Tonight, however, we saw not one, but two exceptions to this rule of thumb take the top two spots in the men’s 100 breaststroke, and with that, qualify for the US Olympic team.
The first standing – Michel André. He’s been in the headlines since he was a teenager, breaking national records by age group with reckless abandonment. At first, Michael and his family were known to take a different approach, as he was coached by his father, Peter Andrew, in a backyard pool, and they got all-in on Ultra Short Race Pace Training, avoiding the long distance approach which swimmers are known for.
Then he and his family made the controversial choice to turn pro at the age of 14, accepting the money that came with the endorsements and deciding before starting high school that he would give up varsity swimming. The move drew quite a bit of criticism, especially since Michael Phelps had already formed an Olympic team and set a world record before turning pro at the age of 15, when Andrew had not yet turned approached this kind of global significance. step.
In the years that followed, it seemed at times that Andrew would ultimately have had doubts about giving up college competition and the camaraderie that comes with training with a full squad, though he insisted that he thought he was on the right track. The success was there – national records by age group, world junior titles, world short course titles and national championships, although perhaps not at the level that he could have hoped for or that fans might have expected in a sport where, for better or worse, most view the ultimate measure of success as an individual Olympic gold medal.
Tonight, whatever doubts he may have had, and undoubtedly the doubts of many swimming fans who wondered if he and his family knew what they were doing, were probably resolved when he put on hand on the wall first in the 100 chest, securing its place. member of the US Olympic team at the age of 22, almost eight years to the day after announcing he was turning pro.
A little 0.01s late Michel André was another man who took an unusual path to the Olympics in terms of varsity swimming, and that’s Andrew Wilson. The 27-year-old finished just 59 seconds in the 100-meter breaststroke out of high school, a time that wouldn’t deserve serious consideration in most major college programs. Instead, Wilson signed up for Emory, the D3 powerhouse, and quickly set off on a roll, dropping to 55.44 in first year, then 54.36 in second year, then 51.72 in second year. junior, setting the D3 record.
At this point his career took another turn, as he wore a red shirt for the 2015-16 season and trained with the University of Texas, one of those D1 schools known to have produced Olympian. after Olympian under the direction of legendary head coach Eddie Reese. Wilson almost made the Olympic team in 2016, finishing 5th and 4th in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. He then returned to Emory for his final year, once again shattering the D3 record.
In 2018, however, Wilson qualified for the Pan-Pacific Championships, where he won a gold medal in the US medley relay, then the 2019 World Championships, where he clinched a pair of medals. silver on the two American medley relays. .
Wilson’s twists continued as he trained again with a more traditional program, the University of Georgia pro squad, and tonight he put himself in a position to make history. Although the 2nd place finishers are not officially named to the United States Olympic team until it is certain that there is enough space for the roster, it is virtually guaranteed. , and when that happens, Wilson will be the first US Olympian in D3 swimming.
Does the fact that Michel André and Andrew Wilson are both on the verge of making an Olympic team without competing for a D1 school mean we’re headed for some sort of seismic change in the varsity swimming landscape? Probably not. But with an uncertain future for college D1 swimming, particularly in the wake of the pandemic and discussions about the ramifications of changes in the NCAA’s name image-likeness policies or paying student-athletes may have for them. D1 Olympic sports, this is certainly a great reminder that while there is a reason why popular paths are popular, sometimes the less traveled roads can also get you where you want to go.