By Phillip Whitten//Guest Contributor | Friday, October 20, 2017
Let’s face it. In the world of sports, there are records and then there are records. I have to admit that it seems just a wee bit strange to be writing about different levels of records, especially when we get to discussing world records. After all, by its very definition, each world record is something that now has been done for the first time. Ever! Each record represents a unique event that can never be duplicated. So, if you maintain, as I do, that there are records and there are records, you wind up comparing, and implicitly rating, two (or more) performances, neither of which can ever be duplicated.
So, all world records are not created equal. In track and field, when Roger Bannister broke the “unbreakable,” “magic,” four-minute “barrier” for the one-mile run, it was more than just another record for that distance. In baseball, Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 home runs, which he accomplished in 1927, was thought by more than a few sports writers – some of them even sober – to be nearly as durable as the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Not quite. In our sport, too, when the men’s and women’s records for the 100-meter freestyle were first taken under a minute by Johnny Weissmuller and Dawn Fraser, respectively, they were thought to be Herculean efforts.
Not anymore. Nowadays, thousands of swimmers swim 100 meters under a minute – and that’s just freestyle. The records in all the 100-meter events except one – the women’s 100 breast – are much faster than 60 seconds. Many swimmers doing an interval training set, can hold their repeat times under a minute, and Katy Ledecky averages under a minute for the four one hundreds in her 400-meter event.
As for those other sports: the record for the mile run, even though the distance is rarely contested these days, now stands at 3:43:30, while the single season home run mark is 75. And yes, I am aware that Barry Bonds achieved that mark with more than a little chemical help from his friends.
A few months ago, we featured the story of Chaz Morton who, we argued, was the greatest age group swimmer of all time. At least twice, the modest Nashville Aquatic Club star held every national record in his age group. It has been over 36 years, but even now, his 13-14 100-meter butterfly standard would be more than respectable at senior nationals.
Still, as it does to all things human, time has chipped away at Chaz’s preeminence. Today, he only has a handful of records left, but his achievements are not at all diminished by that fact. There have been other swimmers, who dominated specific events, and whose age group marks remain unchallenged, though they no longer stand as world records. Think Mary T’s 100 and 200 fly swims at the 1981 Nationals.
The Ageless Dara Torres
Consider Dara Torres. Now, it’s possible that some of you may be unfamiliar with Dara. Possible, but unlikely. After all, she is arguably the most successful female swimmer in U.S. Olympic history. A five-time Olympian, she has earned no fewer than 12 Olympic medals, four of each color.
She also holds the unlikely distinction of simultaneously being the oldest and one of the very youngest female U.S. Olympic swimmers in history, a distinction to which she first laid claim in Sydney in 2000 at the age of 33. Just to make it more difficult for any would-be, upstart challenger, eight years later - - at the age of 41! - - she qualified first in both the 50 and 100-meter free at the U.S. Trials – and went on to scoop up three silver medals in Beijing, just missing gold in the 50-meter free by one-hundredth of a second.
Dara’s records have proven to be industrial strength. Despite challenges from some of the greatest American sprinters of all time - - Jenny Thompson, Amy van Dyken, Natalie Coughlin and Simone Manuel, to name just a few – her records have been remarkably durable.
Check it out. Dara’s 24:07 for the 50-meter free remained the American record until last year, when Simone Manuel carved a tenth of a second off it in finishing third at this year’s World Championships in Budapest. Still, Dara’s time remains No. 2 on the all-time U.S. list.
A Star in the Making?
Then, in 2015, an unlikely vandal came along and threw a monkey wrench into the works with a blazing 25.80 for the long course 50. The guilty party was 13 at the time and an incoming freshman at Pelham Memorial High School in Westchester, New York. Her name: Katherine (Katie) Douglass, and that 25.80 was nothing less than the fastest time ever recorded for the event by a 13-year-old female. Impressive? You bet. But as it turns out, merely a harbinger of things to come.
One year later, in the fall of 2016, Katie broke through with her first national age group (NAG) record. Swimming at the New York High School Section I Championships, she blazed a 22.32 to win the 50-yard free. The time broke Dara’s “invincible” 22.44. Set in 1982, nearly 20 years before Katie was born, it had been the oldest record in the women’s record book.
That evening, Katherine received an unexpected congratulatory phone call from Dara. Always thoughtful, Dara Torres is, in every way, a class act!
But Katie wasn’t through. In December 2016, she aged up into the 15-16 division and, in her first opportunity to race in her new division, lowered her 50 time another notch to 22.21 seconds at the state championship. It turned out to be the fastest high school time in the nation last year.
I suspect most champions are perfectionists, so I was not surprised that Katie still was not satisfied. She just knew she had a faster 50 in her.
And she did. Later on in December at the Winter Junior Nationals, she clocked a winning time of 22.04 seconds.
That, folks, is some serious swimming. Expect to see a lot more of Katie in the near future. And don’t be surprised to see more than a few smashed records in her wake. No, better make that records.