Night two of the World Junior Swimming Championship taking place in Indianapolis, Michael Andrew was not having his best night. The first swim of the night went alright, with Andrew about a half second off his personal best in the 100 breaststroke.
He had tried to challenge junior world record holder Nicolo Martinenghi, but couldn't hang on the second lap and was ultimately also passed by American rival Reece Whitely.
He still had the 200 IM, the race where he held the junior world record, coming up. That race, however, was effectively over for Andrew after 50m. After an opening volley of 25.71 on butterfly, his fade began almost immediately and only got worse. The final result was more than eight seconds slower than his record.
That was when the knives came out.
There exists a segment of the swimming follower population that is constantly ready to write Michael Andrew off. Why is there so much furor over a not yet 18 year old junior athlete? Because Michael Andrew violates many of the "values" that a significant portion of the swimming population holds dear.
In no particular order:
1. There are no junior "sprinters" and success at the junior or age group level in short races should be purely incidental, not something you train for. REMEMBER THAT TOM JAGER'S FIRST SENIOR NATIONAL CUT CAME IN THE 1500!
2. Young swimmers should not declare professional, certainly not at 14 like Andrew did. If this catches on then we will be just as bad as those four major sports that we try to look down our noses at.
3. Race pace training doesn't give you the endurance to be good at anything but 50s.
And on, and on, but those are the largest violations he makes. Andrew has had an incredible meet since night 2, setting world junior records in three out of the four stroke 50s. For all the people that are on the other side of one of the cultural wars above, those results have been a boon. And therein lies the biggest problem for Andrew.
Michael Andrew has become a proxy for people's "religious" arguments in the swimming world. I put "religious" in quotes because I'm not talking about real religion, which is an undercurrent of Andrew that I just don't feel qualified to address in this space.
I mean that when it comes to the content of swim practices, many coaches, swimmers and others tend to get a sort of religious zeal about "what works" and what doesn't. Even some of the same people who will tell you that there are "many ways up the mountain" will defend their particular path to the death.
I'm not going to pretend I haven't occasionally fallen guilty to the same. Mostly I'm just trying to enjoy watching this kid swim. There will be plenty of more ups and downs from here, and Andrew deserves not to be a weapon for the rest of us to beat each other over the head with.