Stanford's David Nolan knows something about a race next week that may well send tremors through a swimming landscape that currently belongs to Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, but he's not telling anyone the secret.
"I have a goal time in my head," he grins, speaking of his upcoming 200-yard individual medley race at the NCAA Division I Championships. "But it's staying there."
With that teaser, the anticipation for the freshman's first NCAA championship appearance only intensifies. Last year, Nolan became quite possibly the greatest prep swimmer of all time. Ever since he shattered the 200 IM national high school record – in a time (1:41.39) that would have also won the Division I college championship – the swimming world has braced for his arrival at the next level.
Shortly after seven o'clock next Thursday, Nolan can send a seismic jolt through the sport as anticipation ratchets up ahead of the 2012 London Olympics. That's when the Pennsylvania native will enter the Federal Way, Wash. water for the 200 IM, known as the decathlon of swimming. It'll be one of the most anticipated title races in NCAA history.
"I'm hoping to go fast," the freshman says. "Beyond that, we'll see."
While Nolan keeps his specific goal close to the vest, swimming enthusiasts salivate at just how fast he can go once he fully peaks, after his first season of intense college training under regarded Stanford coach Skip Kenney. The NCAA 200 IM record is 1:40.49, less than a second away from the time Nolan had already logged before college. Lochte's American-record time of 1:40.08 also seems to be within the newcomer's reach.
Nolan's 2011 high school 200 IM performance put him a remarkable three seconds ahead of Lochte and Phelps when compared to those two at the same age, and another improvement Thursday will certainly thrust him to the forefront of the 2012 Olympic discussion at just the right time. Impressive, considering Phelps and Lochte have held the American stranglehold on the 200 IM for a good part of the past decade.
"The year that the Olympics come around, that's when everyone starts to go crazy," Nolan says. "There's a lot more outside attention and excitement surrounding all these meets."
Amidst the hype, Nolan will have to shift gears quickly after the NCAA Championships to ready himself for June's US Olympic Trials, where he'll have to place first or second to earn a spot on the American Olympic team.
The one caveat: unlike college competition, which is held in short course 25-yard pools, Olympic competition takes place on a long course 50-meter pool. This will necessitate a quick training transition, but Nolan is confident that moving to long course without skipping a beat is possible. After all, his long stroke form is actually slightly disadvantageous in the NCAA 25-yard pool, yet he has become one of the most dominant short-course swimmers of all time nonetheless.
"The whole motion of long course comes a little more naturally to me," he points out. "We also swam a lot of long course in the mornings during the fall, so that will help with the transition."
That brutal combination of long-course and short-course training may end up being Nolan's biggest ally as he enters this pivotal 2012 competition stretch, one that will test his speed, endurance and versatility. Christmas training at Stanford saw the Cardinal team log 8,000 rigorous long-course meters in the morning, followed by 10,000 more muscle-searing short course yards at night.
"My body would just stop working at a point," he remembers. "We'd have little carbohydrate pouches on deck just to keep going. And mentally, to get through it, I just had to keep the end of the season in mind."
The fruits of that excruciating labor have already begun to ripen. Nolan helped guide Stanford to its 31st consecutive Pac-12 men's swimming championship, where he swam his career-best time in the 200 backstroke and posted a 1:42.52 in the 200 IM, even though he wasn't close to fully recovered from the brutal winter training regime.
"I didn't have a significant amount of rest for that meet," he says.
Now, Nolan's taper, a swimmer's recovery period leading up to peak competition, is allowing his body to rebuild stronger than it ever was before. And that's why expectations for the newcomer are so high as he enters these NCAA Championships, which kick off March 22.
"I'm locked in now," he says. "I'm so focused on my health and keeping my body in the best possible condition."
But the freshman is keeping a specific goal for the 200 IM and two other individual events, the 100 and 200 backstroke, to himself. The entire swimming world, including Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, will just have to wait and see what Stanford's David Nolan has in store for them on Thursday.
Needless to say, there's a good chance that it'll be something very special.
About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.
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