Elaine Breeden. Photo Courtesy: Kyle Terada/Stanford Athletics
By Dan D’Addona.
It only took a matter of hours for Elaine Breeden to take to social media and congratulate Ella Eastin on breaking her American record in the 200-yard butterfly.
It took more than a matter of hours, days, weeks, months and even years for Breeden to get that chance.
Until last month’s Pac-12 Championships, Breeden held the record for nearly a decade, the last short-course record to fall from the suit era.
Eastin’s record is the latest in an amazing run of 200 butterfly swims by Stanford swimmers. The Cardinal seem to have a corner on the market the past few decades from Summer Sanders to Misty Hyman and Dana Kirk to Breeden and now Eastin.
“The legacy of the 200 butterfly at Stanford is full of big names. Lots of Olympians. Lots of records,” Breeden said. “It is an incredibly powerful legacy to be a part of. Once I saw Ella’s 200 fly, I figured it was probably going to be her at some point. I am glad it stayed with Stanford.”
Eastin was always a part of that legacy, but put her own stamp on it with her swim of 1:49.51, just the second women to ever break the 1:50 barrier.
“It means a lot. I knew that record was really fast. Knowing that was done in a super suit is something. The sport is getting really fast and everyone is pushing the boundaries on how fast we can go. I am glad we can be a part of that,” Eastin said. “When Elaine swam it, she swam it a little differently. I think it is cool that people can swim so fast in different ways. We really talked at NCAAs last year. She told me she wanted someone on the team to break that record.
“I was familiar with her and her record. I walk by our record board every single day and saw her name and time there. I used that as motivation. She has been really supportive. It is really special to me. It says a lot about swimmers we have here. The 200 fly is definitely not an easy race. You have to have a lot of heart and guts and passion to do that race.”
The Stanford crew has had that passion, but in terms of international racing, it has been a while since Americans owned that race. Misty Hyman’s gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics was the last gold American women have had. Sanders won in 1992 in Barcelona.
“Breaking records is amazing. I will never forget breaking my first American record,” Sanders said. “Records in the 200 fly just didn’t exist. I am so proud of the legacy of Stanford swimming.”
It was Hyman’s race that inspired Breeden to greatness years later.
“Misty Hyman’s 200 butterfly in Sydney was one of the most memorable Olympic moments for me,” Breeden said. “That is right when I was starting to become aware of my own Olympic aspirations. After watching that, it changed the way that I thought about my own swimming career. It really put Stanford on the map for a lot of young swimmers.
“I was on the national junior team two years after that as a 14-year-old and we went to Sydney for the Olympic Youth Festival. I was in the pool that she won that race in. I was swimming her event and my plan was to do exactly what she did, take it out as hard as you can and hold on. It did not pan out the same way for me. I took it out under world record pace I think and I died really hard. I didn’t even think I was going to make it to the wall. I ended up getting third, which was OK. At that point I was glad just not to be rescued by the lifeguard.”
Breeden followed Hyman to Stanford and, like Eastin, set the American record in the short-course race at the Pac-10 Championships.
“My most vivid memory of that meet was warming up for the 500 butterfly. We were doing stretch cords to warm up. My stroke felt perfect. I remember everything about it feeling exactly how you want to feel. I felt invincible. I knew it was going to be a great race,” Breeden said. “Sometimes at the end of the 200 fly, you turn at the 150 and pray you have enough left to bring it home. I remember that thought didn’t even cross my mind that race. I turned at the 150 and could have done another 150.”
Breeden surpassed the year-old American and U.S. Open standard of 1:51.27 set by Mary DeScenza, while blowing by the NCAA mark of 1:51.91 achieved by Natalie Coughlin of Cal in 2002.
“Going to Stanford and breaking the team record, and holding it for as long as I did is incredibly special. I couldn’t have envisioned it and done it without being motivated by the women who came before me. Now, I take that role seriously,” Breeden said. “I want the current swimmers and future swimmers of Stanford to know there is a lot of support in the alumni base. Even though our records may be wiped from the board, we still care.”
That support has been there for Eastin.
“It definitely means a lot to me. I never would have thought it would be a group I would be a part of,” she said. Honestly it is the 1:50 barrier is the biggest thing. Mentally that is something you have to prepare for and tell yourself you can beat that. There have been a lot of good 200 butterfliers. It does take a pretty good swim with perfect timing. Elaine was ahead of her time when she did break that record. I am hoping other people will be able to break that barrier, too. It was just a crazy fast swim.”
So was Eastin’s.
“I was actually shocked. I had a goal to break that record eventually. I didn’t know if it would be this year. I definitely didn’t expect it to be that day,” Eastin said. “All I was trying to do was get my hand on the wall first for my team. After reflecting on it, it has reminded me of how much I have grown since I got to Stanford. The 200 fly is still relatively new to me. It has become a fun race and one that I am continuing to improve on. I am really grateful for everything I have been given here.”
The elite group of Stanford legends hopes this record will help inspire more people to the 200 butterfly, to bring back the dominance on an international level.
“The way that people talk about that race leaves younger swimmers intimidated. It is painful, but so is the 400 IM and the mile and we have had champions in that and records. So it has to be something about how we are training and coaching butterfly,” Breeden said. “Maybe there is more emphasis on sprint fly. It is definitely something coaches need to be thinking about. The event hasn’t really progressed. It has been good for my record, but tough for the sport. But whatever Ella is doing, she is doing it right and I hope people are paying attention. I would love to see the American women become dominant in that event. It has been a long time since we have won Olympic gold race.”