INDIANAPOLIS – When junior Tyler Clary was young his parents knew it would be a necessary precaution to make sure he was comfortable in the water. His family spent a great deal of time by a local river, and if could Clary fend for himself, then his parents could keep on an eye on his younger siblings.
Those measures paid off as the Riverside, Calif. native made his presence known at the US Swimming Championships this weekend.
Clary earned his first career spot on the U.S. National Team with strong performances in the 400-meter individual medley and 200-meter butterfly at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis.
“It’s really cool to represent your country, but I feel much more of a connection to the University,” Clary said. “It’s more the team that I’ve trained with for the past two years, so I have more of an intensity for those guys.
“But that’s not to say that when I get to Worlds that I’m not going to give every ounce of effort into every swim I do over there.”
In arguably his best event — the 400-meter individual medley — Clary held an early advantage over one of the best swimmers in the world: Ryan Lochte of Daytona Beach Swim Club. His lead was so impressive that he was under world-record pace heading into the 200-meter mark — a record held by his former training partner and Club Wolverine teammate Michael Phelps.
Only the top two from each event punch a ticket to the World Championships in Rome, Italy. So when Phelps withdrew from the event, Clary saw his chance.
With the crowd on its feet, Clary held a slight edge over Lochte after the final turn. But Locthe’s experience on the international circuit was too much for Clary. In the end, Clary touched the wall in a close second (4:06.96).
But it was in another race that the NCAA Champion had a chance to meet the World Champion.
In the 200-meter butterfly Clary kept the world’s best swimmer well within his sights. With just 50 meters remaining, Clary was only two tenths of a second behind Phelps, who cruised to eight gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. As Phelps began to pull away, Clary was far from disappointed in his effort. He finished second with a new personal best mark and the world’s second-fastest time in the event.
“I was amazed that I was still with (Phelps) at the 150,” Clary said. “That was definitely something to be excited about, I kinda knew that I was within striking distance toward the end.”
But only a year ago, Clary wasn’t close to being in a position to compete with the elite swimmers of the world. In his first year with the Wolverines, he failed to make an event final at the 2008 NCAA Championships. He did find some success with wins in the consolation finals of both the 400-yard IM and the 500-yard freestyle. But no one could have predicted Clary’s improvement in just a single year.
A great deal of Clary’s improvment must be attributed to first-year Michigan coach Mike Bottom. Bottom’s technical expertise has helped Clary add a new dimension to each one of his strokes.
“You just have to realize that the viscosity of water is hundreds and hundreds of times more than the air and so every movement either helps you or works against you,” Bottom said. “We’ve done a lot of video tape and a lot of work in training.”
With a demanding event schedule, Clary’s most impressive races may have been the ones that he didn’t add to his race program for the World Championships. The 200-meter backstroke provided more excitement as Clary swam alongside world record-holders Lochte and Aaron Peirsol, keeping pace with both. All three were under world-record pace after 150 meters and Clary began to make up ground on the second-place Lochte, going stroke for stroke in the last 50 meters. Piersol separated himself from the two to notch a new world record, but Clary ran out of gas and finished third behind Lochte.
After hanging tough with some of the world’s best in Phelps, Lochte and Peirsol, Clary will have the experience necessary to make a splash on swimming’s biggest stage in Rome later this summer.