March 26, 2010

Doug Bean, Special to

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The 50-yard freestyle is to swimming what the 100 meters is to track and field.

The races are over in the blink of an eye. One tiny mistake can mean the difference between winning and finishing back in the pack. Victories are usually measured in hundredths or thousandths of a second.

In the much-anticipated 50 freestyle Friday night at Ohio State University's McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion at Ohio State, the splash dash lived up to expectations.

Josh Schneider, the University of Cincinnati's one-man team at the NCAA Division I Men's Swimming and Diving Championships, didn't swim a perfect race in his estimation, but it was plenty strong enough. The Bearcats senior touched the wall .09 of a second ahead of runner-up Nathan Adrian, the defending champion and American record-holder from California, in the final.

Schneider's winning time was a pool-record 18.93 seconds. Adrian, who helped lead Cal to second place in the team standings behind Texas after six events in the three-day meet, clocked 19.02. The Golden Bears junior was followed by Auburn's Adam Brown (19.03) and Texas' Jimmy Feigen (19.08), the 2009 runner-up.

Texas raced to the top of the team standings after the first day of the three-day meet with 145 points. Cal (139), Florida (118), Auburn (114.5) and Stanford (106) rounded out the top five.

"When I figured out I got it is when I turned and looked at the [scoreboard] screen," Schneider said. "My heart sank and I was overwhelmed with emotion."

Before the race this week, Schneider wasn't afraid to say he considered himself the favorite in the 50. He had posted the NCAA's fastest qualifying time in winning the Big East championships in Pittsburgh, but Adrian was the returning national champion in the event and a 2008 Olympian.

"If I didn't expect to win it, I probably would not be here," Schneider said. "If you come in with any doubt in your mind, you're not going to win it."

Cincinnati has discontinued offering scholarships in men's swimming, but Schneider's success has prompted athletic administrators to reconsider the decision to drop funding. His cheering section included a group of teammates and friends with dollar signs painted on their chests. Schneider's nickname is "J Money."

So, it's not a stretch to say the fate of the program rests in his hands, and that's fine with him.

"It's a humongous step for our program," he said. "We have a lot of great swimmers who came in with no [scholarship] money and we had a good year. Their hearts were still beating."

Schneider's large cheering section made the two-hour trip from Cincinnati after travel plans that originally included a chartered bus and hotel rooms for 80 supporters were rearranged. The group was loud and proud during the race.

When the announcement to delay the meet was made Wednesday, the Ohio State ticket office noticed a large block of tickets had been purchased by a patron in the Cincinnati area and a call was placed to alert the group of the change. Needless to say, a considerable amount of scrambling ensued and some of Schneider's backers weren't able to attend Friday night.

"The people who came to support me were tremendous," Schneider said. "It really means a lot."

Schneider also will swim the 100 butterfly and the 100 freestyle during the final two days of the meet. He's the Big East champ and record-holder in both events, but those aren't his strongest races.

No matter. The gold already is in the bank.

"I've said it to a few of my teammates, that if I go out and race my best race (in the 50), no one could beat me but myself," Schneider said.

In the 200 freestyle relay final to open the evening session, Adrian led off with a strong first leg of 18.99, and Cal held off a mid-race challenge by Texas to set a pool record of 1:15.71. Auburn finished second, followed by Texas and Stanford. The four top finishers eclipsed the pool record.

In a competitive 500 freestyle, Conor Dwyer of Florida came from behind with a huge kick in the final two laps to edge out runner-up and defending NCAA champion Jean Basson of Arizona by .01 of a second in a pool-record 4:13.64. Clement Lefert (4:13.77) of Southern California, David Mosko (4:13.92) of Stanford and George Markovic (4:14.41) of Ohio State also went below the pool mark.

"It's a true honor to win a race with such great competition," Dwyer said. "My aim was just to go out and try to help us win some races."

Austin Surhoff of Texas swam a blazing freestyle leg to rally past the field to win the 200 individual medley in 1:42.95. Shaune Fraser (1:42.99) of Florida also came on strong to take second. Michigan's Tyler Clary, who placed second a year ago, led after the backstroke but faded to fifth.

"It's just crazy," Surhoff said. "I can't process winning, especially in the heat I was in. I just wanted to do what I could do for Texas."

David Boudia of Purdue was the winner in 1-meter diving with a meet-record 468.65 points. Florida State's Terry Horner (432.45) took second, and Texas' Drew Livingston (413.10), the defending champion and former record-holder, was third.

Cal added its second relay title of the evening when its 400 medley team set a pool record of 3:02.83, outdistancing Auburn by more than two seconds.