STANFORD, Calif. – No one predicted Shaine Casas would emerge as the most promising male backstroker at the Phillips 66 National Championships, and he has a reason for that.
“I’m a butterflyer,” Casas said. “It’s just it hasn’t come out yet. So I’m sticking with what I’m swimming well with right now.”
Casas won the 100-meter backstroke Saturday with a time of 52.72 seconds, making him the fifth-fastest performer in the world this year.
Two days earlier, he was second in the 200 backstroke at nationals, which is part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
Casas is tied for the sixth-best performer in the world in that event with at time of 1:55.79, sliding in behind Austin Katz, who edged him at nationals by .07 seconds.
“That one was a surprise,” said Casas. “I was hoping for 1:56-low, but I saw 1:55, so I was ecstatic. That was a really tight race. I really thought I won, but he got the best of me in the last 10 meters. Props to him.”
And props to Casas, who realized he is swimming a lot faster than he thought he would be in the backstroke, if not the butterfly. He was 17th in the 100 butterfly in between his two backstroke races.
“It was a bittersweet moment the other day, getting second, but it was such a great time, so I couldn’t really be mad about it,” he said of the 200 back. “But I won this time, so it’s sort of adding to the resume, so I’m happy about that.”
Casas, 19, moved into No. 7 on the all-time U.S. list in the 100 back. For a guy who specialized in the butterfly, not the backstroke, as a freshman at the NCAA championships this year, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Ryan Murphy, the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder, is the only American who has gone faster this year at 52.44, while Olympic veteran Matt Grevers was bumped down to sixth on the world list at 52.75.
The previous best for Casas in the 100 back was 54.51 last summer. He then went 53.26 in the preliminaries Saturday before dropping another half second in the final.
Mel Stewart, the Olympic champion in the 200-meter butterfly in 1992 and the co-founder of SwimSwam.com, said Casas is an example of young swimmers making their presence known in the pre-Olympic year.
“He’s risen in the ranks so fast and improving so fast,” Stewart said. “We see this every year as we’re on the run-up to the Olympic Games. New talent pops and when they do, you better watch out, because the following Olympic trials they can win it.”
That realization is dawning on Casas as well. Can he be a threat at Olympic trials? “I’d like to say that, yeah,” he said. “I’m swimming a lot better, so I’m excited.”
He remembers the Olympic Games Rio 2016, “watching Murphy just destroy these guys. I’m excited to be racing like that in a year, so we’ll see how that goes, too.”
Casas, who will swim the 200-meter individual medley on Sunday, never trailed in the 100 back. Yohan Ndoye Brouard of France was second in 53.80 seconds and Clark Beach was third in 53.95. International athletes are allowed to swim at U.S. nationals this year because the event is not a selection meet for major international competitions.
As a freshman at Texas A&M, Casas broke six school records and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
However, the long season took a toll on him.
“It was kind of a little scary thing,” he said. “By the end of the summer, I was getting so beat up, I couldn’t really finish the practices, but it’s paying off, so I guess it worked out in the end.”
He’s looking forward to next year for both the NCAA and the Olympic trials.
“It kind of resets my goals for the NCAA, and I’m hoping to win something there, too,” Casas said.
He added that seeing his name on the all-time list is “pretty cool, but I didn’t really swim for that. I was just swimming to swim fast to make my coaches and my family happy.
“Once you figure out how to stop swimming for yourself and start swimming for others, it’s a lot easier.”