By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Monday, July 17, 2017
In this Part II -- we will have a special EXTRA (Part III) for tomorrow’s 20 Question Tuesday, Rowdy Gaines explains why the youngest stars of USA Swimming get to take on a new role in Hungary this year at Worlds. There will also be some new events, and while the men’s distance is undergoing a changing of the guard, that might work out fine, as Gaines explains in this 20 Question Monday EXTRA.
1. A younger team, once again -- echoes of pre-Rio chatter?
Rowdy: Yes, it’s a much younger team this year. Although not the youngest of teams, but it is a young team. So on the women’s side, you talk about the leadership having to come from people like Lilly, Leah Smith, Simone, Lia Neal, Katie Ledecky. And even the more experienced ones I have mentioned are still in their early 20s!
2. So the women’s team will definitely have younger leadership, at least in comparison to last summer’s women’s Olympic team, and the men’s team for Worlds?
Rowdy: Oh yes, definitely. And I should include the amazing Lia Neal in that group, twice an Olympian, who just finished her senior year of college at Stanford. So there are none of the old stalwarts on the women’s team -- no Matt Grevers on the women’s team. That’s not a bad thing. Elizabeth Beisel is such a great leader has a lot of experience internationally, she’s still just 24 but it seems like she’s been here forever because she has been on the National Team for so long.
3. We could do another 20 Questions on all the new faces on the women’s team -- Sarah, Bethany, Madisyn, for starters, couldn’t we?
Rowdy: Sarah Gibson, Bethany Galat and Madisyn Cox. They all felt it a little at Trials last summer. I think Bethany was close (to making the Rio team) in two events. And the other two, Sarah and Madisyn, finaled. All had been so close.
4. I love the story of Matt, Tim Phillips and others who came back at an older age, but these young women -- and men -- who overcame those close misses in their first and/or best chance, that’s amazing too, right?
Rowdy: That’s why you admire them, They did not let that be a downer but rather be a motivation to take the next step to the next level. They are going to learn a lot this summer.
5. And this Worlds meet will be great experience for all, won’t it?
Rowdy: That is the big thing. They will learn so much whether they win a medal or not. This will be more about Tokyo in three years than it is about Hungary’s results. And I’m not saying any of them won’t win a medal this time, because any or all of them could.
6. How about Katie Meili -- how does she come up big when the spotlight is brightest?
Rowdy: It can’t get any bigger than the Olympics, where she medaled after her incredible Olympics Trials, or making the Worlds team. That’s where she is at her best.
7. I guess Katie Meili astounds me because I had communicated with her and she was swamped with finishing at an Ivy League school (Columbia) and then applying to law school and taking the LSAT (she’s going to Georgetown Law School this fall) -- how does someone so young do all that and make this team?
Rowdy: Katie Meili is another one you admire for her consistency. What she’s been able to do ever since she won gold at the Pan Am Games...she has been right there at the top of the 100 breaststroke every time she swims.
8. I was rooting for her because it seemed like she had a great chance in the 200 breaststroke -- to come back, what does that say about her?
Rowdy: Katie has been a little up and down in the 200 breaststroke. What’s even more impressive is that the next to the last day -- after five days of Nationals and not making it in the 200 or 50 -- that she could come back and still be able to challenge Lilly all the way to the end in the 200 was so impressive.
9. But that time off, it can help an athlete in a way, can’t it?
Rowdy: Especially what we talked about, where it’s so easy to take time off because they do have to figure out what the next step is in life -- Katie is still learning her way like the others. I think having those two is going to help Katie and Lilly. I think they both kind of attacked that race at the Olympics (the 100 breaststroke in Rio, King won gold and Meili won bronze) where it’s “us against the world.” The two bonded because of that. They decided at some point after making the Olympic team that, “We’re going to do this together.” Having that same familiarity for Budapest -- it won’t be easy because that field is fast, so it will be a tall order -- but having that experience before now helps them both.
10. Chase Kalisz has been unreal. He’s diversely, dominating in his talent -- he’s like a shark. How great is he and how much better can he become?
Rowdy: I think Chase is the best American male swimmer since Rio. When you think, overall, there is not one more versatile than Chase. I don’t think he was completely rested at Nationals. I think he and Jack and Bob (Bowman) said, “We’re going to do the 200 IM, make the 400 IM, and everything else is gravy whether you make it or not.”
11. I saw some anonymous comments online about his 200 fly but he’s still among the best in the world at that -- and not making the team in that didn’t take his focus away from his other goals, did it?
Rowdy: People think Chase slipped up in the 200 fly but he still went a best time, so I take issue with anyone who said he failed there -- he went a best time, and that is not failing. He also went a best time in the 200 IM and was just a couple tenths off in the 400 IM. Look at what he did at Olympic Trials and compare it to these (World team) Trials (Nationals). Do the math -- that’s very special.
12. The coaches on this year’s team, more new faces, what does that mean for the sport?
Rowdy: It’s so good to see. I got my picture taken with Braden Holloway from North Carolina State and Indiana’s Ray Looze. I saw that (posted online) and thought, “I’m sandwiched between two of the great coaches in USA Swimming’s future.” Not that they aren’t great already, but they have the right experience and are so well-versed on what they need to do for their swimmers’ success. They’ve proven themselves the last three or four years and both are open to learning more. There are so many other coaches I could list as well.
13. How about one more?
Rowdy: (Texas A&M Head Coach) Steve Bultman is one of the most underrated, best coaches in the world. He is just so unheralded. I always like to give a shout-out to him for those who don’t know how long he’s been so outstanding. Remember, Steve was on the staff in ‘88 and here we are almost 30 years later and he’s on the staff again. He’s done a great job.
14. And yet it’s nice to have some veteran coaches as well to go with women’s head coach Greg Meehan and men’s head coach Dave Durden, both of whom also have Olympic and NCAA title experience?
Rowdy: Jack Bauerle, Eddie Reese, all those the legends. It’s really a good makeup on the staff. And I can’t think of a better pair of coaches to lead the charge than Greg and Dave.
15. And if you talk to any of these coaches they credit their influences -- have you noticed that?
Rowdy: They do. And one many will cite is David Marsh. What he has done year in and year out, from college to Team Elite to now heading out to UC-San Diego is amazing. I know he’s excited about his new move -- he will love it out there. He loves coaching. David is first and foremost one of the top five coaches in history, in my opinion, that’s what he loves to do, coach swimming. No matter where he is, he’s making a difference. This move gets him back to his roots a little, and what a great move for UC San Diego.
16. My favorite meet is often WUGs -- isn’t that an especially incredible roster for the U.S. this year?
Rowdy: I think the World University Games and also the World Junior Championships are two huge meets this summer for the U.S.
17. Our WUGs team this year could easily qualify for Worlds for a lot of countries and many of the swimmers on it could be on our Worlds team if not for a few tenths here and there, right?
Rowdy: For any other country, our WUGs team would be their A team. We’re taking some great experience and they will swim on a big stage. I’ve always thought World University Games is a really great place because they pattern what they do after the Olympics with having an Opening Ceremony, and then the prelims-semis-final. They mimic what it is like at the Olympic Games so that will help a lot of swimmers.
18. What do you expect from the U.S. in the 800, and for that matter, the 1500?
Rowdy: There are some question marks, so to speak. Certainly the men’s mile might be one of those. But I think having the 800 thrown in there will help the distance swimming across the world, but especially in the United States because more swimmers will gravitate towards those events. I think that helps our country.
19. So this team, without as much international experience maybe, has some young guns in all three events from the 400 through the 800 and 1500, right?
Rowdy: Yes, with both Zane Grothe and Clark Smith in the 400 and 800, and with Robert Finke and True Sweetser in the 1500, you have some young guys who are hungry. And most of them see three chances moving forward with the 400, 800 and 1500 -- all of the sudden any male distance swimmer sees more opportunity.
20. You mentioned Lia Neal earlier -- how much character, dignity, consistency and class, in addition to talent, does she bring?
Rowdy: She’s such a model of consistency, not just from 2012 to 2016 in London and Rio, but in between. And through her college career and World Championships. She became the first African American woman to medal in two Olympic Games for the U.S., and the thing is you get kind of overlooked when Simone Manuel does what she did. But in the swimming world, everyone appreciates and respects Lia so much. She just went her best time in the 50. It’s pretty cool what she’s done -- and how she’s carried herself the whole way.