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By Jason Tillotson, Swimming World College Intern.
A few months ago, I made five predictions for 2017. Among those five predictions, I predicted the Stanford women and the Cal men would win their respective NCAA championships. With that, it looks like I’m one-for-one, right?
Except for the fact that, despite many opposing opinions, I predicted Katie Ledecky would not win the 200 freestyle at the NCAA championships. Which, she technically did. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Ledecky fan. I just didn’t think she had the speed for the 200-yard freestyle to out-swim the nations’ fastest sprinters in the short-course version of the race.
My thought process was rooted in the fact that Simone Manuel held the top time in the event at that time, and had beaten and out-split Ledecky several times in mid-season races. The front half of the race clearly belonged to Manuel. I sincerely thought with more rest, she would have the edge over Ledecky.
My prediction was wrong, but it wasn’t Manuel who almost proved my prediction, instead, it was Louisville Cardinal Mallory Comerford. Comerford tied Ledecky the the win, shocking the world in the process.
Prior to this season, Comerford had never been under 1:42.5. In the preliminaries of the NCAA championships, Comerford cruised to a 1:42.99, a time well off her 1:41.70 from this year’s ACC meet, but a time that would easily secure her a spot in the finals, nonetheless. There, the sophomore Cardinal would drop almost two full seconds from her previous best time to tie with Ledecky for the win.
Comerford was not only able to come out of nowhere to share the top spot on the podium, but how she got there is most intriguing. Five swimmers took the race out in under-50 seconds, which created a bunched up field at the halfway point. Comerford, despite her natural 100 speed, actually took the race out a half-second slower than Ledecky.
What’s perhaps even more impressive is the fact that she was able to actually bring back the second half of the race faster than Ledecky, which is something few swimmers can say they have done since usually Ledecky is one to go out fast and dare anyone to rise up to the challenge. This time, however, it was Comerford who answered the call.
Ledecky has created somewhat of a stranglehold on the freestyle races ever since she debuted on the collegiate scene. Her ability to break NCAA and American records in-season has certainly solidified her dominance and, perhaps, made her seem increasingly more intimidating on the bigger stages like Pac-12’s or NCAA’s. Comerford clearly wasn’t intimidated last week, however.
So, while my one of my predictions for this calendar year may not have come true, Ledecky is the NCAA champion in the 200 freestyle, however, at the same time, so is Comerford.
All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.