March 26, 2009
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - For Alex Righi, a storied collegiate career is coming to a close this weekend at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships hosted by Texas A&M at the Student Recreation Center Natatorium in College Station, Texas. Righi, who was the High School Swimmer of the Year in 2005, will compete in three events at his fourth and final NCAA Championships. Righi last competed at the Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships on Mar. 5-7, where he earned the Swimmer of the Meet honors for the third consecutive year and ended his career with 17 All-Ivy selections.
Righi is not new to the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. As a freshman, Righi placed 26th in the 50-yard freestyle, 16th in the 100-yard backstroke and 15th in the 100-yard freestyle. He qualified for the consolation finals of both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events. For Righi, this was his first opportunity to compete against the top swimmers in college swimming and a good way to get major race experience in. In the Ivy League, Righi was usually the top swimmer in his events, winning all except for one of his individual events at the Ivy League Championships.
As a sophomore, Righi returned to the meet and was able to use the experience of having been at the meet the previous year as a stepping stone. He improved in all three of his individual events, taking 14th in the 50-yard freestyle, 13th in the 100-yard backstroke and 10th in the 100-yard freestyle.
As a continually improving athlete, it was to be expected that Righi's best year of swimming would be yet to come. After missing making the A finals of his events as both a freshman and sophomore, Righi was ready to show the collegiate swimming world that he was a force to be reckoned with his junior year. On the first day of competition, Righi competed in the 50-yard freestyle, taking second in a school record time of 19.08. The only swimmer to beat Righi, Auburn's Cesar Cielo, has turned to professional swimming and will not be competing at the Championships. Cielo won the gold medal at the 2009 Olympic Games in the 50-meter freestyle event. On the second day of competition, Righi again improved from the previous year, taking 11th in the 100-yard backstroke. On the final day of competition, Righi again took second in the 100-yard freestyle, only losing to Cielo.
For Righi, the three years of experience at the Championships has been valuable and each time has allowed him to focus even more on his swimming.
"I feel that competing at the Championships in past years has really helped me," Righi said. "Over the past three years, I have become more relaxed and have developed a better ability to deal with the pressure at the meet. Coming in as someone who is at the meet for the fourth time, I feel that I will be very comfortable, as I have been able to be more comfortable each year."
This year, Righi has been swimming the best he has in his life and has improved so much over the course of the season that it seems that there is no end on sight to how fast he can go. At the Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships, he set school records in all three of his individual events. In the 50-yard freestyle, he swam to a time of 18.90, while he went 41.91 in the 100-yard freestyle and 46.32 in the 100-yard backstroke event. Righi also swam relay events for the Bulldogs and was an integral part of the Bulldogs taking fourth at the Championships.
At the NCAA Championships, which will take place Thursday through Saturday, Righi will have one last chance to make his mark in college swimming. While he is the current Yale and Ivy League record holder in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events and the 100-yard backstroke event, Righi still has the possibility of going faster at the NCAA Championships. Unlike many of the other swimmers who will be competing at the Championships, who had to fully taper in order to swim at their conference meets, Righi only used a partial taper for the Ivy League Championships. As a result, Righi has a greater potential benefit to gain by reducing his training loads than other swimmers, who already reduced their loads. In the training after the Ivy League Championships, Righi has reduced the number of yards that he swims per day and has lifted lighter weights and then altogether stopped lifting weights.
For Righi, both in the weeks prior to the meet and during the meet itself, it is very important to be well rested.
"In the weeks before the Championships, I work on getting my energy levels up, but not by swimming so little that I lose endurance," Righi said. "I try to rest my body in the weeks leading up to the Championships by not walking too much and not lifting too heavy of weights, but still get in quality swimming. In the weeks leading up to the meet, I work on the parts of my races that are weak. In the backstroke, for example, I work on the underwater work and the turns, while I work on the finish in the 50-yard freestyle and the last 50 yards of the 100-yard freestyle."
Righi is poised to do well at the Championships. He is currently seeded third in the 50-yard freestyle behind Auburn's Matt Targett (18.52) and Cal's Nathan Adrian (18.82). In the 100-yard freestyle, he is also third, with Adrian having the top mark (41.43) followed by Targett (41.55). In the 100-yard backstroke, Righi is seventh, with Texas' Hill Taylor leading the field (45.65). Adrian earned an Olympic Gold medal last year for the United States in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay while Targett earned a bronze in the same event for Australia. Righi was edged for the Olympic team by Adrian, who beat him in a swim off.
Despite having slower times than the other swimmers, Righi does have an advantage in that he will be well rested for his events. The other swimmers have teams that have qualified for relay events, so they will be competing on the relays. Righi, however, will be the only Bulldog at the competition and will not have the additional strain of swimming on relays.
Righi believes that not swimming relays will help him stay rested.
"A three-day meet with four relays is exhausting and your body is drained of energy at the end," Righi said. "Many other swimmers compete in relays as well as their individual events, so they have a lot demanded of them. I can stay rested and not get nervous. As much as I don't like not having my team at the meet, it does have some upsides. Everyone on the team did a tremendous job at the Ivys and now I get to focus on one event per day."
While Righi has been swimming fast all year long, he is not alone. The times this year have been very impressive and have been helped by the improvements in swimsuit technology.
Righi believes that this year, the NCAA Championships will be characterized by fast times.
"The meet has gotten significantly faster over the past year," Righi said. "Last year, the competition was a little weaker, but this year, everyone is very fast. More weight lifting, the new swimsuits and supplements have all led to fast times. My goals are pretty lofty, but I surprised myself at the Ivy League meet and it was a good starting point."
For Righi, who has been a part of resetting Yale records in seven events, this will be his last meet of his college career. Competition will get underway on Thursday with the 50-yard freestyle. Friday will feature the 100-yard backstroke and Saturday will conclude with the 100-yard freestyle. Preliminary rounds will begin at 12:00 p.m. and finals will commence at 7:00 p.m.
Righi feels that the meet should go well for him.
"I am really positive about the meet," Righi said. "This is the first year I have gotten an A cut in the 100-yard backstroke. It was my best event senior year in high school and then this year, I dropped over a second off it. I just want to swim my heart out and know it will be a fun meet. I am excited for my last college meet and will be sad that it is the end of my college career. It will be hard with no teammates and friends, but I get to swim for myself. I am just very excited."
Live results are available here.
Report filed by Caleb Dorfman '09, Yale Sports Publicity