CLEARFIELD — High school swimming meets in Utah are a juxtaposition of cold and hot. It’s typically dry and freezing outside, yet when you walk into a humid, sweltering aquatic center where these meets are held, it’s probably a good idea to have a T-shirt and shorts handy.
When somebody opens a door and lets a burst of cool air inside, everyone secretly hopes it will happen again in a few minutes. In between races, swimmers stay in the pool to keep warm for their race — unlike in the summer when people jump in the water to cool off.
The thermostat inside aquatic centers isn’t the only thing reaching the top.
As the state swimming meet comes into view early next month, Region 1 girls swimmers have posted five of the top times in the 50-yard freestyle for the 6A classification coming into Thursday.
The two top times belonged to Layton’s Abby Frazier — the defending 6A state champion in the event who swam the race in 25.35 seconds in December — and Syracuse’s Brylee Weaver, who swam 25.66 in November.
It’s a race with exceptionally slim margins, where everything a swimmer does in the two-length swim can either give or take crucial fractions of seconds.
Thursday, as Frazier and Weaver squared off at the Clearfield Aquatic Center, the margins came at the turn. Frazier started her turn an instant before Weaver, who surfaced an instant before Frazier, and Frazier ended up winning with a time of 25.88 seconds — just 0.17 seconds ahead of Weaver at 26.05.
“In the 100, you can take time away from one (25-yard stretch) or another as long as you build it towards the very end, you should be fine,” Frazier. “But the 50, it’s kind of just putting everything you have.”
Davis High freshman Lauryn Hall had the third-fastest time coming into Thursday (25.77), while Weber’s Pia Haavik and Clearfield’s Christina Gillespie were tied for the fifth-fastest time (25.97) in the 50.
Obviously, the five Region 1 swimmers didn’t just jump in a pool one day, listen to a coach for five minutes and turn into a fast swimmer. Like any sport, one can work hard, get good coaching and become good at something and, if they have a natural talent for the sport, that’s the cherry on top.
Also like any sport, swimming is year-round and most good swimmers, including the ones atop the leaderboards in Utah, spend their offseasons swimming in clubs.
But to be good at the 50, everything has to be working precisely, almost like a rocket launch.
“Every little detail is gonna help you get that, even like if it is just a millisecond off, the millisecond is what it’s gonna take to win sometimes. I’ve seen that where it is literally a millisecond on those 50s,” Weaver said.
“Even your breathing! Like, coaches tell you don’t breath, the only sport where they’re going to tell you not to breathe, I guess.”
Have a bad start? There goes one hundredth of a second. Screw up your flip turn? There goes another. Don’t fully reach for the wall? Rub up against the lane divider a little bit? Say goodbye to some precious time.
There’s no time for anything except diving in and swimming — and one or two breaths — because the race is over in 21-25 seconds.
“You have to have that determination, you have to have the focus, you can’t let yourself psych yourself out, you can’t get in your own head, you really have to give it your all,” Layton head coach Jason Udy said. “There is no pacing to it, it is just straight out and that’s really tough to get out of some of these kids.
Remember the 2008 Olympics in Beijing when Michael Phelps, seemingly dead in the water in the 100-meter butterfly behind Serbia’s Milorad Cavic, somehow won the race by one hundredth of a second at the end?
In that race, Phelps had a poor start and a not-so-good turn. But he had an extra arm rotation at the very end, whereas Cavic coasted to the wall, which literally propelled him to the gold medal. His time? 50.58 seconds. Cavic’s time? 50.59.
Thursday’s difference wasn’t that minute, but it’s an example of how magnified one simple thing can be.
“It’s the fastest race out there, so you’ve gotta have good lung conditioning, they’ve got to know their stroke, technique, it all comes down to work ethic and technique,” Syracuse head coach Nate Whitaker said.
“You could look like you’re in front, but the rotation of the hands could cost you ... it’s all or nothing.”
Last year, Frazier had a bout of shoulder issues and sciatic nerve pain but still won the state title in the 50. She’s pain-free now, which is good news for her and not good news for the rest of the 6A field.
That’s because she also has the top time in the 100 freestyle, an event where Region 1 swimmers have the top four times and five of the top six. So come time for the state meet at BYU, there could be plenty of hardware coming back to local swimmers.