Boys Swimming: Cagey Michalovic takes first distance battle of postseason

There are generally two types of swimmers in a high school 500 freestyle: There are 200 swimmers, trying to hold on for the extra distance, and 1,000 guys or milers, trying to dredge their muscles for sufficient fast-twitch action to generate the needed speed.

From his swim Saturday, you’d have no idea which camp Ivan Michalovic falls into.

Garnet Valley's Ivan Michalovic prevailed over a loaded field in the 500 free at Centrals Saturday. (Times Staff / JULIA WILKINSON)

Garnet Valley’s Ivan Michalovic prevailed over a loaded field in the 500 free at Centrals Saturday. (Times Staff / JULIA WILKINSON)

The Garnet Valley junior is a bit of an anomaly. Though he readily admits to not much enjoying the 200 free – his early-meet swim is usually the 200 individual medley – he has no problem attacking a 500 with the go-out-hard-and-hold-on-mentality characteristic of 200 swimmers.

That’s precisely what he did Saturday, going out hard and hanging on for a comfortable win in the 500 in 4:42.71. Against a daunting field consisting of All-Delcos Philip Nawn of Penncrest (second in 4:48.58) and Connor Hart of Haverford (4:50.83), Michalovic took the early initiative and coasted away in a race where the top three swimmers separated themselves from the field within the first 50 meters.

It’s even more remarkable when you break down Michalovic’s swim. He took his first 200 meters out in 1:49.36, 3.4 seconds faster than Nawn (1:52.77) and over four quicker than Hart (1:53.56). Michalovic’s time in the 200 would have finished fifth in the individual event, won by Hart.

Hart’s swim in that event informed Michalovic’s race strategy in the 500.

“Today for sure, I saw Connor back-half his 200, and I was like, ‘wow,’” Michalovic said. “I knew he was trying to do that in the 500, and I was hoping to get a big enough lead where I can just not have to worry about anyone coming back on me. Whenever I swim my 500, it’s like that. … I just like to go for it and hold on.”

Michalovic, who prefers more grueling events like the 200 backstroke, 400 IM and 1,000 free, may not have the fastest 200 free in the world. But he always seems to have the speed at the beginning of longer races. Many of his fastest 200s – like the 1:47 he posted as part of a 4:38 500 time over the summer – come off the front of longer races.

His ability to aggressively approach a 500 is a testament to the work he puts in, and he’s only able to unleash that speed with the security of knowing that he’ll have enough left in his legs afterward.

“It’s pretty much a lot of faith in how I train,” Michalovic said. “I put in 10 grand (yards) a day, and when you’re putting in that much, you have to have faith that you’ll have enough to hold on at the end.”

Time wasn’t Michalovic’s main concern Saturday, though. With his automatic district cuts long-since booked, the junior’s main objective at Radnor High School was to race, a chance to test his mettle against the area’s best.

“Central Leagues is actually the most pressure on me, because when you’re done, you could go a ridiculously fast time but if you go second … there’s so much pressure to win at this meet,” he said. “It’s all about winning and nothing about times, especially when you know everyone around you.”

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