At the just-completed Olympic Trials in Omaha, the new blood in American swimming had the crowds abuzz. Gold medalists from London 2012 either fell short for their winning events (Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin) or failed to make Team USA at all (Matt Grevers, Tyler Clary). Among the newcomers, Kevin Cordes, a near miss for the 2012 team, is our freshly minted Comeback Kid.
The Early Years
Cordes was born on August 13, 1993, in Naperville, Illinois. During his younger years, he swam on the Fox Valley Swim Team. At Neuqua Valley High School, he lettered in swimming all four years and was state champion in the 100-yard breaststroke as a sophomore.
By his senior year, he had shaved more than two seconds off of his already impressive time. At 17, Kevin secured a spot on the Junior Pan Pac Championship Swim Team, where he placed 6th with his performance in the 100 breast.
The Wildcat Years
Although recruited by California, USC, Auburn, and Virginia, Cordes followed in his father’s footsteps by attending the University of Arizona. A physiology major, he initially made his mark as a Wildcat at the Texas Invitational; he broke two National Age Group Records, in the 100 and 200 breast.
These early college successes propelled the 18-year-old Cordes to the 2012 Olympic Trials. In the 100 breast, he came in third; he missed his chance to compete in London by about a half-second! In the 200 breast, he finished 12th.
Cordes used this near miss as inspiration. “Definitely carried that for four years,” Cordes told a journalist at this year’s Omaha trials. “That’s been in the back of my mind throughout many practices.”
The Long Road to Rio
After the 2012 Trials, he’d go on to win seven NCAA titles in his two signature events. At the 2012 US Open, he broke records in the 100 and 200-meter breast.
He won a gold medal at the 2014 Pan Pacs as part of the 400-meter relay team. His teammates were Michael Phelps, Nathan Adrian, and Matt Grevers; he was the only team member to not have an Olympic gold medal.
When embarking on his road to Rio, he adopted a new strategy.
The 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials
Determined to secure a spot on Team USA, Cordes took a year to train in Singapore with Sergio Lopez, the breaststroker who won Olympic bronze in 1988.
The results were apparent in Omaha. Brendan Hansen, who won the 100 breast at the 2012 Trials, recently told TeamUSA.com, “I see a different kid. I see a kid who studied the textbook cover to cover and is ready to take the test. He’s just prepared. And a prepared athlete is going to be successful.”
Cordes punched his ticket to Rio after taking first in the 100-meter breaststroke. In the preliminaries, his 59:05 victory was a personal best and the second-fastest time in the world! The U.S. hasn’t won Olympic gold in this race in 24 years, so all eyes are on Cordes to recapture the glory.
In the 200-meter breast semifinals, he had the crowd on their feet and cheering as he was on pace for a new world record. He fell just short, but he still set a new U.S. record.
That record only stood for a day, until Josh Prenot pushed ahead of Cordes in the last seconds of the final. Cordes came in close behind, securing his second spot in the individual games in Rio.
Cordes is already hard at work to perform at his best in Rio. He’ll have his first swim as an Olympian on Saturday, August 6.