Aug. 14, 2004
ATHENS, Greece – Andrew MacKay (Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands/Cayman Prep & H.S.), who will enroll at the University of Notre Dame as a freshman later this month and join its men’s swimming and diving team, broke his own Cayman Islands record in finishing second in his heat of the 400-meter individual medley Saturday morning in the Olympic Aquatic Centre of the Athens Olympic Sports Complex at the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad. His time of 4:32.38 was 0.58 seconds quicker than his previous best in the event. MacKay, the Cayman Islands’ first-ever Olympic qualifier, will have three days off before he competes in the 200 IM on Wednesday.
MacKay, who will become the first Olympian in Notre Dame men’s swimming history when he arrives on campus, was part of the first official swimming heat of the Athens Olympics, touching the wall second out of four competitors, just 0.36 seconds behind Sasa Impric of Croatia. MacKay’s time would end up 33rd among the 36-swimmer field. His seed time of 4:32.96, the previous Cayman Islands record achieved at the 2003 Pan American Games, was the 34th-quickest in the field, meaning MacKay moved up one position from his seeding. In addition to beating the two swimmers who came in with slower qualifying times (Yu-An Lin of Chinese Taipei and Nikita Polyakov of Uzbekistan), he was faster than Miguel Molina of the Philippines, who finished eighth in heat two with a time of 4:33.25, which was nearly 10 seconds off his seed time (4:23.26).
Using the NCAA conversion factor, MacKay’s mark is the equivalent of going 3:56.97 on a 25-yard course (the Olympics use a 50-meter course), a time bettered just seven times (by only four different student-athletes, three of whom are current) in the history of Irish men’s swimming.
The top eight swimmers advanced to Saturday evening’s final, with the cutoff for that group coming at 4:16.77. In the prelims, only three athletes broke the 4:16.00 mark: world recordholder Michael Phelps of the United States (4:13.29), Laszlo Cseh of Hungary (4:14.20), and Alessio Baggiatto of Italy (4:15.78).
Phelps was successful in the first leg of his quest for a possible eight gold medals in these games, as he broke his own world record to take the gold in 4:08.26. Fellow American Erik Vendt (swimming in lane one after being tied for sixth in the prelims) chased down Cseh in the freestyle portion to win the silver with a time of 4:11.81. The Hungarian grabbed the bronze in 4:12.15, while Boggiatto finished fourth (4:12.28).
Phelps, who was under world-record pace for the final 350 meters, broke his own world record (previously 4:08.41) for the fourth time since first claiming it in 2002. His mark also smashed American Tom Dolan’s (former University of Michigan standout who also won the gold in Atlanta in 1996) Olympic record (4:11.76), set in 2000 in Sydney, by more than three seconds. That time was the world record until Phelps topped it two years ago to begin his domination of the event.
Vendt, currently an assistant coach in his fifth year at USC following a brilliant collegiate career that saw him win five NCAA titles and garner All-America accolades 13 times, won the silver at the Sydney Games. He was the 2002 NCAA Swimmer of the Year, scoring a meet-high 57 points at the NCAA Championships.
The medalists in the first race of the 2004 games were no surprise, as they and Dolan are the only swimmers ever to go faster than 4:12.00 in the 400 IM.
Coverage of the men’s 400-meter individual medley can be seen on NBC, with the prelims featured in afternoon action and the final slated to be shown Saturday evening (coverage begins at 8 p.m. in South Bend).
MacKay will take part in the second of seven heats of the 200 IM, slated to begin at 11:14 a.m. (Eastern European Summer Time) on Wednesday (3:14 a.m. in South Bend). The Caymanian’s qualifying mark of 2:08.15 ranks 47th in the 50-swimmer field. MacKay will be in lane one, while Oguz Orel Oral of Turkey will be in lane five. Oral, who swam collegiately for the University of Indianapolis, still holds Notre Dame’s Rolfs Aquatic Center record in the 200-yard individual medley (1:50.14), set at the 2002 Notre Dame Invitational.
The top 16 then move on to the semifinals, scheduled for Wednesday at 8:10 p.m. (EEST) (12:10 p.m. in South Bend). The top eight swimmers will compete in the final on Thursday evening at 7:54 p.m. (EEST) (11:54 a.m. in South Bend). NBC is scheduled to cover the 200 IM during its evening coverage on both days (beginning at 8 p.m. in South Bend), and might also feature prelim action on Wednesday (its coverage starting at 12:30 p.m. in South Bend).
Phelps also holds the world record in the 200 IM, as the only swimmer ever to go quicker than 1:58.00. In 2003, he broke the nine-year-old world record, and he has bested his mark three times since then, most recently going 1:55.94 in August of 2003.
The official website of Irish athletics, www.und.com, will feature detailed coverage of all 10 Olympians with Notre Dame ties competing in this year’s Games. Included in that coverage will be diary entries and photos documenting their time in Athens.
MacKay, a 5-9, 150-pound graduate of Cayman Prep and High School, holds the Cayman Islands national records in long-course meters in all backstroke, breaststroke, and individual medley events, as well as the 100-meter butterfly. He is coached by former U.S. great Dave Kelsheimer. MacKay failed to qualify for the Olympics in his top event (100 backstroke), but then garnered an invitation in the 200 IM at the 2003 Caribbean Championships in Jamaica. His 400 IM qualifying time came at the ’03 Pan Am Games.
In the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona, Mackay, 17 years old at the time, registered the fastest start reaction time (.63 seconds) in the entire 78-swimmer field in the 200 IM (he finished 48th). His extensive international experience includes competing at the 2002 World Short Course Championships in Moscow, reaching the semifinals at the ’02 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, and becoming the first Caymanian to advance to the finals in the Pan American Games, in ’03. Mackay earned 31 medals (14 gold, 11 silver, 6 bronze) at the CARIFTA (Caribbean Free Trade Agreement) Swimming Championships, setting six records on the way. He medaled in nine events (4 gold, 5 silver) in the Island Games, setting three records, of which the 100 back mark still stands. Mackay also won the Cayman Islands Swimming Coach’s Award in ’02. His top long-course times include 2:08.15 in the 200 IM and now 4:32.38 in the 400 IM.
While MacKay is the first Irish men’s swimmer to compete in the Olympics, two Notre Dame women’s swimmers have arrived on campus as Olympians. Jilen Siroky, who graduated in May after an injury-plagued collegiate career, competed at the age of 15 in the 200-meter breaststroke for the United States in the Atlanta games in 1996. Christel Bouvron (Singapore, Singapore/Raffles Girls’ Secondary School), who will be a junior at Notre Dame this fall, competed in the 400 free and 200 butterfly in the 2000 Sydney Olympics for Singapore, and she will once again take part in the 200 fly in the Athens games.
Since the Antwerp Games in 1920, Notre Dame has been represented (by current, former, or future athletes) in 15 of the 20 Summer Olympics, including each of the last 10. A total of 10 Olympians in the Athens Games have ties to the Irish, by far the most of any Games. The previous high was three in both the 1992 and ’96 Olympics. Irish athletes have won nine medals, most-recently a silver by Swedish epeeist Bjorn Vaggo in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. That total includes a pair of golds, both in men’s basketball (Vince Boryla in ’48 and Adrian Dantley in ’76).
For more information on the Olympics, see www.athens2004.com, while complete television listings of coverage by the NBC family of networks can be found at www.NBCOlympics.com.