Fastest 200 yard IM of all-time (1:39.38)
Current 200IM American Record Holder (scy)
2015 NCAA Champion (200IM)
2011 PAC-12 Freshman of the Year
Lots of swimmers follow their siblings into the pool at a young age. It was a similar story for NCAA champion David Nolan, who joined his first team around age 7.
“My sister was my inspiration for the first part of my career,” he explains. “I wanted to compete at the level she was at. She was always on the National Junior Team from a young age. I looked up to her big time.”
He looked up at the sky to find the inspiration for his breakthrough swim as an age-grouper. “I really wanted to get on an airplane. I’d never flown before. I dropped from a 2:20 in the 200 IM (his pet event) to a 2:15 to make sectionals. At that meet, I started gunning for the Junior National cut, which was a 2:12. And I actually went a 2:10. So I got to go compete at Junior Nationals. I dropped 15 seconds in my 400 IM there. During those three meets, it occurred to me that maybe I could be good at this.”
His inspiration during his high school career was “taking over from my sister (who’d gone on to the University of North Carolina) and competing with the big guys.” And did he ever. As a high school senior at the Pennsylvania State Championships, Nolan not only won the 200 IM, but also did it in a time that would have won the NCAA title that year (1:41.39) by two tenths of a second. (Blog post with Nolan’s IM advice: The Decathlon of Swimming)
That reputation, coupled with increased academic rigor, made Nolan’s freshman year at Stanford “tricky.” The academic load required for his biomechanical engineering major was “way harder than high school. It was a rough transition.” Yet he still managed to earn second-place finishes in both backstrokes and third in the 200 IM, his pet event.
He had an improved showing the following year, winning the 200 IM and 100 back. This despite the fact that “I’ve never really been a backstroker. I just swam it because we didn’t have someone who could compete at NCAAs.” So which leg of the IM does Nolan like best? “ I just like the feeling of swimming strong, rhythmic fly.”
During the back half of his collegiate career, “I showed my true colors” he says. Four years after clocking that ridiculous 1:41.39 in the 200 IM, he dropped jaws again, becoming the first swimmer to break the 1:40 barrier with a 1:39.38. “That race was so much fun because I finally had a lot of confidence in my swimming. I changed my training this year to do things I knew would help me. “One such change: “I activated my glutes during backstroke, and that made all the difference,” he told reporters at NCAAs. That breakthrough came courtesy of golf icon and fellow Stanford Cardinal, Tiger Woods.
It’s at times like this that Nolan’s background in biomechanical engineering comes to the forefront. Another giveaway: he incorporates terms like sine, cosine, axis and amplitude when discussing the ideal bodyline for swimming fly. Simply put, “It’s all about finding your rhythm.”
Not only does Nolan’s engineer mindset allow him to visualize what his body is doing, but also it helps him see the bigger picture, which is a lesson he hopes to pass on to younger swimmers. “You need to be super cognizant of everything that you’re doing and make sure that it’s all lining up with your goals.”