able to hit my line but also keeping up the speed, not doing any half strokes or stuff like that. I had to hit my turns right. Basically, just doing everything soundly.
10. Were you also as surprised in the 100 for the record as you were for the record in the 200?
Kevin: Not so much (in the 100). I was just happy to be able to drop time from Winter Nationals, and from prelims to finals. Also, last year at NCAAs I went a half second slower from prelims to finals. So dropping time is what I was happy about.
11. It must be great to follow a living legend like Brendan Hansen – do you know a lot about him?
Kevin: Yes, I remember Brendan coming to Naperville (Illinois, Kevin’s hometown) for a swim clinic and kind of being in awe of him after the ‘04 Olympics. I definitely looked up to him and the U.S. breaststrokers. It was awesome being able to race against all those guys at Trials last year. It taught me a lot about taking it to the next level and being a part of that for USA Swimming.
12. What happened at Trials?
Kevin: I feel like I had the best opportunity in the 100 (at Trials, where he finished third). In the 200 (where he was 12th at Trials) I was still trying to learn how to race that distance, and training for the 200 was something I improved on this year more so than last year. I thought about getting that third place at Trials in practice a lot since then. That was the main thing that helped me from Trials and provided extra motivation.
13. How did you deal with third place and missing the team by such a small fraction of a second?
Kevin: After it happened, I was a kind of upset to not make the team obviously, but I was happy with how far I had come from the years prior. You can only take it as a positive, not a negative, and taking it as a positive benefitted me.
14. How much did your father being a football player for the University of Arizona inspire or motivate you to go there?
Kevin: Growing up I always wanted to play football because of my dad and go to U of A. It turns out swimming was a better opportunity But going to U of A has been awesome, having my dad come and visit and have us both be Wildcats. That’s something special I can share with him.
15. Did you follow all the talk about you online up to and during NCAAs and how people thought you might break a record or two?
Kevin: I tried to really stay off the internet and stuff like that. It’s definitely hard to sleep after that first relay – I got so jacked up! After that, I had so much momentum throughout the meet. I just was kind of not thinking about the other stuff. We just had to think about what we had to do to swim well – something we had been training for all year.
16. Are you happy to settle in now as a business major at Arizona?
Kevin: Yes, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at first. I chose business and I am really happy so far – in fact, I am going to apply to the business school next semester. That’ll be fun, and I am excited to be able to get into that school and find a degree that works for me
17. What’s up next?
Kevin: Basically, it’s just focusing now on the next thing in front of me which is World Championship Trials. I want to make that team. I am just going to soak this in for a week or two and then get back to work.
18. How well has it worked out with Coach Eric Hansen after he had to replace such an icon like Frank Busch?
Kevin: The coaches have been a lot of fun to train for out here in Arizona. This year, the second year, the swimmers and coaches have an even better relationship than we had the first year, and that even showed at NCAAs. I would even say we did not have as talented a team this year as we did last year, yet we played higher, and that shows the chemistry and how far along we have come in understanding and building a good relationship with the coaches, who are just amazing.
19. When did you start swimming?
Kevin: I started swimming when I was 6, just in the summer time. And then I didn’t fully commit to year-round swimming, hard core, until my sophomore year of high school. That year I decided to stick to swimming, and I grew several inches. I realized I could have a future in this sport.
20. The breaststroke is so hard to a lot of people – how do you stay on top of it on a daily basis?
Kevin: Definitely, you can have off days with the breaststroke if you don’t have the right feel. What I try to do in hard sets toward the end if I am pushing it, is just try to consciously do the perfect stroke, because when I am tired in a race, I don’t want my stroke to break down. I always want to find a way to improve, because I really enjoy this.
These last few weeks have been a lot of fun and I am just taking it all in. It hasn’t hit me too hard yet, but it’s been great to have such great teammates to be around, and to have our post-grads to train with and inspire us all the time. My family has also been great; my parents and brother and sister came out (to NCAAs), and that was really cool. I am proud of the records and enjoy them a lot, but they also belong to my teammates, the coaches I have and have had, and my family for supporting and motivating me to do my best; these experiences mean so much more when you have the people you care about, and who care about you, be a part of them.