Michael Andrew wants to make one thing clear: He’s not trying to be another Michael Phelps.
The just-turned-13-year-old is eager to leave his own wake at the pool.
“I love breaking new barriers in swimming,” Andrew said.
Keep an eye on this kid. While too young to have a realistic shot at making it to the London Olympics, he could be on the verge of stardom when the Rio Games come around in four years.
Already 6-foot-2 with size 15 feet and massive hands, Andrew has set numerous U.S. age-group records and is eager to test his limits against a top-level swimmer Saturday, boldly taking on world championship medalist Tyler McGill in a couple of just-for-fun match races at Fishers, Ind.
Naturally, Andrew already is getting comparisons to Phelps, who made his first Olympic team at age 15 and has gone on to win more gold medals (14) than any other athlete.
“When I hear that, I have to correct it,” the youngster said. “I would be more than happy to be as great as Michael Phelps, but I’d like to be the first Michael Andrew.”
McGill, who won a bronze medal in the 100-meter butterfly at last year’s world championships, isn’t too concerned about losing to a kid who celebrated his 13th birthday this week. That’s not the point of racing the 50 fly and 25 free during a stop of the Fitter & Faster Tour.
“Every kid, including myself, had a moment when they were young that they had an opportunity to learn from or speak to or engage with a world champion or Olympic-level athlete,” McGill said Friday. “This is more about the experience he’ll have to hold on to further down the road.”
Andrew isn’t conceding anything. He never goes into an event expecting to lose, even when racing a swimmer who figures to be a medal contender at the London Olympics this summer.
“Michael thought he might have a really good chance of taking him in the 25 free,” his mother, Tina Andrew, said with a chuckle.
In just the past five months, Michael has set 11 short-course and five long-course records, many of them in different events on the same day. His exploits have been posted on YouTube, which drew the attention of McGill and Olympian Mark Gangloff. They congratulated Andrew on his accomplishments — and noted that McGill would at the clinic in Fishers where the youngster set a pair of records in December.
That led to a good-natured offer for a match race, which Andrew readily accepted.
McGill is definitely impressed by what he’s seen on video, though he’s quick to remind everyone that setting age-group records does not guarantee Olympic stardom.
“Obviously, he’s a tremendous talent, but that’s the only part I’ve been able to see,” McGill said. “There’s so many other driving factors that come into the success of an athlete. I’ll get a little bit of a taste of that this weekend when I get a chance to communicate with him. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what an athlete is going to be like as a freshman in college. To say that a (13-year-old) has an opportunity ahead of him, yeah, he does.
“But,” McGill added, “we don’t always know how it’s going to work out.”
Andrew definitely has genetics on his side. His father and coach, Peter, was a Navy diver in his native South Africa. Tina competed for several years as Laser on the British version of “Gladiators,” a show that was popular on this side of the Atlantic during the early 1990s. The couple eventually settled in the U.S., where their two children were born. They now live in Kansas.
Michael has the classic swimming frame, with a body that has blossomed much earlier than other kids his age.
“We’ve always known that Michael has enormous potential,” Tina Andrew said. “I remember the first day Peter watched him at practice, he called me and said, ‘Drop whatever you’re doing and come watch this.’ He was just amazing. At the first meet he competed in, the very, very first race, he qualified for state. He’s always doing something amazing and extraordinary.”
Of course, winning requires more than just the best physical skills.
Michael matches up well in the mental game, too.
“We always felt like he has a God-given gift and talent,” Tina said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of kids who have talent but there’s other things they are missing. It just seems like everything has come together for Michael. He loves swimming. He’s very passionate about it. He loves to compete. He’s got the size. But he also hates to lose, and he doesn’t mind putting the work in. He’s just got an incredible feel for the water.”
Michael’s parents also have taken a radically different path than most swimmers, enlisting the help of Brent Rushall, a professor emeritus of exercise and nutritional sciences at San Diego State University.
Rushall has challenged the sport’s traditional practice methods, which have largely focused on putting in a staggering amount of laps to get in the best possible shape. Michael does more race-based training at much shorter distances, eschewing the tedious grind of going back and forth in the pool all day long. For instance, he never races longer than 75 yards in practice. His total sessions are limited to no more than 2,500 yards.
Tina Andrew believes her son’s regimen could some day become the norm.
“We’re trying new things that, in my mind, are going to revolutionize swimming,” she said. “More people are going to look at the sport differently and get excited about swimming. We can minimize the overuse injuries, and kids love to race. It makes practice fun. Of course, we feel like it’s the right thing with the improvement we’re seeing. What Michael has achieved is phenomenal, but it’s not just because he’s super-talented. It’s definitely because of the training.”
Andrew hasn’t given up on qualifying for the U.S. Olympic trials in the 50 free, but he’ll have to knock more than 1.5 seconds off his best time to earn a spot.
That’s not the main focus.
Michael is focused on the 2016 Rio Games. He doesn’t have a poster of Phelps on the wall — as Phelps did with Mark Spitz — but the teenager definitely has big dreams.
“I think about it all the time,” he said. “I visualize what it’s going to be like — all the excitement, all the excitement of winning the gold.”
Yep, keep an eye on this kid.