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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

By Bethany Bradsher

Shaving times now, shaving bodies later

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

A little-known fact about collegiate swimming, at least to the sport’s outsiders, is that neither the swimmers nor their coaches expect to see anyone’s best times until the end of the season.

For about two weeks prior to their biggest meet – in East Carolina’s case, the Conference USA championship – athletes taper down their training and shave their body hair to gain an edge and reach their peak.

So why are Pirate swimmers like Amanda Duncan and Thiago Cavalcanti already breaking decades-old records and turning in personal bests?

Because, they hope, even faster times are still down the road.

"The way I’m swimming right now, I think I’m going to do great, because I’m swimming some of my best times,” said Cavalcanti, a native of Brazil who set three ECU records at the U.S. Short Course Nationals in Atlanta in December. “I think when I shave and taper I’m going to do great.”

With just three meets left before the shave-and-taper leading up the C-USA meet in late February, Duncan and Cavalcanti have been some of the brightest spots on an ECU squad boasting records of 8-1 for the women and 6-1-1 for the men. Weather permitting, the Pirates will swim against N.C. State in Raleigh tonight to test their mettle against their only ACC opponent of the season.

Duncan, a senior from Wake Forest, achieved one of her career highlights Saturday against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, where she broke the 27-year pool record for the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 55.97. Duncan’s best time in that event coming into college was 55.3, she said, so she has been taking aim at that record ever since.

“It’s just unbelievable anytime you break a pool record,” said ECU coach Rick Kobe, noting that any swimmer from any school who swims at ECU can compete for a pool record. “That one Amanda broke has been on the books a long, long time."

Duncan, who qualified for the U.S. Short Course Championships at a November meet, ranks among ECU’s Top 10 in the 100 and 200 butterfly and the 50 free, and she was the ECU Rookie of the Year as a freshman. In her final year as a Pirate, she wants to excel but also to savor her teammates and every last race, she said.

“For the past few years, I’ve pressured myself,” Duncan said. “This year I decided that while I definitely wanted to swim well, I wanted to enjoy it, too.”

“She’s been one of our top kids from day one,” said Kobe. “I’d say over the past couple of years she’s been just as talented, but has also been one of the most consistent.”

For Cavalcanti, inspiration this season has come from a man who became a household name this summer – Michael Phelps. He raised the profile of the sport Cavalcanti loves, but Phelps also proved that even the most unlikely of goals is within reach.

Cavalcanti has Phelps posters in his room, and he also posts his times and his goals to motivate himself, he said. He is currently reading a book by Phelps called “No Limits.”

“To see Michael Phelps win eight gold medals, it was crazy,” Cavalcanti said. “I really didn’t think he could do it. I think a lot about him.”

Last season was an adjustment period for the men because 17 new swimmers came in at the same time, Cavalcanti said. But the team has found its chemistry and is pushing each other to excellence in every event. In the men’s only loss at West Virginia, ECU actually beat the Mountaineers in swimming events but got edged out because WVU had three divers and ECU only had one.

“I think at the point we are now, all of the talents are coming together,” he said.

After the Pirates host UNC-Wilmington and travel to William & Mary, they will have 18 days for the magic shave-and-taper, which, Cavalcanti admits, isn’t all about giving swimmers a physical edge.

“That’s the way the sport goes – you get some rest, and you swim better,” he said. “But I also think it’s at least 80 percent mental.”

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01/21/2009 12:57:13 AM

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