By Mike Watkins//Correspondent | Thursday, September 20, 2018
Almost two months later, Kevin Cordes still isn’t quite sure what went wrong at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships this summer.
Maybe he didn’t rest enough. Maybe his taper was mistimed. Maybe he took it for granted that a spot on this summer’s Pan Pacific and next summer’s World Championship teams was his for the taking.
Hard to say, really, although one thing’s for sure.
Because his times were slower than the ones he put up at last year’s Phillips 66 Nationals in winning the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke events and making the 2017 World Championship team. Cordes failed to defend his titles and missed a spot on what would have been his fourth-straight World team next summer.
“Usually after a season ends, I take some time off because I was so focused on my swimming, so I took a couple weeks off after Nationals to refresh, heal a bit and cleanse my mind,” said Cordes, a member of and medalist for the 2013, 2015 and 2017 World Championship teams.
“After this year’s meet, I needed to gain some perspective and think about what happened at Nationals. What I learned was that, rather than be too disappointed, I found more motivation for my swimming. I rediscovered my competitive flame.”
Unlike his reaction in 2012 when he missed making the Olympic team by a single spot (finishing third) in the 100 breaststroke, Cordes said he is embracing his feelings this time around – a sure sign of maturity.
In the past, he said he would have shut down, closed himself off and not talked about the disappointment he felt from not having performed as he wanted and reached the goals that he set.
But now at 25 and more accepting of the failures in his swimming life as he is the many successes, and instead of wallowing in what he missed, he said he’s focusing on what he can do to get better over the next 21-plus months leading up to the next Olympic Trials.
“Life has taught me that the valleys are just as important – and sometimes more important – than the peaks, but that is something you have to experience for yourself to really learn and appreciate,” said Cordes, who won the 100 breast and finished second in the 200 at 2016 Olympic Trials to make the Rio team.
“Even though I won last year, that didn’t mean I was going to automatically win this year, but I may have taken that for granted and assumed that it would happen.”
While he said he can’t pinpoint any one thing that prevented him from swimming his best times at Phillips 66 Nationals – he finished fourth in the 50 and 100 breaststroke events and fifth in the 200 breast, a full two seconds slower than he was in 2017 – Cordes said he does remember that he struggled to find his speed throughout the meet.
While he said, in retrospect, he didn’t rest enough prior to the meet, while he was going through his races, he was lacking what he calls his easy speed and lacked that final push he’s had in the past.
“I couldn’t find my extra gear, and when I’m swimming my best, it’s smooth and easy and I don’t have to force things,” said Cordes, the American record holder in the 100 breaststroke.
“It was a struggle for me the whole meet, but I really thought I would find what I needed to finish in the top 2. I didn’t have it the whole week.”
And while he failed to make the 2018 Pan Pac team and won’t get the chance to swim in Korea next summer at the 2019 FINA World Championships, as a member of the National Team for the seventh straight year, Cordes said he feels he has a good chance of being asked to compete at the 2019 Pan American Games next summer in Peru.
He doesn’t know when he will find out if he has been appointed to that team.
In the meantime, he is focusing on his training and planning out next season and the next year or so to make sure the same thing that happened at Phillips 66 Nationals this year doesn’t happen at Trials in Omaha in 2020.
“It’s important for me to have something to train toward, and whether that’s the spring meets or Pan Ams next summer or even Trials, that will continue to motivate me to work hard to get faster,” who said he never considered retiring after the disappointment he experienced this summer.
“I’m not big on proving myself to anyone other than myself, but I see the next couple of years as an opportunity to re-establish myself and show everyone again that this summer was a fluke – a one-time thing. I’m excited to bounce back and gain some momentum moving forward to 2020.”