Can't Miss Race of the Arena Pro Swim Series at Charlotte

Can't Miss Race of the Arena Pro Swim Series at Charlotte

By Mike Gustafson  | Thursday, May 12, 2016

The pool deck was so crowded, so cramped, a lowly swim reporter could hardly stand. TV cameras lined one edge of the gutters. Fans stood in the bleachers and cheered. Swimmers gathered together en masse on tip-toes, six, seven-deep, peering over shoulders and through tiny bursts of space between heads and arms, just to see the water’s still-calm surface. Time, seemingly, for one moment, one race, stopped. 

May, 2011: Two swimmers, Cullen Jones and Josh Schneider, battled in a long-delayed “swim-off” to secure a spot on a World Championship roster. It was a race resulting in a tie from the previous summer. For nine months, the two teammates trained together, raced each other, and, in the build-up to the anticipated event, became rivals. The New York Times even wrote a story about the race: “the buzz similar to the buildup for a boxing title bout.” So much build-up. So much anticipation. 

Jones won that epic swim-off bout in front of a cheering hometown crowd. One year later, Jones punched his ticket to London. Schneider did not. 

And you wonder: What would have happened if Schneider, not Jones, won that swim-off?

Time seems to stop for gargantuan events. Yet we know time marches on, despite our wishes to keep moments like the Swim Off in our minds forever. Jones and Schneider, five years older, are still in the pool, still competing, still charging down that length of the pool, albeit in different training locations. Schneider has coached for the University of Cincinnati’s swim team. Jones has remained in Charlotte under head coach David Marsh. 

But this weekend, at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Charlotte, we may time travel for one race back to that swim off. Like Marty McFly wandering back towards the year 1955, should Jones and Schneider find themselves swimming side-by-side in a 50m free final, it’s impossible not to think of events from yesteryear, back to that swim-off five years ago.

Momentum carries us through the water. Get out into open water, into fresh, clean, calm currents, and you can carry yourself towards the wall. In sprint events, this open water strategy proves vital: A swimmer can either dash out in front of the pack into smooth-sailing surfaces, or a swimmer can play catch-up the entire race, gasping and thrashing against the huge watery wake. 

Momentum also carries us into big events, like the Olympic Trials. Mentally speaking, one wonders if losing the swim-off five years ago may have been too tough a wake to swallow for Schneider. Jones, someone who comes up with big-time swims at big-time events, looks to punch another Olympic ticket to Rio. So does Anthony Ervin, another veteran competing this weekend. 

But so does Schneider. Third-place finisher at the 2015 Phillips 66 National Championships, and gold medalist at last year’s Pan American Games, Schneider seeks to avenge his 4th place finish at the 2012 Olympic Trials. “Rio ’16 is my goal,” says his Twitter profile. 

If swimming is all about momentum, it’s perhaps fitting that Scheider and Jones face off once more, just weeks before the 2016 Olympic Trials, back at the same pool that started it all. One more race to re-visit old ghosts and memories. One more race to build momentum towards Omaha. One more race to compete against an old training partner and charge home to the wall, like so many times before. 

The 50m freestyle will take 22 seconds. But those 22 seconds can last days, months, years, and even a lifetime. Time is a funny thing. It can stop. It can last forever. The important thing is that you treat it like water: You move with it, riding along no matter where it goes. 

This weekend in Charlotte, time may stop, or time may last forever, if only for one last swim-off. 



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