At an altitude of 8,000 meters above sea level, you enter what mountain climbers call the “death zone.”
At such heights, humans take in 30% of the oxygen they normally receive at ground level, and without an oxygen tank most would fall unconscious without an oxygen tank. Experienced climbers who reach the top of the world’s tallest summits rarely stay for more than half an hour, even with supplemental oxygen.
Peaks like Everest and K2 prove one infallible truth: Getting to the top is hard, staying there even more so.
It is a truth that is perhaps creeping up on Cal men’s swim and dive. For five years, the Bears had not lost a Pac-12 championship. Their last defeat came in 2017, when Stanford won by the slimmest margin of 17 points. Since then, they have enjoyed a reign of dominance led by Olympians like Andrew Seliskar — but that streak came to an end this year, when Arizona State took home its first ever Pac-12 ring.
Spearheading that victory was sophomore Leon Marchand, arguably the fastest swimmer in the nation right now. This year alone, he has set the NCAA record in the 200 breaststroke and 400 IM, and heads into the NCAA championships as the top seed in numerous events.
While the Sun Devils may have been Cal’s main competitor at Pac-12s, the number of competitors will undoubtedly increase at the NCAAs with the Texas Longhorns, NC State Wolfpack and Florida Gators all looking to hunt down the Bears.
Going off of the Bears’ best individual performances this season, however, the blue and gold still look to have a significant chance of winning it all at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center in Minneapolis.
Sophomore Gabriel Jett’s best times in the 500 freestyle and 200 butterfly give him the first seed in those events heading into NCAAs. His third individual event will be the 200 freestyle, where he is currently ranked 14th. Much of Cal’s success will be dependent on how big Jett can come up in these events.
The same holds true for juniors Destin Lasco and Bjorn Seeliger. Lasco and Seeliger are seeded first in the 200 backstroke and 100 freestyle, respectively.
With victories and defeats often decided by fingertip lengths, it is no surprise that winning back-to-back swimming titles is difficult. Since 1990, only three other teams besides Cal have accomplished such a feat: Auburn, Stanford and Texas. If Cal is able to pull it off, it will be their eighth program title, which would put them in a tie for fifth most titles, alongside Stanford and Auburn.
At the end of this week, we will know if the current Cal roster learns how devastating reaching the peak can be. With enough oxygen in the tank, the Bears may just be able to keep themselves there for one more season.