Sometimes it pays not to breathe.
As counter-intuitive to life as it sounds, it can sometimes be a huge benefit in swim races.
Just ask Michael Perry of Shorewood, whose coach Rob McCabe noted that Perry did not breathe inside the flags (the final 5 yards), which allowed him to put all his power into one final downstroke and edge Shawano's Zach Soper by 0.1 seconds to win the 100-yard butterfly title in the Division 2 state meet in Madison on Feb. 20.
'I actually hit the wall and I thought I had lost,' said Perry, who had finished second in this same race in 2013 and 2014. 'Going down the stretch, I could see him (Soper) in my peripheral vision. I just put my head down and I looked at the scoreboard.'
'I told the guy 'I thought you Michael Phelps-ed me.''
That reference goes back to a famous Olympic race where it looked like on the surface that Phelps had lost by a micro-second but then when shown from under-the-pool cameras, he had actually won by the tiniest of margins.
It turned out that Perry had 'Phelps-ed' Soper as he was clocked in 50.78 seconds as compared to Soper's 50.88.
In doing so, Perry had pulled a huge monkey off his back and thrown him into the pool to see if he could swim.
'Winning that took a huge weight off my shoulders,' he said. 'I had been second and then second again. It was really disappointing. Last year, I admitted that I didn't work as hard as I could have. So this past year, I doubled up on off-school practices.
'It was just a huge sense of relief (after he realized he had won). I said to myself 'Yes! I put the work in and it led to the result that I thought I deserved.''
Earlier in the meet, Perry had been second again, this time in the 200 free, with a stellar 1:42.79 time that trailed only Monona Grove freshman Ben Dade (1:42.5).
Perry's winning effort was a jump-start for his Greyhound teammates, as Shorewood would go on to earn eight state medals and set four school records en route to an impressive third-place finish in the team standings.
'I was quite happy with how we swam,' said Greyhound coach Rob McCabe, 'and Michael's win was a great positive. We were a little slow out of the gate and his 100 fly really got us going. It was a great race. They were dead-even the whole 100 yards.
'And he did make a very good decision not to breathe inside the flags. When you breathe (on the fly), you're body position is lifting up and it's just easier (to go faster) when you're in the down position.'
The effort led the Greyhounds to a 213-point total as Monona Grove won with 309 and McFarland was second with 267.
The impressive finish was part and parcel of a team-wide commitment to the work ethic that Perry spoke of earlier.
'We set a lot more goals and had a lot more energy as as a team this year,' he said. 'We wound up being enormously satisfied because we also had so much fun. There was just so much energy in the pool.'
It was symbolized by Henri Carignan, who had been seeded 16th in the 100 backstroke, but who then blew away his slower heat and got himself on the medal stand with a two-second personal best of 55.34, good for sixth.
'He had as good a meet as anyone out there,' said McCabe. 'When he won that heat, he was walking on clouds.'
Carignan had earlier medaled with a fifth behind Perry in the 100 butterfly (1.6-second drop to 53.24).
'That was one of the most energizing swims I had ever seen,' said Perry of Carignan's heat-winning backstroke.
The relays were remarkable in their consistency, all earning third-place medals, with both the 200 medley and 400 free groups breaking school records.
The 200 medley team included Carignan, Joseph Lock, Perry and senior Joe Stephenson (1:38.88); the 200 free crew was made up of Tommy Chamberlain, Lock, Stephenson and Lucas Barry (one-second season best of 1:29.59); and the 400 free team included Carignan, Stephenson, Alex Borut and Perry (3:15.61).
Zach Hammond entered the meet as the top seed in the 100 breaststroke and though he didn't wind up winning it, he still broke the school record in taking third in 1:00.43.
Other efforts at state included the following: 200 free: Borut, 14th (1:52.79); 200 individual medley: Hammond, 10th (2:03.7); Lock, 15th (2:05.21); 50 free: Stephenson, 11th (22.55); 100 free: Barry, 15th (50.44); 500 free: Borut, 10th (5:06.19); Charlie Phillips, 14th (5:10.64); and 100 breaststroke: Lock, 10th (1:03.07).
McCabe was extremely impressed with this state effort and he's excited for next year as Stephenson was the only senior on the state unit.
'It was such a good group of guys,' he said, 'and the season went by so fast. We got to the midway point and I said to myself 'Holy cow, I need to have a taper plan for these guys.' And I was lucky enough to hit a good recipe for these guys, a proven formula.
'Everyone swam their best at the end, which is the way it's supposed to be.'