One tight finish might be a great race. Two close finishes could be a coincidence.
After the number of times Adam Byars has watched Gabe Eichel narrowly defeat competition in the pool, though, he has a different explanation.
"He wins races by hundredths of a second," said Byars, the head coach at Aiken-Augusta Swim League. "He rarely ever loses those races. You would think those kind of things are lucky. But it happens over and over so much that he's doing something right."
Eichel, an Augusta Prep sophomore, helped lead the Cavaliers to another GISA state swimming title this season. Teammate Thomas Bigham, a senior, also helped lift the Cavaliers.
Eichel took first in the 200-yard individual medley. Bigham won the 100-yard breaststroke.
The teammates competed in the 200 IM. Both knew their toughest competition in the event would be each other.
Eichel came out ahead.
"You're like, 'Hey, I'm going to try to beat him,' " Bigham said. "I can do it at practice. Maybe I can do it at the meet. ... You can't exactly get angry you lost."
Bigham is relatively new to the year-round swimming scene, compared to many in the program. He started five years ago.
Byars said Bigham has emerged as one of the program's leaders through the way he handles himself in competition and in the pool.
A typical day for Bigham involves leaving the house at 5:30 a.m. for weight training, going to school, attending swim practice at the Augusta Aquatics Center for more than two hours and returning home for schoolwork and bed.
Now, preparing to graduate from high school, Bigham has visited William and Mary and Davidson College on recruiting trips. He plans to schedule a trip to Georgetown University.
"He's consistently improved every year," Byars said. "If he gets in the right college program, he should do very well."
Eichel has time before he is in Bigham's position. If he continues to compete as he has, he shouldn't have trouble finding a college suitor.
As a 14-year-old at last year's Junior Nationals in Orlando, Fla., Eichel missed the all-time record for his age group in the 200 breaststroke by three-tenths of a second.
USA Swimming keeps top 100 lists for each age group and event. Eichel is No. 2 in the 200 breaststroke.
"He was a little disappointed," Byars said. "I tried to convince him just how good that was to be right there."
Eichel, 15 and having swum on a team for 10 years, said his goals include an Olympic trial. He'll have another chance to set records when he competes at short-course Junior Nationals, which begin March 16 in Orlando.
Eichel said he enjoys the competition in the pool, that he thrives in the racing environment.
His coach and competitors take notice.
"He really hates to lose," Byars said. "He's one of the great racers we have."
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