INDIANAPOLIS — Zachary Turk is not intimidating.
The Kenyon senior freestyle sprint specialist stands with a slight hunch. His 6’4″ frame is slender and long. Narrow shoulders are dwarfed by those belonging to his bulkier competitors.
But none of that matters in 50 yards of water. When the buzzer sounds in a championship race, Turk transforms into the scariest man in the pool.
Turk broke his own record in the 50 freestyle on Wednesday at the NCAA Division III Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships in Indianapolis. He touched the wall in the preliminary heat 19.38 seconds after he leapt into the water, shattering the NCAA record of 19.75 he’d set at the national championships two years prior. He’d go on to finish what he started, taking the top spot in the evening’s final heat.
It took him 19.52 seconds to win his third 50 freestyle title.
|2012 DIVISION III CHAMPIONSHIPS|
|Day 1 Results|
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Once again, the slender, softspoken swimmer dominated the event defined most by power and aggression. Once again he mustered his best performance on the biggest stage.
“He’s good in the weight room, but not great; you don’t have to be great in there if you’re that lean,” Kenyon head coach Jim Steen explained. “If you’re built like a Porsche, you don’t need to put in an engine bigger than the Porsche can hold.”
The Porsche swam faster on Wednesday than any Division II swimmer had all season. Turk bested Andrey Seryy of Wayne State, who posted Dvision II’s best time earlier this month, by nine hundredths of a second. And the record Tuck set on Sunday was faster than all but eight Division I times this season.
Kenyon missed their Division I-caliber star last year.
Turk, an international studies major, spent his junior year studying at Argentina’s University of Buenos Aires. He trained during his time in South America, but wasn’t there for the National Championships, helping lead his team to yet another national title. Instead, Kenyon’s streak of 31 consecutive men’s national championships was snapped by Denison.
They came just one point short.
“We obviously missed him,” Steen said. “We lost.”
Turk’s teammate, senior David Somers, won the 50 freestyle last year in Turk’s absence. The two are arguably the best sprinters in Division III and have pushed each other in practice all year long. They finished first and second in the event on Wednesday, posting the best times in both the preliminary heats and the final race. Turk outpaced Somers by .4 seconds in the first race and .27 in the latter. Turk credits Somers’ presence for his own dominant performances.
“We’re all so competitive with each other,” he said. “It’s great having David on the team. We push each other. I feel like if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am. And I hope that if it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t be where he is.”
Turk admits that Somers regularly bests him in practice and has topped him in meets several times. But Turk, even after a year away, still owns the biggest stage. Having the nation’s two fastest sprinters on the same team seems it should be a situation ripe with tension. Both are adamant that the opposite is true. It’s as friendly as any rivalry could get.
“He gets going at nationals, better than anyone else at this meet, and people feed off of that,” Somers said. “It’s good having him back. I swam faster this year than last year without him. Everyone wants to win, but I’d rather lose to him than anyone else.”
The 50 freestyle victory was Turk’s his eleventh national championship. The twelfth would come an hour later when he swam the anchor leg in the 200 IM relay.
Kenyon closed the day with a 129-118 advantage over the team that stole their crown last year. Somers and Turk, along with their relay partners, amassed 77 of those precious points. When the Kenyon IM relay team accepted their first place award, standing on the tallest of eight podiums, Turk put his arm around Somers’s shoulder and sunk into his familiar hunch. The two competitors, and friends, basked together in the day’s triumph, if only for a moment. Each held one pointer finger to the sky.
“A couple years back everyone was more individualized,” Turk said. “This year we’ve really come together as a team. We’re trying to support every single swim, because we lost by a point so we need every one.”
After a year away, Turk is grabbing all the points he can.