Patrick Finley: Arizona swimmer Cordes faster than anyone else

Arizona sophomore performs breast stroke like no one before him
2012-12-06T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T16:14:35Z Patrick Finley: Arizona swimmer Cordes faster than anyone elsePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 06, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The Great Easter Sunday Recruiting Save of 2011 came between bites of sandwich at Panera Bread in Rockford, Ill.

Eric Hansen had been picked to run the Arizona Wildcats swim team but had yet to move from Madison, Wis.

One of the UA's three committed recruits, a star breast stroker from Naperville, Ill., wasn't so sure he wanted to go to Arizona anymore. He didn't know Hansen at all.

So Hansen offered to meet Kevin Cordes and his parents, both UA grads, halfway between the two cities, on Easter, to talk.

The coach brought along assistant Geoff Hanson.

"I said, 'Let's go - we have to go save a good recruit,'" Hansen said.

They returned with a commitment, and a save would make Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour blush.

"I said, 'I understand your concern,'" Hansen said, "'but it could be better than you ever imagined.'"

As a freshman last year, Cordes won the NCAA title in the 100 breast stroke and the 200 medley relay, breaking two American records.

Last Friday, he became the fastest human to ever swim the 100 breast stroke, finishing in 51.10.

After staying up half the night in a dark room - "My emotions kept me awake," he said - Cordes became the fastest man to swim the 200.

In front of his parents and grandparents, he posted a time of 1:50.73, a full second faster than the U.S. mark.

He set meet records on two medley relay teams, too, as the UA and Ford Aquatics teams combined for 15 gold medals and nine meet records at the AT&T Winter Nationals in Austin, Texas.

(One caveat: Events measured in yards are unique to American soil, so records don't have the global reach of races, like the Olympics, measured by meters).

"I thought about it growing up - that could be really cool if I could have one of those," Cordes said of the record. "I hadn't really thought about it, since, until it happened.

"It's still setting in."

Hansen saw it coming.

Ten days before the meet, Cordes swam a test race. In practice, without adrenaline, he was a half-second faster than the 100 record.

"There's nobody," Hansen said, "that's swum this stroke like him before."

I remember talking to UA jumps coach Sheldon Blockburger a few years back about Brigetta Barrett.

I asked how good she could be, and his eyes widened. He knew a secret.

She won the silver medal this summer after making the highest jump ever by a female collegian.

Tuesday, at Hillenbrand Aquatic Center, Hansen gave me that same look.

"He uses his body in a way that very few people do," Hansen said. "His kick is different than the way you teach a breast stroke kick.

"He uses his legs as hydrofoils, almost - he gets wider and can turn them and rotate them.

"Instead of change it, we're going to work with it and get it stronger.

"He's got a body line unlike anybody else. He can flatten his back out and become an air foil.

"It's just awesome."

As a high school sophomore, Cordes dropped four seconds in the 100, grew about four inches and decided to quit other sports to focus on swimming.

Now 6 feet 5 inches, Cordes finished third in the 100 meters at the Olympic trials - the first to miss the cut.

"I thought about it during every practice," he said. "It was a motivator."

Cordes, named the Pac-12 swimmer of the month on Wednesday, earned a spot at the FINA World Swimming Championships, which start next week in Istanbul, Turkey. Friday, he'll board a flight with Hansen, the U.S. men's coach, and UA teammates Ellyn Baumgardner and Bonnie Brandon .

Cordes is delightfully different.

He "breaks easy," Hansen said, so he requires massage and acupuncture on his shoulders and knees.

Because he only swims the breast stroke - the coach calls his other disciplines "terrible" - Cordes can't diversify in order to save his body. On days he doesn't swim, he treads water in the dive well, holding a medicine ball over his head.

As laid-back as a desert tortoise, Cordes' blood didn't start pumping until I asked about his cat.

"Dave" - great name for a pet! - is a 7-month-old Savannah, a cross between a house cat and a Serval, a wild African feline.

"It fetches and does all this crazy stuff," he said. "Goes on walks."

It's almost like owning an exotic animal.

"I told him he's going to wake up one morning without a nose," Hansen joked. "He lights up when he talks about his cat."

More so than he did when he broke those records.

He's sure to have more practice celebrating.

"He just smirks," Hansen said. "It's awesome."

Making his marks

51.10

Time in seconds of Kevin Cordes' finish in the 100-yard breast stroke last Friday at the AT&T Winter Nationals in Austin, Texas - the fastest time recorded in the event

1:50.73

Time in minutes and seconds of Kevin Cordes' finish in the 200-yard breast stroke, a full second faster than the former mark

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