Swim observers always gazed at Tim Richard and wondered, "How good can he be?"
Richard stands 6 feet, 6 inches and weighs 208 pounds, about 10 pounds heavier than his arrival date at Modesto Junior College two years ago. Everything he's accomplished, from Downey High to MJC, in both water polo and swimming, points to the same conclusion.
Richard could be a star.
If he had not yet punched that ticket at MJC, he cut it to pieces last weekend at the Big 8 Conference Championships in Pleasant Hill. In one meet, Richard rewrote the MJC recordbook in what was without question the best performance by a male MJC swimmer in several years.
All he did was set school records in the 50 freestyle, 100 free and 200 free, each time erasing the standard set by John Monnich in 1987. He also lowered the Big 8 records in the 200 free and 200 breaststroke, the latter which was named the single best performance of the meet.
"I was hoping for less than what I did, and I got more," Richard said. "The payoff was even better than I thought."
He and his teammates begin competition in the State Championships today in Los Angeles. They're led by Richard, who thinks he's got better times waiting to be unleashed.
"He didn't go out there last week in a tech suit. He wore a thick old water polo suit, and no cap," MJC coach Kurt Olson said. "He had not shaved and was not fully tapered. We're going to cash it all in this week."
A quick history lesson: Monnich's great swims 26 years ago resulted in three state titles so, in one sense, his performance still stands alone. But one of the people most impressed last week by Richard was Dave Ashleigh, Monnich's coach and the leader of the Pirates from 1971 to '98.
"To swim all those times in the same meet was amazing to me," Ashleigh said. "We've had some great sprinters over the years and those records held for a long time. To break all three was spectacular."
Richard targeted Monnich's 20.79 in the 50 free, the glamor sprint, since he enrolled at MJC. He set the record, a 20.61, with room to spare.
"In the last five yards, I wasn't sure I would get it," he said. "What I looked at the board, it was pure joy."
Richard's talent shines in his combination of speed, strength and endurance. To excel in both the 50 and the 200 think of a runner who blazes in both the 100 and 800 requires major athleticism. Add to that the different layers of skill and power needed in the breaststroke. Richard was a fuse waiting to be lit.
"He's a swimmer's swimmer. You can put him in every event," Olson said. "I'm sure he could have done other sports, but his heart is in the water."
Richard teased Olson and swim followers two years ago when he placed second in the 200 individual medley and third in the 100 and 200 breaststroke at State. After taking a year off to build strength and stabilize academically, he attacked this spring.
With significant help.
Olson couldn't find anyone in the area to train with Richard. No one approached his talent level. So the coach mined a connection and found Guillermo Blanco one of the nation's best at one time last year in the 400 individual medley who had strugged in the classroom at Purdue.
Blanco arrived at MJC in January, and the plan was hatched: Richard will extend Blanco, who will continue his training and hope for an eventual transfer.
It was a win-win.
"I pushed his limits," said Blanco, from Madrid, Spain. "Getting to race against him all the time made me nervous. I knew he could beat me."
Count Blanco as one of Richard's biggest fans this week. Like everyone else, he thinks Richard hasn't broken his last record.
"He can go faster," he maintained. "This is the beginning."
With only this week's races to go in his community college career, Richard hopes he hasn't peaked one week early.
"I think there is another gear left," he said. "I owe a lot to (Olson). He got me through some tough times in school and swimming. He made me never back from the challenge."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter @modbeesports.
Tim Richard's Big 8 Meet
MJC School Records
50 freestyle 20.61*
100 freestyle 45.51*
200 freestyle 1:39.47*
Big 8 Records
200 freestyle 1:39.47
200 breaststroke 2:05.14
*Broke John Monnich's 1987 school record