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Gators senior Alicia Mathieu recently broke Tami Bruce's 25-year-old record in the 1,650-yard free.

Friday December 13, 2013Mission Possible: Mathieu Eyed a Record That Stood 25 Years, Knocked it Down

Gators senior Alicia Mathieu recently broke Tami Bruce's 25-year-old record in the 1,650-yard free.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Alicia Mathieu knew immediately what she had done when she saw her time posted.

This wasn’t one of those instances when after the race a coach or an official came over to congratulate her on breaking some obscure school record she had never heard of.

No, Mathieu knew exactly who Tami Bruce was and Bruce’s place in the University of Florida’s rich swimming history.

Mathieu was there when Bruce, back at UF for an alumni weekend, talked to Florida’s swim team in the fall of 2012. Still, Mathieu was aware of Bruce’s place in Gators history prior to meeting her in person.

Mathieu had memorized a sequence of numbers that belonged to Bruce: 15:50.86.

The time – 15 minutes, 50.86 seconds – was Bruce’s school-record performance in the 1,650-yard freestyle. A former national champion and 13-time All-American at UF from 1985-89, Bruce set the record in the mile in 1988 – four years before the 21-year-old Mathieu was born.

The mark stood the test of time and numerous technological advances over the past quarter century.

Alicia Mathieu

“I’ve known about that record since I got to school,’’ Mathieu said. “That was my goal since freshman year.”

A senior from Marlborough, Conn., Mathieu had nibbled at Bruce’s time the past couple of years.

She swam the 1,650 free in 15:52.88 at the NCAA Finals last spring, which ranked as the third-best time in school history in the event as Mathieu jumped into the pool at the Ohio State Buckeye Invitational on Nov. 24.

Mathieu’s climb toward Bruce’s record was due in part to the arrival of Jessica Thielmann a year ago from Newcastle, England. In her first season on campus, Thielmann pushed her way to second in school history in the 1,650 free with a time of 15:52.34, set a year ago at the Buckeye Invitational.

She also pushed Mathieu.

“Jess Thielmann came in and she was beating me every day in practice,’’ Mathieu said.

Gators associate head coach Anthony Nesty sensed Mathieu’s frustration and her wavering confidence a year ago.

Tall and lean and with the endurance that a mile swimmer must own, Mathieu was a perfect candidate to break Bruce’s 25-year-old record. He pulled her aside for a mentoring session last fall to remind her of the possibilities.

“You could be one of the best,’’ Nesty told Mathieu. “If you do this, you can do that. She kind of took that to heart and the results speak for themselves.”

Nesty’s basic message was for Mathieu to arrive at practice focused and on a mission. Leave all of life’s clutter at the door.

Mathieu listened and then put the plan into action, improving her times throughout the season.

“We’ve talked a lot,” she said. “I think I just kind of always assumed that coming to practice, doing the motions, that I would be good. It kind of kicked in that you need to train harder in practice. I started racing [Thielmann] every day.

“That made a big difference.”

Another one of Mathieu’s teammates made an impact on Nov. 24.

Two-time Olympic medalist Elizabeth Beisel was also in the 1,650-free field at the Buckeye Invitational. Beisel is known more for her individual medley prowess, but she is also strong in the mile. Beisel’s time of 15:53.22 in the 1,650 – set in a meet against Florida Atlantic in January – is the fourth-best time in UF history.

Beisel led for the first two-thirds of the race as Mathieu kept pace.

“I knew I was swimming pretty fast because I was able to keep up with Elizabeth for the first thousand, which gave me a lot of confidence,’’ Mathieu said. “I didn’t think I could do that.”

The quick pace set by Beisel never concerned Nesty.

Nesty knew both swimmers were capable of winning the event, but he considers Mathieu the prototypical distance swimmer.

“The mile is an event where you either like it or you don’t,’’ Nesty said. “You can’t fake it. That’s her bread and butter. She really, really likes swimming the event and swims the event very well – by that I mean if you look at her splits throughout the race, she is able to maintain a pace. She is a pure miler.”

Mathieu continued to glide through the pool lap after lap until she overtook Beisel in the final stage of the race.

She appeared to shift into another gear.

“She caught Beisel and got that mental lift,’’ Nesty said.

From there, Mathieu steadily built a lead and glided home. The number that flashed before her eyes was real: 15:46.17.

Goodbye Bruce, hello Mathieu at the top of the school record. Mathieu shaved 4.69 seconds off the record.

“That was my goal since freshman year,’’ Mathieu said. “It felt really good to finally do it. I don’t really have a lot of speed. I’m not quick in the 100 or even the 200. But I’ve always had pretty easy speed to hold onto for a while.”

Mathieu set the mark in the fall season, which surprised her. She always imagined perhaps challenging Bruce’s record later in the spring when months of training and competition had her in peak condition.

Mathieu’s time at Ohio State was the best in the country in the event during the fall season and has her excited about the future.

Her Gators career is down to its final few months. The team is practicing for the spring season through Dec. 22 and then will break for the holidays. Once the Gators return, they open the spring season Jan. 4 at home against Florida State.

“For a while I planned on retiring after the collegiate season, but things can change,’’ Mathieu said.

Yes they can. A school record that stood for 25 years is now history.


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