By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Of all event offerings in competitive swimming, the 100-meter breaststroke may be the most difficult to master. To be genuinely, truly great, a swimmer needs not only the required coordination, skill, and talent any swimmer must have, but also a certain amount of finesse. Sprint breaststroke is more about timing, angling, and flexibility than about sheer power, strength, or force. It is about propulsive power, drag reduction, and a degree of timing that, to use a cliche, “can’t be taught.”
At this week’s 2017 FINA World Junior Championships, presented by Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., two of the most promising younger swimmers who have already mastered the required sprint breaststroke finesse take to the competitive waters.
Michael Andrew, the youngest professional swimmer in U.S. history, looks to take the World Juniors top podium. To do so would solidify what people have been saying about Andrew since he first began breaking national age group records years ago: Andrew has the potential to be great. A Top-3 finish this week would continue that trajectory, and would continue the hype leading up to the 2020 Trials.
Standing in his way is another talented, young, up-and-coming swimmer also garnering major headlines: Reece Whitley. The future Cal-Bear has been called, by the Washington Post, “the future of U.S. Swimming,” and is the nation’s top-ranked recruit. He’ll surely make a splash at the NCAA level, having already swum short course times that are mind-boggling for any teenage sprinter.
Unfortunately for swim fans, though, because of Andrew’s professional status, Andrew will not be able to compete against Whitley at future NCAA Championships. Which means swim fans have to take advantage of times when Andrew and Whitley actually do race each other, especially in the sprint breaststroke.
Which is why tomorrow’s final (assuming that both Andrew and Whitley make it through the semi-final this evening) is this week’s Can’t Miss Race.
Two young, incredibly accomplished and talented swimmers.
One great opportunity to race each other at an international competition.
In the prelims of the 100-meter breaststroke, both look poised for an epic battle. Both flirted with that elusive one-minute barrier. They’ll have some competition, namely from Italy’s Nicolo Martinenghi, who looked strong in the prelims at 59.53. Of course, in the prelims, the name of the game is just to qualify. Expect faster times tonight in the semi-final.
But this 100-meter breaststroke is about more than winning gold. It’s about gaining that last ingredient, besides finesse and timing, that makes for a truly exceptional sprint breaststroker: experience. These World Juniors are poised to give that next generation of up-and-coming teenagers some experience, a taste of what it’s like to put on a “Team USA” swim cap. It’s about learning how to race each other under the lights, wearing that American flag. In an event all about timing, this week’s World Juniors is the perfect time for both teenagers to show the world that, in the coming years, they will be forces to be reckoned with.
And looking ahead towards Omaha 2020? Oh, I’ll go there: The men’s 100-meter breaststroke is shaping up to be one of the Trials’ most competitive. Not only can we expect veterans Kevin Cordes and Cody Miller to compete, but add in Andrew, Whitley, and a slew of other sprinters, and suddenly, the men’s field — once considered a weak point for Team USA — could morph into one of our nation’s strongest and deepest fields.
Andrew and Whitley both possess what is required to be great in the 100-meter sprint breaststroke. They have the talent, the timing, the finesse. They have both proven to be domestic forces, down the road, for sprint breaststroke. Now, the last ingredient required? Experience.
But before Omaha 2020, there is this week.
This World Juniors. Tonight, the semi-final.
And then tomorrow night, and the Can’t Miss Race.
Don’t miss it.