The reaction from Paul Powers conveyed pure joy after he touched the wall first in the Big Ten Conference’s 50-yard freestyle championship race Feb. 25 at Purdue University.
Powers, a North Hall graduate and sophomore at the University of Michigan, flexed his left arm with his hand clinched above the water when seeing he won the conference championship with a league-record time of 18.85 seconds, the second fastest among college swimmers this season.
Powers had reached the wall under the 19-second mark, a mark he’d set in his mind to beat in the shortest of his two individual events he swims for the Wolverines.
“Oh, man,” said Powers, who is now preparing for six events in next week’s NCAA Championship meet at Georgia Tech. “It (winning the 50) was a monumental swim.”
Powers is pumped about having nationals in Atlanta, the same spot where he won nine Georgia high school state titles (five individual, four relay) with the Trojans. He said knowing all the characteristics of swimming at the Yellow Jackets’ venue is a bit of a “home-court advantage.”
Having friends and family on hand for nationals will make it even sweeter for Powers, who is a first-team All-Big Ten selection for the 2015-16 season.
“It’s really nice to have nationals at Georgia Tech,” said Powers, who now has six Big Ten titles to his name in just two seasons. “I know all the features of the pool there.”
Powers is soaking up the elite training he receives at Michigan under esteemed coach Mike Bottom, who guided the Wolverines to a national title three years ago. The three-time All-American can analyze every angle of swimming the freestyle. His focus on form and technique comes with an advanced mental processing ability, which he also puts to use as an engineering major.
In addition to swimming the 50 and 100 freestyle, Powers is also part of Michigan’s 200 and 400 freestyle relay. He also swims the freestyle leg of the 200 and 400 medley relay. As a sophomore, Powers is finally used to the intense training, starting with 6 a.m. practices in the morning, to shave off precious time in the freestyle events.
Powers is hoping to qualify this summer for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I’ve really been focusing on my stroke technique,” said Powers. “As a freshman, I was really getting acclimated to the amount of work it took to swim (at Michigan), but I know what to expect now.”
At the Big Ten meet, Powers wasn’t necessarily expecting such a memorable performance in the 50. The former Trojan said his muscles were a bit fatigued as a result of lifting weights the Friday before the meet.
“I really was not 100 percent on top of my game that day,” said Powers, who said he prefers to swim with his teammates in the relays over doing individual events.
Also at the conference championship meet, Powers was part of the winning 200 medley relay team, and took third in the 100 freestyle (42.73).
Even though Powers has found great success in the 50, he’s thinking he has a better shot of making the Olympic squad in the 100. According to Powers, the US takes the top six finishers in the 100 to the Olympics, but only two make it in the 50.
At the Big 10 meet, Powers said he didn’t strike a good balance, going out too fast in his first 50 (19.9), then 22.83 over the last half of the race.
This summer, Powers will tackle both the 50 and 100 freestyle in the Olympic qualifying in Omaha, Neb., the same place he first took part in qualifying for the Summer Games in 2012 as a rising high school junior.
Having prior experience at Olympic qualifying has Powers confident he knows what to expect in the pressure-cooker environment with everyone battling for a coveted few spots to represent the United States in Rio.
The biggest difference for Olympic qualifying is that it’s done on the long course: the distance is measured in meters as opposed to yards. Powers said with a 6-foot-4 frame, the long course fits his style better since his long and muscular frame makes him faster on the top of the water.