By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Friday, April 14, 2017
In Sprint World, a dive, a blink, a flinch, or a miscue can lead to defeat. Every motion, action, pitch of hand, point of toe, and flick of fingertip can mean the difference between first and fourth. A mistimed breath can mean the difference between podium glory and warm-down agony.
In Sprint World — where so much is built on so little — the last thing anyone would expect is consistency. Consistency is for distance events, right? For the Jaegers and the Ledeckys. In distance events, consistency arrives easier; there is more lane space for error. Miss a turn? You have several more. Miscue a breath? That’s okay; there are many, many more.
But Sprint World is more cutthroat, more Game of Thrones. It is a world where turnover is expected. Where those who ascend to victory can expect a reign for (possibly) a few months, a season, maybe a year or two. It is a world where — because of the nature of sprinting — several competitors are within hundredths. Gamblers shy from sprint events; in Sprint World, you never know who will win.
Which is why Nathan Adrian’s relentless consistency is most surprising.
Adrian’s consistency is one of those little-talked-about feats in competitive swimming. He’s a sprinter who has, over time, consistently ascended the podium and — in the turbulent waters of Sprint World — stayed there. Olympian in 2008. Olympian in 2012. Olympian in 2016. And he’s still going.
And — if last night’s 48.1 victory in the 100m free is any indication — still winning.
At this point, after accomplishing so much (individual Olympic gold, relay Olympic gold, a slew of records smashed across pool formats), there isn’t much more that Adrian can accomplish that he hasn’t already. He’s ascended the throne of Sprint World. He’s conquered the NCAA Championships. The World Championships. The Olympics. He’s seen practically everything the sport has to offer.
There is, though, still left.
Those debatable, polarizing, 2009 World Records from the “suit era.”
Those who follow swimming know that records from the 2008 and 2009 “suit era” are controversial. But anyone who wants lingering proof why the “suit era” continues to alter swimming record books need only scan tonight’s heat sheets at the arena Pro Swim Series at Mesa. The majority of world records still stand from those two years when buoyant polyurethane swimsuits were worn by many competitors. Should Adrian need some kind of motivation (and I doubt he does), motivation is right there, at the top of the heat sheet.
I’ve long said that beauty of swimming is this: That competitors can, through the standard, uniform measure of time, compete against the legends of yesteryear.
Suit era or not — Cielo’s 2009 50m and 100m world records seem to be a sprinter’s final frontier. And though they look untouchable (for now), I’m rooting for Adrian.
Because in the topsy-turvy Sprint World, Adrian’s consistency could be the needed X-Factor to finally break through. Keep churning, keep sprinting, keep swimming, and on the right night with the right set of circumstances, you never know what could happen. And for that reason, and for the reason that Adrian continues to consistently improve, tonight is the Can’t Miss Race of Mesa.
Not because Adrian will break Cielo’s WR. Let’s be clear: He won’t. Not tonight, at least.
But maybe consistency and momentum are one and the same. Eventually, that WR will go down. I can think of no American better-positioned to do that than the one swimmer we’ve seen ascend the podium, again and again and again…
Follow Mike on Twitter @MicGustafson.
Follow the action from Mesa live at usaswimming.org and tape delayed on NBC Sports network at 1:30 a.m. EDT Friday night