|Senior focused on times, not the pressure to win
March 12, 2004
BY KRISTA LATHAM
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
Steve Bowling won't make predictions about where he'll finish this weekend in the Division 1 state swimming meet.
The Grand Blanc senior might be the favorite in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles, but he won't admit he cares.
"It would be great to win," Bowling said. "But it's not about winning. It's about doing well, swimming fast."
But his coaches know inside that modest boy is a fiercely confident swimmer who has only one thing left to win, one thing that would round out an illustrious career -- a state title.
He'll have his chance when the meet begins at noon today with preliminaries at the University of Michigan. Finals start at noon Saturday.
"He's quiet, but he's very confident all of the time," coach Matt Pearce said. "He's not cocky, I don't think, at least not around other people. But he knows he has a chance and the talent to win."
Last year as a junior, Bowling finished runner-up in both the 200 and 500 freestyles. In the 200, he lost to Birmingham Brother Rice's David Lessard by 0.43 of a second. In the 500, Ann Arbor Pioneer's Steven Hill edged Bowling by 1.13 seconds.
Those two swimmers are both graduated, but Bowling still isn't a shoo-in to win either event. Ann Arbor Pioneer sophomore Sho Koba has the fastest seed time in the 200 by 0.4 of a second, and Bowling has a slim edge in the 500 over Holland West Ottawa's Matt Gauss.
But seed times are deceiving. Bowling's 500 seed time, 4:40.52 is five seconds slower than the time he went in last year's state meet. And his goal time is 4:29.99. So a big time drop won't surprise many.
"He only swam the 500 once or twice this year," Pearce said. "That was something we figured out in past years, was that we raced him in that event too much and wore him out."
If Bowling feels pressure to do well, he certainly doesn't show it.
"You can not tell," his father, Bill Bowling, said. "When he was a little kid, you could tell a little when he was nervous. He'd get on the block, and you could see he would do good, he had that drive in his face. Now he's at the point where you literally don't know if he's wound up or not. He's very concentrated on what he does. There's no nail biting, no nerves."
The reason? Experience. Bowling has plenty of swimming trophies and ribbons, collected through more than 10 years of meets.
First came summer swimming through Interclub, a nine-team conference of country club age-group teams in the Flint area that's not as serious as other swimming leagues.
Then, Bowling swam for Davison Athletic Club, and his talent was evident from the beginning.
"Oh yeah, he was good," his father said. "That's why everyone said you have to put him in swimming. He had a really good feel for water, and he was willing to listen. The coaches liked that.
"And he'd be an 8-year old swimming in the 9-10 year old heats because he would beat people. Then, he'd be a 10-year-old racing high school kids, and he'd beat them, too."
So his father signed him up for the more competitive team at the YMCA, the Oakland Live Y'ers. When Bowling was 12, he switched to the Flint YMCA version, the Flint Falcons, where Pearce was an assistant coach.
"He was the hardest worker, by far," Pearce said. "I could count on one hand the number of intervals I've seen him miss in his career. Whatever I threw at him, he was up to the challenge."
Through middle school and high school, Bowling rewrote the Grand Blanc record books. Despite having little competition in the area, he set varsity records in the 200 and 500 freestyle, pool records in the 200 individual medley and 500 free, and Big 9 Conference records in all three events.
Though he's still deciding on a college, he likely will swim at Eastern Michigan next year.
Bowling started attending the YMCA national meets years ago, and last spring, placed seventh in the country in the 200, and eighth in the 500 at the short yard meet.
But despite all of that success, a state title has eluded Bowling for the past three years. Before taking two second-place medals last year, he had poor freshman and sophomore year meets, thanks in part to illness.
"I got really sick during taper time," Bowling said of his sophomore year when he finished seventh in the 200 and didn't make the finals cut in the 500.
"I would get a flu in December and never really get rid of it. So, that and the pressure and the nervousness and stuff . . . I was disappointed. I was thinking a lot of negative stuff in my head, and I pretty much choked."
The poor display caused Pearce and assistant coach Toben King to re-examine how they trained Bowling, both throughout the season and in the taper weeks.
"We had never worked with anyone so naturally gifted," Pearce said. "So we worried if we gave him enough of a challenge."
They tinkered with his training and race schedule. They urged Bowling to change his eating habits, which included eating a packet of Fun-Dip on the pool deck before races.
And last year, Bowling started to improve again. He dropped three seconds in the state meet in his 200 and six in his 500. And the two second-place finishes were no disappointment.
"Yeah, it was fine," Bowling said. "They were great times. That's all I care about."
He said his attitude's the same this weekend. Swim below a 1:40 in the 200 and sub-4:30 in the 500 and he'll go home happy.
But should he do that, he'll probably go home a champion as well.
"My Dad always told me, it's all about the times," Bowling said. "He tries to keep me modest."
Consider that mission accomplished.
As for those goal times, stay tuned.