By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Thursday, July 5, 2018
400 IMers are, perhaps, the most dedicated breed of swimmers. Why? There’s no faking a 400 IM. It’s not a 50 freestyle (no offense, sprinters). A swimmer can’t just leap into the water unprepared and hammer out a gold medal-winning 400 IM. The tireless passion and daily pursuit that the 400 IM requires is unparalleled in swimming — and perhaps in all of sports. The 400 IM is equal parts sprint and distance. It uses all muscle groups, all strokes, all strategies. It demands patience, fortitude, and, most of all, grit. The 400 IM is an exercise in pushing one’s limits. And so, 400 IMers are often what I refer to as “swimmers’ swimmers.”
What is a “swimmers’ swimmer”?
You know who I’m talking about. Likely, you have a “swimmers’ swimmer” on your team: The kind of swimmer who arrives early, leaves late, works the hardest, and is fluid in all techniques and all strokes. The kind of swimmer who looks forward to the daily grind. The kind of swimmer who does not care about podiums or relay selections or fame or fortune. The kind of swimmer who loves practice, and genuinely enjoys the process.
In other words: 400 IMers.
Until the 2016 Olympics, the United States had the world’s best male 400 IMer (or “swimmers’ swimmer’) for two decades. Tom Dolan. Michael Phelps. Ryan Lochte. Each of them became Olympic gold medalists in the 400 IM, securing their spot as the ultimate “swimmers’ swimmer.” Then came along Japan’s Kosuke Hagino, who snapped America’s 400 IM winning streak. He became the world’s greatest all-around swimmer, just ahead of the United States’ Chase Kalisz, who valiantly earned the silver.
But now the world’s attention turns towards 2020: Can the United States regain the 400 IM Olympic gold medal? Can Kalisz rise to the top spot and reclaim America’s argument about having the world’s best all-around swimmer?
This weekend, Kalisz aims to conquer a different top podium spot at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Columbus. While the competition might not be as fierce as it will be in Tokyo 2020 — or Omaha 2020, for that matter — it is an opportunity for Kalisz and company to practice a prelims/finals race-pace 400 IM. An opportunity to refine those 400 IM racing strategies and practice the process.
Besides Kalisz, another name to watch this weekend is 17-year-old Jake Foster. Generally speaking, teenagers don’t often compete for 400 IM titles. 400 IM titles are given to those veterans of the sport, those swimmers who have put in thousands of hours and miles into refining their 400 IMs. However, Foster is one of those up-and-coming athletes capable of dropping quite a bit of time in the next few years. Any teenager who can break 4:20 in the 400 IM is a phenom, in my eyes. With enough training and passion and some luck, Foster could be someone who could challenge for that Olympic roster spot in a few years.
While the United States does have a 400 IM tradition, the world’s competition in the event is getting stronger. The United States is no longer home to the world’s best all-around swimmer. But rest assured that this weekend, we’ll be seeing quite a few swimmers take to the blocks in Columbus all seeking that 400 IM supremacy. Swimmers who look forward to an opportunity like this weekend, because this weekend’s opportunity represents just another step along the process.
And that process is exactly what 400 IMers — swimmers’ swimmers — love.