Bob Bowman, led by his heir Michael Phelps, wins a swimming title that Phelps never did

Arizona State's Elijah Kharon and Leon Marchand with teammates after winning the 400-yard medley relay at the NCAA men's swimming championships in Indianapolis. Arizona State won its first national title in the sport. (Photo by Joe Robbins/NCAA Images via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — Bob Bowman has been swimming everywhere, from Baltimore to the top of the world, since the Olympics To the Hall of Fame — Everywhere but here, pumping his fists in the IU Natatorium, raising the trophy, then Drown in a poolCelebrating the NCAA Championship.

He led Maryland's Michael Phelps to immortality. He has coached Team USA and its members to dozens of Olympic medals.

But in 2015, to begin what he called “life after Michael,” he moved across the country to a secluded swimming spot in Arizona, in search of a prize unlike any other in the sport.

And on Saturday here in a motley arena in Indy, driven by his latest otherworldly disciple, Leon Marchand, he won it.

He clenched his hands and pumped them with enthusiasm and glee, as if this were Athens, Beijing, or London. He led Arizona State through the four-day men's championship meet, which Marchand, the world record holder and world champion, called “swimming's most intense meet.” He and Marchand schemed and swam the Sun Devils to their first-ever NCAA wins, and the program's first team national title.

Bowman said it was “special because it's a team accomplishment.” It wasn't just him and Michael. It's not just him and Leon.

“It's a whole group of people, and it's not just these guys on this team,” he explained last week, while still on the cusp of success. “There were a lot of people who were part of the evolution of this program who chose to believe in what we were doing, joined us, developed a little piece of the program, and then passed it on to someone else.

“I think that's what satisfies me the most: there are a lot of people who are part of it,” he continued. “And that's something that, quite frankly, in 2015, when I got here, was the furthest thing away [from what] You can imagine we would.

Bob Bowman turned in Arizona

Together, Bowman and Phelps rose from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club to the top of the sport. One of them was an 11-year-old prodigy when they met. The other became more than just a coach — he was a mentor and, ultimately, a father figure who accompanied Phelps on a wild, exhausting and triumphant journey to 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold.

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The relationship naturally defined Bowman's career. His only venture into college swimming, at Michigan from 2005-08, yielded Big Ten titles but wasn't great; It was a footnote.

But as Phelps approached retirement, the collegiate environment began to gravitate to Bowman. “I wanted to be in a program where we could build something, where it wasn't already set up,” he said.

He founded Arizona State, a program that briefly went on hiatus in 2008. Before Bowman arrived, it was such an afterthought that commentator Rudy Gaines, perhaps the world's foremost expert on NCAA swimming, can't remember a thing about him.

After taking office, Bowman admitted, “For some people, this may be a bit of a surprise — and in many ways, I may be the most surprising.”

“But obviously this could be a great story,” he continued.

In 2015, he began writing them, word by word, collection by collection, teen by teen. “It took a lot longer than I thought it would,” Bowman said recently. In their first NCAA Championship meet in 2016, they finished tied for 44th. “At first, we didn't have people on the team who could swim at that level,” Bowman said.

“So, we tried to start recruiting people, and we ran into some difficulties,” Bowman continued. “Because it was difficult to convince some of the best swimmers to go swim in a team that did not include other swimmers.”

Grant House, a free agent from Ohio State, was the first to take the leap of faith in 2017. Slowly, ASU's realities and perceptions began to change. House set new standards for Bowman's practices at the break of dawn. It also gave legitimacy to the coach's playground. Other elite recruits began to follow.

The largest was undoubtedly Marchand, a Frenchman who initially eyed permanent NCAA powers. His top pick was Cal, a top-two finish at the NCAAs without fail since 2010. But Cal did not offer a full scholarship. Marchand considered other schools. “What changed the scales,” he said Tell me later“It was the coach” – Bowman.

Marchand arrived in the fall of 2021 as a 19-year-old Olympian, and “when he came in that's when it took off,” Bowman said of his program. Marchand continued to accelerate toward Phelps' greatness. Within two years, he broke and re-broke NCAA records. He overthrew Phelps's last remaining world record, which is the longest mark in the history of swimming.

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But he also wholeheartedly agreed with the team concept; In the “Sun Demon Family”. He embedded himself in a thriving culture, then committed to building it. He pushed his older teammates. It has helped attract new people from abroad. Have dinner with them. He played Call of Duty with them. He supported them. “He gave everyone an example of what true excellence is, at the highest level,” Bowman said. And he liked it.

By March 2023, he became a two-time world champion. But last year's NCAA meet, in which ASU finished second, a new high-profile mark, “was probably the most fun I've ever had,” he said afterward.

This year I raised it. Marchand said Friday night was the best night he's ever had at a swim meet, “for sure.” He reached the 400-yard individual medley title — and kept his energy going for two hours after that, sacrificing another record so he could lead ASU to its first relay title in program history.

In the middle, he stood among a group of teammates and coaches on the pool deck, jumping up and down, cheering on Hubert Coss and Owen MacDonald in the 100-yard backstroke final.

“[It’s] “It's very rare for an international kid to come in and be that energetic,” Gaines told Yahoo Sports, because swimming at home, in many countries, is a very individual sport. “So, for him to be at the level he is at, it says something about his character,” Gaines said.

“We started from scratch…and now we have succeeded.”

Marchand broke two NCAA records here in Indianapolis. He has won the maximum number of singles titles. But his favorite seems to be the relays. He leaned into the pool after Friday and vigorously congratulated Johnny Colo after Colo's heroic anchor leg. “Let's go!” cried Marchand—or something like that; Colo couldn't remember. “It was just eye contact,” Kolo said with a smile. “I could tell the raw emotions he was feeling.”

Then they all looked to Section 210, where dozens of family members and fans had gathered and made noise all week.

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Marchand's parents, Xavier and Céline; His brother Oscar. A family friend, who is their lawyer, all traveled from France to see the show. They participated in every part of the contest, waving rally towels and carrying plastic devilish sun tridents. Before, during and after every race – even the ones Leon didn't participate in – Oscar roared with all his might.

They all screamed louder than ever on Saturday when freshman Elijah Caron finished strong to win the 200 butterfly and claim the team title. (They ultimately won by 523.5 points to 444.5 points for runner-up Cal.)

After the first pump, Bowman turned around and seemed to take several seconds to enjoy the moment. Over the hours that followed, and after years of hard work, he was keen to “share in the joy of this event.” Dressed in his black polo shirt and khaki shorts, he stood at the corner of the pool, enjoying the spectacle, as his peers trickled in to congratulate him. “There's nothing like the first one,” Cal's polite assistant coach told him. “I'm proud of you, man.”

His disciples were proud too. As they danced around the pool, they also reflected on the magnitude of their accomplishment. “When I first committed, we didn’t even think this could happen,” said Jack Dolan, a fifth-year student.

And of course, no one did that in 2015. And when he started talking about national titles, some people quipped: “Well, you can't be serious.”

“But, we kind of stayed with it,” Bowman said. And it's true.”

Their faith peaked Saturday night around 8:52 p.m., when Colo nailed another relay, the 4 x 100-yard freestyle, to win in NCAA record time. Bowman jumped up and down, arms extended toward the sky. He embraced his employees. He beamed with pride. He assembled what Cal's Destin Lasko called a “super-squad”; And up and down the list, they delivered.

A minute later, Marchand summed up the bigger picture. This, he said with his right arm wrapped around Colo, was the last “most fun night I've ever had swimming.” Then he turned attention to Bowman. “He started from scratch here,” Marchand said. “And now we have succeeded.”

Bowman smiled. He'd been everywhere, done it all, but “this,” the bespectacled coach later said, “is at the top of his list of accomplishments,” “right at the top.”

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