When Garnet Valley senior Anthony Richardson takes down records, he really takes them down. No, literally.
Twice already this season, Richardson has bested the pool record in the 400 freestyle at his home pool. Twice he’s physically ascended the lifeguard chair at Garnet Valley Middle School , letters and numbers in hand, to change the posting on the board. It’s not just Richardson being helpful, as the exercise holds a practical purpose.
“(Coach Clark Bickling) usually does it,” Richardson said. “But I like to do it so that I have a visual goal to set.”
It’s a technique that appears to be working. He opened the season against Strath Haven by swimming 4:12.30 in the 400 – Garnet Valley’s pool is in meters, hence the substitution of the 400 for the 500 – to take down the record. Earlier this week, he duplicated the feat by going 4:11.32 against Penncrest, amassing a massive nine-second gap over Philip Nawn, an outstanding distance swimmer in his own right. (Not to be critical, but Richardson forgot to add the year next to his name on his latest trip; something tells me he’ll get more practice.) He was just a second short of the record Thursday against Haverford, but he outdueled Connor Hart, who figures to be one of his primary adversaries in the distance events this season.
If you’re looking for a conversion factor, consider that Nawn swam 4:52 in the 500 the previous week against Marple Newtown, a comfortable swim in which he wasn’t pushed by any other competitors. That puts Richardson in the 4:40 range over 500 yards. The district meet was won last year by Connor Forlini in 4:37.07, and the four automatic PIAA spots were all sub-4:45. (It also helps that four of the top five last year were seniors, leaving spots to fill). He’s yet to swim the 500 this high school season, as his only yards meet was against Radnor, when he swam in two other events.
Last year, Richardson was ninth in the 200 free at districts and 16th in the 100 free. The latter disappointment signaled that it might be time for changes, and he’s bought into that whole-heartedly this season. Bickling said that Richardson walked onto the deck to start the season in midseason form, thanks to a newfound commitment to the sport that included joining Suburban Swim Club in the summer.
“At districts, I did really bad at the 100 free,” Richardson said. “I kind of plateaued at that, so I knew I had to try a new event. … I realized at the end of last season that I could actually go to college for swimming. I’ve tried really hard, so I’ve been really working at it.”
The scary part is that Richardson is still new to swimming; this is a kid just a couple of years removed from showing up on deck in board shorts for the first day of practice. His technique is raw, and his gangly recovery means he’s fighting the water a bit. (His build almost makes the ladder unnecessary; you almost get the impression he can change the board from a broad jump.) But he is fast in spite of it all, and you get the impression that not only is he nowhere near his ceiling, it’s hard to determine just high it is.
Richardson’s shift from the 100 to the 500 makes for an interesting selection quandary for Bickling. Sophomore Ivan Michalovic was a distance revelation last year, finishing seventh at Districts and being on the cusp of a states berth. But he’s a few seconds slower than Richardson, forcing him to branch out into the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke. The adjustment has been easy for someone who specializes in the 200 backstroke, 400 individual medley and 1500 free outside of high school competition.
“It awesome for him because he’s been killing it late,” he said. “He’s just been doing his thing. I’ve just been doing hard work, doubles, practice every day, just rolling along.”
Even when it’s not in an adjacent lane, Richardson credits Michalovic, who does the majority of his training with Delaware Swim Team, with being there to push him.
“I need someone swimming with me,” Richardson said. “During the offseason, I just can’t. I need someone there racing me in practice.”
It’s a formula that may lead to more trips up that ladder.