Sometimes swimmers peak at just the right time, and former Penn captain and All-American Brendan McHugh did just that.
Last week at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, McHugh advanced to semi-finals in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events after posting huge time drops in the preliminary heats of both.
In prelims on June 25, McHugh dropped nearly two seconds off his seed time of 1:03.11 in the 100 to go 1:01.30, then shaved off a few tenths in the semifinals to finish 10th with a time of 1:01.04. He was just .21 seconds from a finals berth (top-8).
“My goal for him was to make top 16,” Penn assistant coach Dan Schupsky said. “Make semi-finals, get that night swim, swim on TV.”
The 2012 graduate did just that — twice.
Three days later, he blew away the 200-meter breaststroke competition in the fourth heat of 14, and held the fastest time through 11 heats. His seven-second drop and 2:13.87 earned him the last spot by .02 seconds in the semifinal June 28, where he finished 16th with a time of 2:14.32. His first 50m was the fastest in the field of 16, but he couldn’t hang on for a chance to swim once more in the top eight.
“The thing that’s cool about [Olympic] Trials is if you can get to semi-finals, you have a shot … it might not be the best shot, it might not even be a good shot, but you have a shot,” Schupsky said. “That’s what Brendan did and I was super proud of him.”
McHugh easily met his and his coach’s expectations, coming within a second of an Olympic berth in the 100m. One second is a long time at that level, but he put himself in the company of greatness nonetheless. Of over 300,000 active US Swimmers, only 47 swimmers made the Olympic Team. That amounts to just .016 percent of the United States swimming community. McHugh was one of approximately 400 to make the semifinals, a group of .13% of the total US Swimmers.
In recent months, McHugh has stepped up to the national stage and performed to his best. In meets such as Trials and NCAAs — both events he had not previously attended — he outswam normal expectations for first-timers on a truly national stage. Schupsky says it’s his confidence and ability to step up when it really matters.
“Brendan has always had the ability to step into the moment and use the energy of that moment and step up, and he makes his own glory, which is a very rare thing,” Schupsky said. “[In] those do-or-die situations, he always does.”
His breakout swims in both events gives him a shot at being selected for the 2013 World University Games in Kazan, Russia. However, the official selection process takes place at the U.S. Open, August 7-11 in Indianapolis. McHugh will have to “place very well” in order to be selected, but last week he put himself on the radar.
Before Olympic Trials began, McHugh — who plans to begin law school at Washington and Lee in the fall — said he would decide whether or not to continue his swimming career dependent on his performance at Trials. Schupsky hopes he competes at the U.S. Open continues to swim through law school and put his training in high gear come summer 2014.
“He’s one of the best breaststrokers in the country. Period,” Schupsky said. “You don’t have to qualify it.”
McHugh wasn’t the only Penn representative last week. Rising juniors Shelby Fortin and Rhoads Worster competed in the 400m freestyle and 100m butterfly, respectively. Fortin placed 78th, while Worster took 103rd. Three incoming Penn swimmers — Chris Swanson, Brad Wachenfeld and Annie McCotter — also competed. Swanson placed 50th in the 1500m free, Wachenfeld was 107th in the 400m free and McCotter took 116th in the 200 fly.