FEDERAL WAY, Wash. – Sehr gut!
Georgia’s Martin Grodzki, a junior from Berlin, Germany, said Auf Wiedersehen to the field late in the 500-yard freestyle Thursday night to end two years of frustration at the NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
“That was something else,” said an ecstatic Georgia coach Jack Bauerle. “It was pretty darn special.”
Just imagine that in each of the past two years Grodzki finished second in the 1,650, the longest race at this meet. And last year he was seeded third, but didn’t even make the final eight in the 500, finishing 10th.
“It feels good to get first, especially in the 500, because people didn’t really take me seriously as a 500 swimmer,” Grodzki said with a smile. “They always thought I was just a pure miler. Winning the 500 is especially nice because it’s my favorite race.”
The swimming world will definitely take him seriously now after he twice set personal bests in the Weyerhaeuser King Aquatic Center. And Saturday night he’ll hope to capture that elusive 1,650, the meet’s longest race.
Thursday morning, he staged an epic prelims battle with Michigan’s Connor Jaeger, finishing in a career-best 4 minutes, 13.80 seconds, getting touched out at the end.
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“The morning gave me confidence for the night,” Grodzki said. “And everything worked out.”
In the final, the 6-foot Grodzki went out hard from the start. His winning time of 4:12.95 was just enough to hold off USC’s Cristian Quintero (4:13.07), who was coming on hard a lane to Grodzki’s right.
“He sort of sensed what was happening at the end so he decided to do something before it got to that point,” said Baurle, the 2008 head U.S. women’s Olympic coach. “He put a little space in and it was just enough. They were coming in like gangbusters, but he’s a tough kid.”
“I just tried to swim it like I swam it this morning,” Grodzki said. “I just had the feeling they went out a little slower. I haven’t seen my splits yet, but I knew I was going to swim a little faster at night.”
Jaeger, whom the Michigan coaches found at a New Jersey lifeguard competition, fell behind, couldn’t keep pace and finished fifth (4:15.67)
“He had a great race,” Jaeger said. “No one was going to back off. Everyone was going for the win. Yeah, he had a great race.”
Just that Grodzki is even swimming for Georgia is a story in itself. He left Germany for the Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tenn., where his coach, Dan Flack, was a former assistant to Bauerle at Georgia when they won the 1999 NCAA women’s team title.
“Danny called me and said, ‘This kid’s pretty darn good.’ He was a little off the radar because he was pretty good but not great,” Bauerle said. “The big school’s didn’t know anything about him because he hadn’t done anything big-time yet.”
Flack told his old coach, “The biggest thing is he’s a racer,” and Bauerle is impressed with his poise.
“And whatever you see in practice is going to be 10 times better here. He practices hard, but he loves the competition. He feeds off it. He goes up a level. He doesn’t get nervous about it … “The bigger it is the better he is.”
Having a swimmer overcome second-place finishes is not new at Georgia. Mark Dylla was second in the 200-yard butterfly his freshman year, second his sophomore year, won but was disqualified as a junior, and then last year finally broke through and won the event.
Just like Dylla, Bauerle said before the race, Grodzki has “a little bug in him.”
Now he can set his sights on another Georgia swimmer, Frenchman Sebastian Rouault, who won the 500 for Georgia in 2008 with one of the fastest winning times ever, 4:09.48, and also won the 1650 in 2006 (14:29.43) and 2008 (14:26.86).
“Now it’s just fun,” Grodzski said, the pressure obviously off. “My goal was to win an NCAA title, maybe two. I’m very happy with my swim. It definitely gives me confidence for the mile. And we’ll see how that works out.”