Eli swim teams take on nation’s elite at U.S. Open

Bulldogs heated up the lanes this weekend, racing alongside Olympic champions and world-record holders.

Ten members of the men’s and women’s swim teams competed with the best at the U.S. Open hosted by Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. The three-day meet was one of the biggest in the country and featured over 1,000 swimmers, including U.S. Olympians such as Michael Phelps. The Elis who stayed behind competed in New Haven at the Nutmeg Invitational, which featured eight regional teams.

Once again, Alex Righi ’09 stood out by swimming fast enough in the preliminary heats to qualify for three individual finals at the U.S. Open — the 50 meter freestyle, 100 meter backstroke and 100 meter freestyle.

Righi started off on a strong note on the first day, finishing second in the 50 free “C” final and placing 18th overall in the event. On Saturday, he also finished second in the “B” final of the 100 free, only 0.24 seconds behind Ian Crocker, who is a world-record holder. But Righi’s strongest performance came on Friday, when he out-swam more than 60 swimmers in the 100 back. He competed against three Olympians in the “A” final and swam to a fifth-place overall finish in the event.

“In a sense, I’d say it’s different racing against Olympians and world-record holders,” Righi said. “When you’re on the blocks next to a guy who used to hold the world record in the event, it’s kind of nerve-wracking because there’s such an aura and hype surrounding these guys. On the other hand, it also gives me lots of motivation because the fact that I can swim against them means I can compete on the same level as them.”

The Bulldogs also gave solid team performances in the relays. Righi, Captain Geoff Zann ’07, Dennen McCloskey ’09 and Andrew Foss ’07 finished 15th in the 800 meter freestyle relay. The next day, Craig Steen ’10, Righi, Tyler Scheid ’09 and Foss placed 17th in the 400 medley relay with a time of 3:57.09. For the 400 free relay on the last day, the Yale quartet of Zann, Righi, Foss and Scheid gave their strongest relay performance of the meet, finishing 11th overall.

Three members of the women’s team — Captain Meg Gill ’07, Moira McCloskey ’07 and Susan Kim ’10 — represented Yale at the meet.

McCloskey qualified for two “B” finals in the backstroke, finishing sixth and seventh in the 200 meter backstroke and 100 meter backstroke, respectively. Although she was not able to make the Olympic trials cut-off time, McCloskey came within four-tenths of a second in the 200 back.

“I swam two [personal] best times and scored in both events, so personally I’m really happy with how I did,” she said. “As a team, I felt we did really well because this meet was double the size of last year’s meet and there were a lot of higher-end profile people. We held on against people who swim as their job and swimmers from bigger swimming schools.”

Kim swam fast enough in the morning preliminaries to earn a spot in the “C” final of the 200 meter breaststroke, where she finished fifth. Gill competed in three events: the 50 meter freestyle, 100 meter freestyle and 200 meter butterfly. Though she gave solid performances and won heats, her times did not qualify her for a spot in the finals, which required top-24 finishes in events that featured up to 113 swimmers. But Gill was able to drop three seconds from her 200 butterfly event, an impressive feat in a sport where one one-hundredth of a second can make all the difference.

“This meet was a great opportunity for Yale’s name to be seen in a national and international spotlight meet,” she said. “I think swimmers at other schools are impressed that Yale kids can come and compete at such a high level meet, and that as a high-level academic institution, we can still keep up with scholarship-based schools.”

While their teammates competed in the Midwest, Bulldogs raced at Kiphuth Exhibition Pool in Payne Whitney for the Nutmeg Invite.

The women dominated the 50 yard freestyle. Jane Kim ’10 finished first (24.57) while teammates Alexis Mann ’09 and Andrea Clifford ’10 placed second and fourth, respectively. Kim also won the 100 free event with a time of 52:50.

Caroline Dowd ’08 had strong performances in distance swimming, finishing second in the 500 yard freestyle and 1650 yard freestyle events. In the latter, which is an event over 17 minutes long, Dowd was less than half a second off from the winning time of 17:20.01.

On the men’s team, Chris Pool ’09 came close to winning twice, with second-place finishes in the 50 free and 200 free, and was finally able to nab first place in the 100 free with a time of 46.73.

“The guys who beat me in the other events weren’t in my heat, so I had no idea about their times,” Pool said. “The Nutmeg was a good chance for me to see what I could do, and for the team it was a great opportunity to assess where we are right now before the second half of our season.”

The 200 backstroke event, in which Bulldogs claimed five of the top eight spots, showcased the team’s depth. Thomas Robinson ’10 won the event, adding onto his win in the 100 back from the previous day. Chris Dufek and John Lynch ’08 finished third and fourth, while their teammates William Rubenstein ’08 and Colin McCarthy ’10 finished seventh and eighth.

With the U.S. Open and the Nutmeg Invite behind them, the Elis will continue training until their Ivy season starts again in January, when they host Cornell and Navy.

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