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2018 NCAA D1 Championships – Men’s 800 Freestyle Relay

Day 1 of the Men’s 2018 NCAA D1 Championships featured an adrenaline-pumping 800 freestyle relay to start the competition. Texas broke their own American record set last year, but still finished in 3rd, where last year’s time would have placed them in 2nd. The top 2 finished in under record time; while Indiana put up a good fight, NC State held on to their title, breaking their own NCAA record by 1.22 seconds.

Texas’ Townley Haas faced off against Indiana’s Blake Pieroni in the first leg of the race, swimming the two fastest 200 frees in history. They were fairly evenly matched when it came to speed and DPS, but overall, Pieroni averaged a higher stroke index, as well as a significantly faster average stroke rate.

It was a close fight heading into the 150, before Pieroni started to increase the speed of his strokes even more. While he dropped DPS slightly, this was enough to kick start his lead. Haas tried to catch up off the wall, improving his stroke efficiency on the 175, but was unable to match Pieroni's stroke rate. Meanwhile, Pieroni continued to speed up his stroke rate on the last lap, increasing his lead and finishing under 1:30.

Indiana’s Mohamed Samy held onto their lead, using a faster stroke rate to compensate for his below average stroke index. Trailing him off the takeover was Texas’ Jeff Newkirk, who produced the highest DPS and stroke index, but the slowest stroke rate. NC State’s Ryan Held's metrics fell between Samy's and Newkirk's. His average stroke rate was slightly slower than Samy's and his stroke index fell slightly below Newkirk's. The balance between his stroke speed and efficiency gave him the speed he needed to gradually close the gap, ultimately overtaking Newkirk for 2nd off their final breakout.

The fight for gold started to heat up on the third leg, as Indiana’s lead was in jeopardy for the first time since Pieroni’s impressive swim. NC State’s Jacob Molacek and Indiana’s Vini Lanza were neck-and-neck, the lead changing hands a couple of times in their leg.

They generated exactly the same average speed and nearly identical turn times, but differed in their strokes. Lanza went for maximum efficiency, while Molacek went for slightly shorter and faster strokes. While they had opposite strategies, they clocked in almost equal splits; Molacek finished a tenth of a second ahead of Lanza, but this was not enough to offset Indiana’s earlier lead.

NC State’s anchor leg sealed the deal for them, Justin Ress splitting faster than anyone on his team. He caught up to Indiana’s Ian Finnerty early in the leg, using longer, more powerful strokes to gain the advantage. He took fewer strokes at a slower pace, but the distance he gained from each pull gave him enough ground to overtake Finnerty and win the race.

A key takeaway from this race is that a single event can be swum effectively with different strategies, as long as it plays to the athlete’s strengths. Pieroni and Ress have mastered their stroke efficiency, so slowing down their strokes in favour of stronger pulls benefitted them more. Conversely, Molacek used his faster stroke speed to outsplit Lanza. Held’s stroke rate and stroke index weren’t superior in themselves, but he found the optimal balance that worked best for him.

To dive into the numbers of each athlete yourself, use the interactive board below to see exactly how they performed across all metrics.

Stay tuned for more race analysis!