Sports

Stanford's Nolan can rest on his historic swim laurels, for now

 

Stanford senior David Nolan hasn't returned to the water since setting an American record in the 200-yard individual medley last week at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Iowa City, Iowa. He's still soaking it all in.

"Just relaxing for a few more days," said the biomechanical engineer major from Hershey, Pa. "It's really cool to be part of history. It's nowhere near Olympic level, but it's still a barrier, and people remember barriers."

Nolan churned out a time of 1:39.38, bettering his previous American mark set last month in the Pac-12 Championships, and became the first swimmer to crack 1:40.

"David's swim has been 'the swim' in collegiate swimming -- men and women -- over the past year," said Ted Knapp, Stanford's head coach. "And that says a lot, because there were some other great swims on the men's side and certainly at the women's meet, including some from Stanford. I think for him to break through that 1:40 milestone is historic. To set an American record in an event that has been one of the premier events for someone like Michael Phelps is pretty darn exciting."

Especially since Nolan's time was two seconds faster than he swam in high school.

"It was zero seconds until this year," Nolan said. "All of a sudden, all of my work went into that one week. It was actually a lot of fun to drop all of that time instead of .05 after three years of frustration and not getting those goals."

Even after the great swim at the Pac-12 Championships, Nolan wasn't sure he could improve at the NCAA Championships.

"I knew I had a shave left and a little more rest," he said. "So I was pretty excited about what I could do right before, but nothing in practice that I was like, 'Whoa, I'm definitely going to get a fast number.' "

Once the race started, Nolan just did what he always does.

"What we do all year is train so that the time from when the buzzer goes off until you hit the pad is already prepared," said Nolan. "I guess it's more that I'm not really thinking. The time you start thinking is towards the end of the race when you need a little extra push and that's when you look around, and luckily I had Will Licon (of Texas) right there, pushing me. That gave me an extra surge that last 50."

Nolan also notched his name in the Cardinal record book with school records in the 200-yard backstroke and in the 800-yard freestyle relay. He concludes his Stanford career with nine Pac-12 titles and is a 17-time All-American.

"Probably the most versatile athlete I've ever seen," Knapp said. "In fact, if we had sat down at the beginning of his college career, we could have mapped out a different number of events for him each year, and he would have finaled in each of those three over the course of his four years. Twelve different events being a top-eight finalist is pretty incredible."

Nolan always put the team first.

"My role at Stanford was to go where we needed it filled," he said. "It worked well because we had a little bit of a void in the backstroke the last couple of years. Winning the individual medley kind of says you're the best at the average of the strokes. My training for all those events goes into that race and it was fun to show it."

Nolan was also proud of his teammates, who finished sixth in the NCAA Championships, an improvement of three places from last year.

"I'm really happy with the job the team did at the Pac-12 and NCAA meets," said Nolan. "I think the younger guys are super-motivated to step up to the plate next year. There's a ton of potential and a lot of great guys on this team than can do some pretty big things."

As for Nolan, he is currently on The Farm to finish his degree, work on a minor in computer science and train for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"Until three or four months ago, I was pretty set on going to medical school," he said. "Maybe down the road, it's still an option. I chose biomechanical engineering because you actually get to go through the design process of all these super-cool systems and learn how all this stuff works. That's something that really intrigued me from the beginning, and now all this computer science stuff is really interesting because it's Silicon Valley, you're at Stanford, why not learn as much as I can? I don't have any set plan, but I'm hoping to get involved with a start-up company."

Nolan's father, James, was a big influence in his decision to come west.

"He opened my eyes," said Nolan. "He was like, 'Dave, you'll get unbelievable connections and you're right in the heart of Silicon Valley.' He wasn't saying it'd be unwise not to choose Stanford, but he did say it would be a very, very wise decision to choose Stanford."

Former teammate Bryan Offutt also played a role.

"He sent me an e-mail before I committed anywhere and was like, 'Where would you want to be if your swimming career ended?' " Nolan said. "And obviously, the answer to that question was Stanford. It all added up."

Given his recent times in the individual medley, making the Olympic team is no longer a pipe dream. Especially if he decides to focus on one event.

"I'm on a good projection with my swimming right now," said Nolan. "I would like to keep the ball rolling and not let it slip. But that's a long way away and I have to make sure I'm doing everything that I can until the end of summer to convince myself that you need to go all-in for the Olympics."

Nolan said what makes Stanford special is the people.

"You know everyone sitting around you in class is amazing at something," said Nolan. "Andrew Luck probably stood out here, but not to everybody on campus. It's different here than it is at Oregon or Texas A&M with Marcus Mariota or Johnny Manziel. Everyone blends in, and that's what I think is pretty cool about Stanford."

It also fosters a humble, team-first attitude.

"Even with how many stud athletes we have in every sport, it's not about individual performances," Nolan said. "It's about making sure the team is doing the best they can, because Stanford is all about big-group success."

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