Last season, the freshman sensation was only a year removed from an obliteration of the American high school record in the event. Nolan's high school time (1:41.39), in fact, would have been fast enough to win the 2011 Division 1 NCAA title, so it's no surprise that he felt "invincible" in 2012. The prodigy swam the race accordingly, blitzing the opening butterfly and backstroke legs en route to a lead at the halfway mark. But he paid for his overzealous start, fizzling out down the breaststroke and freestyle stretch.
Final time: 1:42.85, over 1.5 seconds slower than his high school performance, good only for a third-place finish and a valuable learning experience.
A great competitor may be fooled once, but rarely twice. And the blur-speed NCAA 200 IM was not able to play any tricks on Nolan in his second go-round.
"I swam it smarter [this time]. Last year, I went out in a dead sprint, but this year I paced it better," Nolan said. "I tried to take the butterfly out with easy speed, and just go with the excitement. You go pretty fast without trying too, too hard."
Nolan absorbed the IM's sudden stroke shifts with this deft early approach, conquering transitions that swimmers typically dread under aerobically taxing conditions. He handled one of swimming's most grueling races with the discipline of a veteran. In short, the pressure-cooker intensity of the NCAA swimming championships was no longer a match for David Nolan in 2013.
Unlike last time, when his fatigue cost him the early lead, Nolan entered the back half of the race behind Florida's Marcin Cieslak, who had beaten Nolan in 2012. But the Stanford sophomore's training and experience ensured there would be enough gas left in the tank to surge ahead on the way to the finish.
"Coming off the wall in the breaststroke, I saw he was ahead of me," Nolan said. "I saw him underwater, and I said, 'All right, I have the energy, let's do this.' And it was fun."
Fun indeed. Nolan finished in 1:41.21, ahead of Cieslak's 1:41.45 and about two-tenths of a second faster than his electric 2011 high school swim.
He followed that performance with a blistering 44.99
showing in the 100-yard backstroke, good for an upset of defending
champion Tom Shields of California and another NCAA title.
In the backstroke, Nolan burned out of the gates and "trusted his training" to hold its own down the stretch. He also trusted the advice of current Stanford volunteer assistant coach Eugene Godsoe, who won an NCAA title in the same event three years ago. Godsoe helped perfect Nolan's flipturns and underwater dolphin kick activity between February's Pac-12 Championships and the big NCAA championship show this past weekend.
"[Eugene's] a professional with swimming. Having him on deck is incredible," Nolan said. "I think my turns at Pac-12s were pretty bad. So right when we got back, we started working on them, and we got over a second out of them."
Two full seasons of college training were also essential. Nolan was rewarded for thousands of hours of work, including last year's Christmas training sessions in which he logged 8,000 rigorous long course meters 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 said of his first winter at Stanford. "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."
A pair of NCAA championships has ushered in the end of Nolan's second season. But he is already hungry for more.
"I don't want to take a break," he said. "I want to touch up my long course [swimming] a little bit, work on the aerobic capacity some more. I want to do some more tough training and get ready for World Championship Trials."
The 2013 World Championships are in Barcelona, and Nolan is shooting to qualify for the American national team that travels to that meet before shifting attention back to his Stanford squad. The Cardinal placed seventh at the NCAA championships in head coach Ted Knapp's first year despite two disappointing relay disqualifications, so they figure to be a force in 2014.
"One of the things Ted said [this year] was, 'Who can have the biggest smile today?' That was the big goal for us. It helped us swim fast," Nolan said. "Each year we lose a great bunch of guys, but we also have some awesome freshmen coming. If we just take them under our wings and let them know this is going to be a fun group of guys to train with, then we're going to do well, no matter what."
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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