By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, July 18, 2017
When Phillips 66 National Championships started, all eyes were on Indianapolis. The team from Rio made history. What would follow? Over the course of the event, many of the best got better. And some of the better swimmers from last summer’s Olympic Trials that just missed making the Olympic Team by fractions of a second got better -- and have now joined the best. In this Part III of three, Rowdy Gaines explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday why he thinks this team is something special as the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary are about to begin.
1. After missing the Olympic team, Matt Grevers came back and made the World team -- what does that say about what he found inside himself this time?
Rowdy: It was hard to see last year. That (backstroke) is an incredibly difficult stroke to be consistently successful in here in the United States because there is always someone there to chop you down.
2. And in the backstroke, going back to Matt and Nick Thoman, and forward -- and back to -- David Plummer and others, including Matt, right?
Rowdy: The proof is in the last few Olympic Trials. But then you see what happens at the Olympics? The U.S. dominates. Matt and Nick medaled. Who won gold in Rio? Ryan (Murphy) and David. That’s the U.S.’s dominance.
3. And Matt making it, like Beisel maybe in Rio -- and this time -- is about more than swimming right?
Rowdy: With this turn of events, and Matt making it...it’s just so easy to root for Matt because of that great, humble leadership he provides. The U.S. team desperately needs a Matt Grevers, not just for a medal, but the type of person he is, where someone can ask, “Where do I need to go, Matt,” or “Matt, I am struggling, what do I do?” Some of our young swimmers will go and get that great advice from Matt.
4. Ryan Murphy was great at World Trials but took a second -- isn’t that a good thing long term because you never want to win all the time, and in this case, the important thing was to make the team, right?
Rowdy: Ryan’s a competitor at the highest level. I think he was a little disappointed. But he’s the king and there’s nothing like being the king where everyone wants to chase you down. I think he’ll be fine. But we see this all the time -- Tyler Clary last summer, the (London Games, 2012) gold medalist in the 200 back, getting knocked off.
5. And what a cool thing for Ryan and Matt to be teammates?
Rowdy: Absolutely. Even Ryan Murphy can go to Matt, and ask, “Matt, how does this work?” Matt will provide his great leadership. I think Ryan is becoming one of those leaders now -- that’s another step he is taking, and it breaks perfectly because he is an Olympian and just finished a college season (where he was team captain at Cal).
6. Where is Ryan at in terms of his swimming?
Rowdy: I think in the pool, Ryan is about where he was last summer in Omaha, maybe a little slower in the 100 but a little faster in the 200. I think he’ll be fine. He’ll be on the medal stand -- too much talent, he has worked too hard to get this point not to be there.
7. And that great chemistry we get with Nathan Adrian and Matt reunited as teammates. Does anyone else on this team remind you of someone from farther back?
Rowdy: Lilly King, with how she still swims with a little bit of a chip on her shoulder -- and that’s what I love about her -- reminds me of Megan Quann (Jendrick) in that regard. It’s not cockiness but confidence in herself and her coach. That’s what I love about Megan Quann.
8. Everyone’s path is unique and does what works best for them -- Lilly’s path has included college, and how good a fit is she at Indiana with Ray Looze?
Rowdy: That’s as good of a fit as you will see. Coach Looze and the whole coaching staff there gives her that confidence. She’s facing an uphill battle sometimes, like with the controversy in Rio, but I still personally don’t view that as a cockiness.
9. I think we like her for different reasons, but you seem to really connect with Lilly’s mentality, is that accurate?
Rowdy: I had a lot of favorite races in Rio last year, but none where I had more fun watching than Lilly King’s gold. Because of the race and the drama behind the race...but also I just love that she was not afraid, not scared at all. She has exactly the kind of confidence I can only wish I had, because I needed it.
10. Georgia’s Jack Bauerle, from Melanie Margalis, Haili Flickinger and Olivia Smoliga to Chase Kalisz and the great guys from Georgia, how impressive is that?
Rowdy: Jack’s just an example of the great collegiate coaches we have. We have great club coaches, obviously. But when you think about Jack and what he’s been able to provide the past 40 years -- he was coaching when I was in my prime -- who had been known for his women’s teams, to have this great men’s team, is almost unheard of. And to have this kind of renaissance, so to speak, at this stage in his career is incredible.
11. Because he has to recruit both men and women well to make that happen, isn’t that part of it?
Rowdy: I was talking to Camden Murphy in Detroit. Camden is an African American who you might know of from the 100 and 200 fly. I was talking to him about why he was going to Georgia, He said, “I just like the team atmosphere. I love Coach Bauerle, what he exemplifies, the great people on the team, both men and women.” It all trickles down from above -- from Jack, Harvey (Humphries) and the rest of that great staff.
12. And we saw that in the fly, the other way, didn’t we?
Rowdy: No one was betting against Tom Shields, that’s for sure. But there is always an upset. With Jack Conger, many people expected that to happen -- for him to make the team. Pace Clark making it was a pretty special moment as well (in the 200). And credit Tom for saying, “I got beat by two guys today who were better than me.”
13. How about the 100 fly and a couple of new faces, yet who aren’t really new but for different reasons, one a rising star known for other events and then someone who fought back to make this team after missing in ‘16?
Rowdy: So then you look at the 100 (fly) with Caeleb (Dressel) and Tim Phillips. These are all guys who could medal in the fly for the U.S. It shows the strength and depth of the United States.
14. Nic Fink in the 200 breaststroke -- so many names of people who were close who got back on the horse and cleared the hurdle this time?
Rowdy: Nic Fink is a great example because he made World Championships two years ago, didn’t make the Olympic team, and then came back. They (breaststrokers) were all kind of chasing Kevin Cordes, who had that amazing Nationals with the trifecta (won the 50, 100, 200). Nic has been right on. He stayed with it.
15. And how does fellow breaststroker Cody Miller have ice water in his veins when it’s time for the biggest swim?
Rowdy: Cody Miller, he was like Katie Meili, where it came down to his last chance. He was in a great field. There were so many other great swims, and great swimmers who didn’t make it. Cody just turned it up a notch. Plus, if (laughs) you have time, no one does online movie reviews better than Cody Miller. I’m not kidding, they are the best on Twitter. You have to follow him and check it out.
16. How proud are you of our open water team?
Rowdy: So impressed, and so proud. Talk about consistency, look at Haley Anderson. And to see Ashley Twichell come back so strong is incredible, and David Heron. The men’s side has Jordan Wilimovsky and his results speak for themselves-- what a talented young man. I like that team this year. They are an easy group to root for. Andrew Gemmel and Becca Mann are special swimmers we all were rooting for and knew would represent us well. And look at the other young talent, Brendan Casey and Simon Lamar, on the men’s side, and Cathryn Salladin among the great young women’s open water swimmers. The coaching is excellent, too. The future is bright.
17. How excited are you for World Juniors?
Rowdy: Definitely looking forward to it. Even though we didn’t broadcast the C finals I paid attention to all of it because a lot of those kids will be representing the U.S. at Junior Worlds, but also in Tokyo. Michael Andrew just missed making the regular Worlds team and what a great thing for that team to have his talent and leadership. I am really looking forward to the broadcast NBC will do.
18. Who is another newcomer to Worlds you are looking forward to?
Rowdy: Mallory Comerford (100 free and relays) probably pops in my head right away. She made such a huge impact in the water, and did it with the kind of humility you just respect so much. If she and her teammates can maintain that momentum from Indy right in Hungary, the U.S. women can challenge Australia. We’ve talked about coaches but how can we not mention Arthur Albiero at Louisville and what he’s done with his swimmers, including Kelsi Worrell and so many others?
19. Going into Nationals, did you expect this kind of men’s and women’s U.S. teams coming out?
Rowdy: No. Maybe that’s me being pessimistic under-estimating the team, thinking it might be kind of a down year -- one that would be perfectly understandable after what they did in Rio.
20. When did that change?
Rowdy: It became obvious after the first day that this team was shaping up to be pretty good. Then, the second day and third day it was obvious this was shaping up to be a pretty good team. Each and every swim was relentless -- how they were doing it is what was most impressive. So going into Nationals we had just a handful of top 10 swims in the world, but then they swam so well the team came out of it on fire. So I’m excited to see what this team can do in Hungary.