By Mike Watkins//Correspondent | Thursday, July 20, 2017When Mallory Comerford compares her swims last summer at Olympic Trials and this summer at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, the difference in race outcomes can be traced to two words.
Confidence and experience.
At both meets, she felt prepared, had trained hard but smart and was feeling fast and ready to race.
This summer, however, Comerford relied upon the confidence and experience she carried over from Trials, the U.S. Open, Short Course World Championships last December and her NCAA season at Louisville to elevate her game – and earn a spot on next week’s FINA World Championship team.
“Trials were an incredible learning experience for me, and the more I’ve trained and raced long course, the more comfortable I’ve become,” she said. “As I’ve become more comfortable and learned the difference between racing long and short course, I’ve become more confident.
“I’ve accepted I can be good at it (long course), and I’ve learned to enjoy it. That’s made a big difference.”
Comerford, who won three relay medals (2 gold, 1 silver) at Short Course Worlds and tied Olympic Champion Katie Ledecky for tops in the 200 freestyle this spring at NCAA Championships, rode this newfound confidence to a National title in the 100 free in Indianapolis three weeks ago.
At the U.S. Open just a few weeks after Trials last summer, she picked up silver (100 free) and bronze (50 free) medals as well as finished seventh in the 100 butterfly.
In winning – breaking 53 seconds for the first time in her career – Comerford out-touched Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel and put her already-growing international name even higher on the list of serious contenders in Budapest. Her time – 52.81 – at Nationals is the third-fastest time of 2017 and set a new National meet record.
Suffice it to say that she’s excited about the current path her swimming is taking – and as far as she’s concerned, it’s been a long time coming.
“I believed I could go under 53 seconds based on my morning (prelim) swim, so I went into finals absolutely believing that I could win – but I knew it wouldn’t be easy with Simone and Kelsi (Worrell) in the race,” she said.
“This past year, I’ve been working on my stroke, technique and race strategy, and I’ve been able to take that from practice and put it into my race. I’ve also gotten stronger, and I continue to learn more and more and more about the sport and how to swim the sprints.”
Comerford’s journey to potential World Champion started when she was 7. She followed her older brother, a swimmer, to practice, and with a mom who swam in college, she was destined to excel in the water.
Following a stellar prep career, Comerford landed in Louisville as a freshman in the fall of 2015, and quickly began to hone her craft – ascending the NCAA and National ranks over time.
Considering she finished 12th in the 100 free at Trials (54.61) last summer, she had definitely made tremendous strides in the pool.
“The setting at Trials was intimidating, but I learned a lot about race preparation and how to control my emotions in a big-meet environment,” she said. “So when I swam at Short Course Worlds later in the year, I wasn’t so overwhelmed by the experience, and I was able to have fun and not worry so much or overthink my race.
“I just swam, and that’s also how I approached Nationals this year. It’s a constant learning process.”
Comerford said she attributes her continued improvement to her coaches, her own commitment and dedication to wanting to swim faster and swimming daily with teammate Worrell.
“Having Kelsi in practice every day to push me – and me, her – has helped make us both better competitors and swimmers,” said Comerford, who hails from Kalamazoo, Mich.
“Knowing what she has accomplished and how much more she still wants and how that drives her every day is a great example for me. Plus, she’s a great friend and teammate. I’m excited we’re both on this team together.”
And while historically Comerford said the 200 free has been her better event, swimming the “glamour” 100 free event in Budapest and being a member of the U.S. World Championship team is a dream come true.
That and the culmination of her determination and desire to want more in and from the sport of swimming.
“The transition from short to long course has made the 100 free a stronger event for me because the 200 free short is similar to the 100 free long course in terms of distance, turns, stroke count, etc.,” said Comerford, who will be a senior this fall at Louisville. “Having that aerobic base – I also swim the 500 free in college competitions – has helped my 100.
“I’m especially excited to meet everyone and be part of this elite team. I plan to enjoy the experience and represent the United States. It should be an awesome, amazing experience.”