One single moment in time is all it takes for a sport to be revolutionized.
Up until the 1968 Olympic Games, everyone who competed in the high jump event utilized the same technique of getting over the bar in the same way we might hop over a cone — jump, lift your legs over the object, and land feet first.
Everyone besides Dick Fosbury, that is. In the high jump event of that Olympic Games, Fosbury ran up to the bar and leaped “back-first” — a method every competitor uses today that was once considered nonsensical.
In swimming, the equivalent would be when American Jesse Vassallo first started performing butterfly kicks underwater in the 1970s after diving into the pool and coming off of flipturns. This technique went on to become so effective in the ’80s that FINA, the governing body of swimming, had to limit swimmers to reaching no more than 15 meters underwater before they had to break the surface.
Arguably no collegiate team performs this technique better than the blue and gold. This was highlighted during this past meet against Pacific, where Cal was consistently blowing past its competitors during the submerged phases of the race.
Sophomore Gabriel Jett has been particularly notable with his butterfly kicks underwater throughout the first three competitions of the season.
In the 100-yard backstroke against Pacific, Jett was able to establish the lead with his kicks right off the start and never relinquished it, contributing to the commanding 179.5-88.5 victory over Pacific. Against Utah in a previous meet, too, Jett utilized powerful kicks during the last two laps of the 200-yard freestyle to propel himself ahead of teammate Robin Hanson.
Jett commented on his improvement when asked if underwater kicks are something he’s developed since coming to Cal.
“I improved so much here. After a year of training with the guys here, my underwater kicks have developed into a strength of mine and I’m really confident in them now,” Jett said.
Being able to train with Olympic gold medalists such as Tom Shields, who is known for his underwater ability, has certainly been a boost.
“Being able to swim with these guys is totally an advantage. For me personally, (Shields) has been a huge help with technical things like my underwater kicks and turns,” Jett said.
Other notable performances from this past Thursday include Destin Lasco in the 200-yard freestyle, winning in a final time of 1:35.61, and sophomore Trent Frandson, whose time of 45.79 took the crown in the 100-yard freestyle.
Next on Cal’s schedule is a trip to the Avery Aquatic Center on Nov. 4 where the team will hope to continue its undefeated season against rival Stanford in the annual Triple Distance Meet.
This meet boasts a unique format where swimmers must compete in the 50-yard, 100-yard, and 200-yard distances of only one stroke. Above all else, this will give a chance for the Bears to sharpen all aspects of their swimming.
Although it is unlikely that any of the swimmers will discover a revolutionary technique like Fosbury or Vassallo, the blue and gold continue to perfect existing skills in the hopes of dropping even milliseconds from their season-best times.