Former Trojan Comerford beats defending Olympic champ
Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel became household names last summer as two of the most decorated members of the United States women’s swimming team at the Rio Olympics: Ledecky won four gold medals and one silver, while Manuel claimed two golds and two silvers.
Now Plainwell High School graduate and current University of Louisville Cardinal Mallory Comerford is showing she belongs in the same stratosphere as those two Olympic champions.
At the Phillips 66 National Championships on Tuesday, June 27, Comerford posted a time of 52.81 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle. That was enough to edge out runner-up Manuel by 24 hundredths of a second and earn Comerford a spot on the U.S. team that will compete at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary later this month.
“I was just training hard and racing my own race and whatever happened, happened,” Comerford said in an interview with SwimSwam.com. “I just love to race, so getting out there and racing is always fun. I just try to stay calm and stay in my own head.
“It’s just an awesome opportunity to be racing here with this whole field of people. It was a blast.”
Given her faith in her ability to close races, Comerford just wanted to keep things close until then.
“My speed is the best it’s ever been, so I’m using that to my advantage and really focusing on the last 20 (meters)—really the whole back half—but the last 20 meters, putting my head down and getting my hand on the wall.”
Comerford’s time in the 100 was the third fastest in the world this year, trailing only Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom (52.08) and Australia’s Cate Campbett (52.78). The time also beat Sjostrom’s US Open record time of 53.12 set last year and was within 0.11 seconds of Manuel’s U.S. record set at the Olympics.
This performance comes on the heels of Comerford’s showing at the NCAA National Championships in March. During that event, Comerford tied Ledecky for first place in the 200 free with a time of 1:40.36 and finished third in the 100 behind winner Manuel.
Those are some pretty heady achievements for the 19-year-old former Trojan.
“A few years ago, I would have been like, ‘No way,’” Comford said of her recent success against some of the world’s best swimmers. “I’ve been at Louisville for three summers now and a lot has changed. It’s just been the greatest experience of my life.
“There are so many opportunities and just an awesome atmosphere with so many teammates that are so awesome and the coaches and my family. Even everyone from home still is so supportive. It’s a really good community.”
Comerford competed at Plainwell as a freshman (2011) and a sophomore (2012) before deciding not to compete at the high school level her final two years of high school. That, however, didn’t keep her from making a big impact on the school and state record books.
Comerford won the 50 free and 100 free state titles as a freshman before winning state titles in the 200 free and 500 free as a sophomore. She earned the Michigan Swimmer of the Year Award both years, and her times in the 100 free (50.46), 200 free (1:48.07) and 500 free (4:53.14) are still Division 3 state finals records.
One of the biggest challenges for Comerford in recent years has been making the transition from the 25-meter short-course pools to the 50-meter long-course pools used in world championship competition.
The key to her improvement in long-course races has been simple.
“I think, honestly, training it all the time in the summer,” Comerford said. “It’s definitely a lot harder for me to train long course because I don’t have the turns to help me out. It’s just getting comfortable with it and having my teammates to push me. Racing the boys. Racing the girls.
“Our practices are so much fun and we just create this really awesome atmosphere. It really pushes everyone to be their best every single day.”