Nic Fink & Shaine Casas Lead U.S. Men In 2022 FINA World Cup Rankings
by Peggy Shinn
Nic Fink reacts after competing in the men's 50-meter breaststroke finals at the 2022 FINA Swimming World Cup on Oct. 22, 2022 in Berlin.
The 2022 FINA World Cup features U.S. Olympic medalists Katie Ledecky, Hali Flickinger, and Lilly King. But after two (of three) world cups this fall, it’s Nic Fink and Shaine Casas who are making headlines.
Fink — a 2020 Olympian — has won every race he has entered in the first two world cups and is currently ranked second in the standings, tied at 114.5 points with 2020 Olympian Dylan Carter, who’s competing for Trinidad and Tobago.
Earlier this year, Fink, a 29-year-old University of Georgia grad, won his first long-course world championship medals: gold in the 50-meter breaststroke (setting an American record), bronze in the 100-meter breaststroke, and gold and silver in two medley relays. Recently, he received a Golden Goggles nomination for Male Athlete of the Year (along with Olympic gold medalists Ryan Murphy and Bobby Finke, and world championship silver medalist Carson Foster).
Casas has also had a breakout year. At the Toronto World Cup last weekend, the 22-year-old was the only swimmer, male or female, to win four races (100 and 200 backstrokes, 100 and 200 individual medleys). And at the 2022 FINA World Championships in Hungary this past June, Casas also won his first long-course medal: bronze in the 200 backstroke.
It’s been a season of redemption for these two men. Last year, Casas missed making his first Olympic team. As for Fink, he qualified for his first Olympic team in the 200 breaststroke but missed making it in the 100 breaststroke by 0.06 of a second. It was his third try qualifying for an Olympic Games. Then at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, he finished fifth in the 200 breaststroke.
Both men have made changes this year, and it’s paid off — literally. If Fink moves into the overall world cup lead at the third and final meet this weekend in Indianapolis, he will walk away with $100,000. Casas is currently ranked fifth overall, just seven points out of first.
Grad school for Fink
After returning from the Tokyo Games last August, Fink began pursuing a masters in electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech. He also switched pools and coaches, now working under Georgia Tech’s coach Michael Norment.
Norment worked on Fink’s top-end speed, reported Swimming World Magazine.
“Top-end speed takes some time to develop, mainly because of the neuromuscular adaptation that needs to occur,” Norment told Swimming World.
Even with more speed, Fink is not sure what to credit with his good results this season.
“It’s something I’ve been asking myself a lot,” he said in a Zoom media call from Indianapolis. “I think it’s a combination of everything I’ve done in the past, the years of work that I’ve put in, and the experience that I’ve bult over seasons of swimming.”
Fink thinks that diving into grad school may have helped as well. Having a focus outside of the pool has been good for him. When he graduates in December, he will find either a part-time or full-time job that allows him to “still be a swimmer.” He aims to compete through the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
“I actually think that finding a job would be less work than grad school,” he said, half-joking.
As for the world cup this weekend, Fink is not putting pressure on himself to take over the world cup lead or win any specific races.
“At this point in my career, that's not why I'm here,” he said. “If a few people beat me, they beat me. It makes me work even harder for the next one. I love to race, so I just want to go out there and have fun and race and see what happens.”
Shaine Casas reacts after winning the men's 200-meter backstroke finals at the 2022 FINA Swimming World Cup on Oct. 28, 2022 in Toronto.
The Benefits of Turning Pro
As for Casas, he had a great NCAA career swimming for Texas A&M, winning his first national title in 2019, then three individual NCAA titles in 2021. But after he failed to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team last summer, Casas knew he had to make changes.
Rather than returning to swim for the Aggies his senior year, Casas turned pro. Then in January 2022 — after winning six medals at 2021 short-course world championships, including gold in the 100m backstroke — he transferred to the University of Texas so he could train with coach Eddie Reese and the Longhorn pro group.
Casas soon started racking up podiums in Pro Series races — beating Olympic medalists in the process. In the spring, he qualified for his first long-course world championship team, then won a bronze medal in the 200m backstroke. In July, he won national titles in the 100 butterfly and 200 IM.
Casas came to the world cup series — three meets over consecutive weekends in Berlin, then Toronto, and now Indianapolis — with confidence. And his work paid off. In the first two world cups, he has won six gold medals, taking both backstroke races at Berlin and Toronto, then also winning the 100 and 200 individual medleys in Toronto.
“I’ve matured and grown up, and made some big strikes physically and mentally,” he replied, when asked what has led to his stellar results this season.
“Moving and changing scenery,” he added, “you become uncomfortable, and it helps you realize what you’re not doing, and then you can take that next step. That’s kind of what’s going on.”
He has also fledged from the comfortable nest of college swimming and realized that it’s a sport he loves.
“Now that I’m on my own, this is my life, and nobody’s making me do these things,” Casas explained. “It’s truly just myself. I have coaches and teammates who push me. But in the end, it is my decision and my will that has gotten me to this position.”
But Casas also knows that the road (lane?) ahead is long and he needs to maintain balance. The 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials are still over 18 months away.
“For now,” he concluded, “I’m just enjoying everything and making sure I’m smiling while I do all this.”
An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered seven Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.