Michael Andrew: Swimmer of the Month (July 2018)
“Swimmer of the Month” is a recurring SwimSwam feature shedding light on a U.S.-based swimmer who has proven themselves over the past month. As with any item of recognition, Swimmer of the Month is a subjective exercise meant to highlight one athlete whose work holds noteworthy context – perhaps a swimmer who was visibly outperforming other swimmers over the month, or one whose accomplishments slipped through the cracks among other high-profile swims.
Let’s run through the month that was for Michael Andrew.
July 6: Andrew swims two events at prelims of the Columbus Pro Swim Series. The first, a 100 fly, constitutes a modest drop of one tenth from a best time he put up in March. The second is a 50.87 in the 100 free well off a lifetime-best and drawing the typical mockery from the SwimSwam comment section: ‘the kid can’t swim 100s,’ ‘how in the world can someone so fast in the 50 be so average in the 100?’ At night, Andrew blasts a 51.86 to win the 100 fly. Previously considered a sprint free/breast type, Andrew could suddenly be in the mix for a Pan Pacs berth in the 100 fly.
July 7th: Two more 50 frees, two more lifetime-bests. Andrew cuts .04 seconds to improve his nation-leading time. “The thing with Andrew is that he doesn’t really hit a big taper when it’s time to taper at the end of the year,” one SwimSwam commenter says. “’In-season’ doesn’t mean that much with him since he doesn’t drop significant time at bigger meets.”
July 8th: Andrew wins the 100 breast, cutting .03 seconds off his lifetime-best. Fans argue over whether Andrew closed well or 50-meter-leader Devon Nowicki dropped off.
July 25th: In his first event of USA Nationals, Andrew puts up a lifetime-best 100 free by a tenth. SwimSwam comment discussion largely centers on technique flaws and his failure to make the final, though there’s a rousing discussion with a handful of comments in Andrew’s favour.
July 26th: In what might be remembered as a turning point in his career, Andrew beats Caeleb Dressel head-to-head for the national 50 fly title in 22.93, booking his first-ever Team USA trip to a senior level international meet in long course meters… and commenters applaud. “After what seemed an eternity of waiting and people trashing him, Michael Andrew finally earned some respect this evening,” says one. “He’s been successful and consistent for a while now, and did nothing to warrant any kind of shade thrown his way,” remarks another.
July 27th: Andrew takes on a challenging triple. A third-place showing and lifetime-best in the 100 fly (51.68) gives him a potential Pan Pacs spot, and a win in the 50 breast (U.S. Open record 26.86) gives him another World Championships entry. Andrew finished the triple with a fourth-place in the 50 back (24.62) behind an Olympic champ and a national champ in the backstroke races. After a solid showing in the 100-meter race, one commenter says “I’ve given him props for his 50 ability but doubted his 100 ability. And now I’ve admitted I was wrong there and that he’s coming through here.”
July 28th: National title #3 comes through in a 100-meter event – and the longest (duration-wise) of the 100-meter races. Andrew wins the 100 breast in 59.38, booking a locked-in trip to Pan Pacs and a likely relay role for Team USA over the next two summers. Andrew also puts to rest the argument about his closing breaststroke speed, coming from 5th at the 50-turn to 1st at the finish. The comment section is – shockingly – overwhelmingly positive
July 29th: The icing on the cake. Andrew wins national title #4 by topping Dressel in the 50 free and dropping down to a 21.49.
Andrew finished the meet with 4 wins, a bronze medal and a fourth place finish to go with 7 personal bests. But there may have been a 5th win in Andrew’s week that might just mean the most of all.
Now, our SwimSwam comment section hardly speaks for all of swimming fandom. It’s more of a niche microcosm. But if online discussion of swimming news can show overall trends in swimming fandom, the question has to be asked:
Was this the meet that Michael Andrew won over swimming fandom?
The narrative certainly seemed to change as the week went on. A swimmer who has inspired a lot of discussion (some of it civil, some quite opposite) and drawn a lot of criticism (probably some of it warranted, much of it not) finally answered some of the biggest questions about his ability, finally put together the swims his critics had been asking for: nation-leading and internationally-relevant performances in Olympic-distance events on the biggest stage of the season.
Every rising swimmer shows promise of a high ceiling. But it only means so much until they’ve proven it. There’s no question that after last week, Andrew has proven it. Next week’s Pan Pacs now opens a new chapter of a career that has, for five years, been anything but boring.