Nation’s Capital Swim Club swimmers made their presence felt Thursday at the 2012 Winter Nationals led by 2012 Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky and 2012 All-Met Swimmer of the Year Janet Hu. In total, four NCAP swimmers finished in the top ten during the first of three nights of finals in Austin, Texas.
Ledecky, a Stone Ridge sophomore and USA Swimming’s Breakout Swimmer of the Year, returned to the national scene for the first time since winning gold in London by winning the 500-yard freestyle in commanding fashion. Her time of 4 minutes, 34.53 seconds easily won the championship heat over fellow Olympian Haley Anderson but fell half a second short of the 15-16 year old national age group record. At just 15, Ledecky will have plenty of chances over the next year and a half to best the mark set by Katie Hoff in 2006.
While Ledecky’s win was expected, it was 16-year-old Janet Hu‘s prelim performance in the women’s 50 freestyle that was the biggest surprise on day one. Hu blasted the girls’ 15-16 year old national age group record in the 50 free with a time of 22.13. It was a personal best by six-tenths of a second for the Oakton High School junior. She finished in 22.26 in the championship final, good enough for sixth overall. Jessica Hardy, a golden medalist at the won the event in 21.83.
Hu, known more for her talents in the backstroke and butterfly events, showed her sprinting ability last winter at the Tom Dolan Invitational where she posted her first sub-23 second swim in the splash-and-dash event. She also had impressive come-from-behind swims as Oakton’s anchor in the 400 freestyle relay at both Northern Regions and Virginia States last year, helping her seal last year’s All-Met Swimmer of the Year.
Even more impressive, the performance required a quick turn for Hu around having just completed the 200 IM an event prior. Hu finished third in the ‘B’ final in a time of 1:58.26.
Also finaling for NCAP was Jefferson sophomore Andrew Seliskar, 16, who finished first in the ‘B’ final of the men’s 200 IM in 1:45.21. The time was .04 seconds off Gunnar Bentz’s NAG record set during morning prelims.
Gunnar Bentz, 16, of the Dynamo Swim Club and Seliskar were both members of the junior national team that competed this summer at the Jr. Pan Pacs. Both Seliskar and Bentz were added to the team for their IM abilities. This could be the beginning of a rivalry between the two swimmers similar to the rivalry shared by RMSC’s Jack Conger and Bolles’ Ryan Murphy. Bentz, a high school junior, is listed as the number one recruit in the class of 2014 by collegeswimming.com, and Seliskar is number one for 2015.
If you were watching the ‘C’ final of the women’s 500 freestyle, you saw a sneak preview at the ‘A’ final as a teenage swimmer from the DC area took an early lead that was never relinquished. It wasn’t Katie Ledecky, who ran away with the ‘A’ final 10 minutes later. This impressive swim belongs to another rising distance star out of the Potomac Valley, Isabella Rongione (FISH), who at just 13 years old finished in 4:47.08. For comparison’s sake, Ledecky’s best time at this age was 4:45.63, achieved at NCSA Junior Nationals right before her 14th birthday. Rongione trains with Ray Benecki — the same coach that developed Kate Ziegler into an international distance sensation.
Along with Ledecky and Rongione, three other locals competed in the night’s 500 freestyle finals. Texas sophomore Kaitlin Pawlowicz (Oakton/NCAP) finished eighth (4:45.74), West Virginia senior Rachael Burnett (Annandale/Potomac Marlins) finished ninth (4:41.37), and 14-year-old Megan Byrnes (NCAP) finished 15th (4:50.13).