Most swimming programs would be in a quandary after losing a pair of four-year All-American sprinters (Dan Perdew and Todd Langland) in one year. At UC San Diego, the men's swimming team, while certainly re-tooling, is fortunate to have junior Blake Langland still in the fold. Blake, who not only has two years of collegiate experience with to aforementioned duo but an entire lifetime competing with his brother, Todd, has always played a solid role for the Tritons but Head Coach Scott McGihon feels he's ready to be the leading man. "Blake has emerged this season with a greater intensity and desire to be successful," says McGihon. "He has dedicated himself to becoming a better swimmer and athlete and this has trickled down to the other athletes in his training group-the result being the group and team are training at a much higher level." Langland turned in an all-time best in the 100 freestyle at the recent Arena Invitational and with the fall season winding down, he took time to share his thoughts on the year-to-date and what lies ahead.
Q-Perdew, a five-time NCAA champion, and your brother, Todd, one of the top sprinters in UCSD history, have both graduated. What's it feel like to be out of their shadows and at the top of the sprinting heap this year?
LANGLAND-It definitely feels different. They both taught me a lot, and were great teammates to have. Going into this year I was a little worried about how much our sprint events and relays were going to suffer having these two gone. However, looking at what our new freshmen have already done, and how much the returners have improved, I can't help but feel proud and excited for what's to come.
Q-Does it seem strange to not have your brother in the pool with you at training and meets?
LANGLAND-It does seem a bit strange. We started competitive swimming on the same day, and more or less have spent every day in the pool together since then. He has come with my parents to a few meets so far to show his support and help out the coaches, so he is still part of the team in that sense.
Q-What did you learn from having those two as mentors that past two seasons?
LANGLAND-A lot of what I learned from them was race strategy. I still have a lot to learn, but I think my race strategies have changed a lot since I came in as a freshman and that is partly due to them. Daniel always told me to really take out my 100 free almost like a 50 and then hold on at the end. I had really been doing the opposite, pacing my first 50 and then trying to blast the second.
Q-In an event like the 50 or 100 freestyle, where swimmers barely have time to breath, much less think, how much of it is mental?
LANGLAND-A lot of it is mental, knowing that your body is trained to do the right thing at the right moment. Sometimes I go up to my coaches after my race and they ask me what I thought of it, and I can't even remember. It goes by so quickly you don't have time to think about what to do next, it just has to come natural.
Q-The difference between first and last in a typical sprint is less than a second. Besides innate ability, what typically determines the winner?
LANGLAND-Our coaches always tell us, "Just get your hand on the wall first, beat the person next to you." Obviously how well you put together a race is going to be the biggest factor. Making sure that all the parts of your race other than the actual swimming (start, turns, breakout, finish) are perfect is a huge factor. However when it really comes down to it, I think that sometimes it's really who wants it more, who is going to not take that last breath and just put their head down and charge the wall.
Q-Knowing that, what kind of training do you do to maximize your performance in those areas?
LANGLAND-This year, I think that we have put a higher priority on areas like our start and turns, to make sure that we always execute them perfectly in races. When we get to a new pool for a meet, we make it a point to get lots of full speed turns and starts in to make sure we feel good with those aspects of our race. If you have to worry about whether you are going to nail your finish during a race, its more than likely not going to go well. Our team is also pretty competitive during practices, giving us the drive to want to win that is so important in actual races.
Q-One can imagine the type of pressure in a high level 50 freestyle race. What do you do to stay relaxed in the lead-up to an event and where's your focus once you're on the blocks?
LANGLAND-Honestly I just don't think about it until I have to. Like I said earlier, if I think about a turn or worry about my finish, it probably won't turn out the way I want it to. So, I just leave the thinking for practice, and know that when I get to a race I have done all that I can to make it perfect. Once I'm on the blocks, all I'm thinking about is hearing the start, and getting into the water. After that, it's all a blur.
Q-Have you always been strictly a sprint freestyle specialist? Are there other events you have swum or would like to try?
LANGLAND-In high school I definitely had more variety in my races than in college. Compared to my teammates I'm fairly horrible at these events, but I used to swim breaststroke, individual medley and more mid-distance races like the 200 and 500 free. As far as what I'd like to try, I'm pretty happy with my races already, but maybe the 100 back or breast for some variety.
Q-Are there different types of sprinters in terms of body styles, strokes, strategies? How would you characterize your style?
LANGLAND-In terms of body style, a lot of sprinters are pretty tall but there are also some that are shorter and more muscular. Everyone really has their own stroke, but if I had to classify them I would say there are the straight arm swimmers and then the non- straight arm. Straight arm freestyle is where one keeps their arm straight in the part of the stroke that is out of the water. For the 50 the strategy is pretty much standard: go fast. It's really just an all out sprint. The 100 has more strategy, but it really just comes down to who can go the fastest and hold onto that speed until the end. Compared to a lot of sprinters I am fairly short, and have the standard non-straight arm freestyle.
Q-At the collegiate level, is swimming more about times or victories?
LANGLAND-It's really about both, but I think that with victories come great times. At our meets, in the morning we try to go for time to get placed in the top finals, but in finals at night all that counts is victories.
Q-Despite the loss of some big names from last year's squad, the 2010-11 UCSD men's swimming & diving team looks like it has the potential to take a step forward at this year's NCAA Division II Championships. Is that a fair assessment? Why?
LANGLAND-I think it's definitely a fair assessment. We definitely lost some big names, but we gained some also. The past two years have been really great teams but I think that the new swimmers this year really have brought a new energy and drive that will really make the team great. I think looking at our performance as a team this past weekend at Arena Invitational is a great example of this.
Q-Is there a swimmer on this year's UCSD men's team that you think is going to surprise a lot of people before the season is over? Who, if anyone, stands above the crowd in terms of work ethic and attitude?
LANGLAND-I think that the team as a whole is going to surprise a lot of people this year. Like I said, the work ethic and attitude of the new swimmers is great, and it's definitely contagious.
Q-For you, what's the best part about being a member of the UCSD Swimming & Diving team?
LANGLAND-The best part of being part of the team is really being part a team. I had a great coach and teammates in high school and club swimming, but there was not nearly the camaraderie and spirit that this team has.
Q-You're a computer science major in Warren College. Are you taking any interesting classes this quarter? What kind of things are you studying in those classes right now?
LANGLAND-This quarter I am taking two very interesting classes: Theory of Computation and Algorithms. In Theory of Computation we are studying what problems can and can't be solved by computers, and creating models of these computations to understand how they work. In my Algorithms class we are studying how some well-known algorithms are used to solve problems, as well as how to apply these algorithms to new problems.
Q-What do you plan to do with your major when you graduate? You were recently awarded a scholarship from Cisco Systems through the UCSD Engineering Dept. How did that come about and what will it entail?
LANGLAND-I'm still trying to decide whether I want to go to graduate school or go straight into industry with my degree. The scholarship was pointed out to me by my coach, so I decided to apply for it, and next thing I knew they were inviting me to an awards dinner. I am very grateful for it and once again want to thank the UCSD Engineering department, UCSD Athletics and Cisco Systems for their support.
Q-As a native of Carmel, you've now lived in Northern and Southern California. What are some of the differences you've noticed and what do you like about each?
LANGLAND-There are things that I like about both. In Carmel I lived sort of out in the middle of nowhere and I miss being able to go outside and do whatever I wanted. The weather is definitely better in San Diego (a lot less fog).
Q-What kinds of things do you like to do when you're out of the pool and not studying?
LANGLAND-In my free time I like to watch movies, play video games and tinker with my computers. Also I like to catch up on my sleep.
Q-You swam a career best 45.29 in the 100 at the recent Arena Invitational and your 20.79 in the 50 at the same meet was less than 0.1 seconds off your p.r. What do you think you're capable of and what would make 2010-11 a success for you personally?LANGLAND-Really after getting a personal best in my 100, this season is already a success in some sense. But after that swim it really makes me want to go even faster. I don't really like to set specific time goals for myself, but I think I am capable of keeping up the hard work and going faster than I have ever gone before. More important to me is how well the team does at Nationals, and I think we are more than capable of some amazing things.
Previous Q & A Articles
Sarah McTigue (Women's Soccer) November 8, 2010