Shaine Casas missed the Olympic team last year, then did something usually reserved for Olympians. He turned professional.
Casas, a 22-year-old former Texas A&M standout, has openly stated that his biggest motivation stems from last June’s Olympic Trials, when he finished third at a meet where the top two make the team.
He then took two months off from swimming, avoided watching the Olympics — “I didn’t want to relive my biggest failure,” he said. — and, after first entering the NCAA transfer portal, eventually turned professional instead, moving from College Station to Austin.
“Everybody probably assumes, how could he do this, he’s betraying the school, all this stuff,” Casas said on a SwimSwam podcast in January. “It’s not personal. This is business. If you want to be good in this sport, you’ve got to make the hard decision.”
The early 2022 returns back that up.
In two Pro Series meets this year, Casas owns wins in the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly against fields that included Olympic gold medalist Caeleb Dressel. The latter came on Thursday, the first full night of finals at the San Antonio stop, the last top-level meet before the world championships trials in four weeks.
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“I’m aware that they’re in the heat,” Casas, who clocked 51.09, said of Dressel, who touched in 51.79, and fellow national teamers Coleman Stewart and Michael Andrew, “but I just kind of zone out and do my thing.”
In his four best events, Casas must contend with a countryman who won the Olympic title in either 2016 or 2021. Casas now ranks No. 1 in the nation this year in the 100m fly and 100m free — Dressel’s territory — and second in the 100m and 200m backstrokes, his signature stroke. Only Ryan Murphy, who swept the backstroke golds at the 2016 Olympics, has been faster there.
“I understand that they’re still right above me,” Casas said on retired Australian Olympian and former Auburn coach Brett Hawke‘s podcast. “No matter how long it takes, I’ll try my best to beat them. I definitely respect their position, their excellence and their performance.”
USA Swimming believes Casas is the first American male swimmer to cut short an NCAA career to turn pro since fellow backstroke star Aaron Peirsol in 2004. Peirsol went to the University of Texas, where Casas now trains under the same coach, the legendary Eddie Reese.
Michael Phelps and Michael Andrew also turned pro since 2000, both doing so before enrolling in college.
Casas, who is 6-foot-4, has dunked and owns several Michael Jordan posters, said he didn’t take swimming seriously until college. Casas blossomed at Texas A&M under a staff that included Jason Calanog — Dressel’s prep coach.
But he said he was complacent going into the Olympic Trials, a mindset that manifested in bouncing off lane lines during races. Casas entered as the second-fastest American in the 200m backstroke for the year, then swam 1.85 seconds slower than his personal best. He said the meet felt like getting punched in the mouth.
“If people ask me, I have no problem telling them I just wasn’t prepared enough,” he said. “It was my fault.”
Then came the move, a two-hour drive west.
“Not that I wanted to go, I needed to go,” he said. “I had to leave to continue getting better.”
Casas is one of the swimmers most thankful that this year’s world championships, which were for a time postponed to summer 2023, were rescheduled for June in Budapest.
“It’s kind of the summer to prove yourself for the guys that didn’t make the team,” he said.
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