June 11, 2012
Tom Cole did it in one minute and 54.54 seconds.
Minus one rib.
And he doesn’t even brag about it.
On Feb. 28, 2011, in a tension-filled Houston natatorium during the C-USA championships, Southern Methodist University swimmer Tom Cole swam the 200-yard breaststroke faster than the previously fastest man in SMU history to do so: Steve Lundquist, double gold medalist in the 1984 Olympics, who did it in one minute and 55.01 seconds in 1981 — and held that record for 30 years.
In that half-second quicker, Cole not only toppled Lundquist’s record, he also set a new meet record and earned himself a qualifying slot at the upcoming NCAA championships — “the point,” Cole says, humbly, “of the whole season,” where “the only ranking that really matters is how you do at the NCAAs.”
Just three weeks later, Cole aced those, too, scoring in the top 16 and earning a coveted All-America designation. And then, something shocking happened. On the last day of the meet, after his last speed trial, on the last day of his college career, Cole didn’t even swim the customary cool-down laps. He climbed out of the water, into his street clothes and left.
That’s just one peek into the psyche of the curious Mr. Cole — equal parts driven and demure, analytical and aw-shucks. He’s just now 23, fresh out of SMU and perched on the edge of something very, very big. For once, though, it’s not a chlorinated pool. He’s had plenty of that, thank you, in a decade-long swimming career laden with letters and trophies — and entree to the 2012 Olympic trials this June in Nebraska. “I’m prequalified,” says the man who swam so fast during his last two years of college that he could go, right now, to Omaha and potentially earn a spot at the XXX Olympic Summer Games in London in July.
But no, Tom Cole is over it. He wants to get on with something far more thrilling to him than a gold medal or his picture on a Wheaties box. It’s his life. He is ready to rumble....