The North Baltimore Aquatic Club, long known among swimmers for its biggest star, Michael Phelps, has recently been on the minds of many age-group swimmers for a completely different reason — the first-ever Far Eastern meet, which starts today at NBAC’s home, the Meadowbrook pool.
As the end of the summer swim season approaches, many athletes will compete at one of four or five events that will serve as their “last meet,” a final chance to improve on times, perhaps qualify for more prestigious events and maybe even pick up a few first-place finishes.
With that in mind, head age-group coach Tom Yetter and others at NBAC decided to create the Far Eastern meet, which runs until Saturday, to offer swimmers another opportunity to swim in a competitive atmosphere.
“There’s a championship meet for the Eastern Zone [the Eastern Zone Long Course Age Group Championship, which take place in State College, Pa.] and they made this year’s meet a week later, and that’s basically the reason we created our meet, to give people an option that wasn’t so late this year,” Yetter said.
The new meet was an easy choice for swimmers at Curl-Burke, who gravitated to Far Easterns over other season-ending meets.
“The location was very convenient for swimmers,” Curl-Burke coach Pete Morgan said. “Plus, we [Curl-Burke] love doing stuff with NBAC when we can, and it also sets kids up for their last meet a little earlier, which is always important to families so they can take some precious vacation time.”
Yetter purposely made the qualifying times for the Far Eastern meet more accessible for swimmers. Yetter said the qualifying times for Zones are hard enough that the meet becomes more about the individuals competing for their respective regions (PVS, Middle Atlantic, etc.) rather than for their clubs. The goal of Far Easterns was to foster a team atmosphere.
“Our goals were to have a meet be more of a team-oriented thing, so they could come with their team, on a travel bus or whatever, and at this meet represent their own team,” Yetter said.
The swimmers will compete in the indoor pool for preliminary heats and the outdoor pool for finals. It is an exciting prospect for many swimmers, who are accustomed to swimming under the fluorescent lights of an indoor natatorium.
“It’s a good pool, I’ve heard great things about it,” Curl-Burke’s Matthew Allsopp, 17, said. “It’s a 10-lane outdoor pool, so there’s a lot of open space.”
Though swimmers from as far away as Arizona will be competing in the meet, the majority of swimmers are from local clubs: Curl-Burke, NOVA of Virginia Aquatics, and the host team, NBAC. Teams from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky are also scheduled participate.
Some top local swimmers competing at Far Easterns include NOVA’s Clark Hou, 14, Zack Browne, 14, and Abby Nunn, 19. Curl-Burke swimmers Katie Ledecky, 12, Janet Hu, 13 and Phillip Hu, 14, will also be competing in multiple events at the meet. There are 118 events over the four days, so many swimmers are competing in as many as eight or nine events. Curl-Burke’s Robert Allsopp, 13, who is swimming in seven races, attributed the high number of events per swimmer to the lower qualifying times.
“Well, the qualifying times are a little bit easier, so I was able to qualify in more events, even though I’m at the bottom of my age group and swimming against older kids,” said Allsopp, who swims in the 13-14 group.
Though Yetter said that Far Easterns may not become an annual meet, he was optimistic that the initial version would be successful.
“We think it will be an attractive substitute for teams, so that teams can bring more of their swimmers and have it be more of a fun event together,” Yetter said.