Ryan Held isn’t the only Wolfpack swimmer making some noise in Rio this week. Simonas Bilis, who has had a huge part in Wolfpack swimming’s rebuilding effort, will swim for a medal on Friday night. Bilis showcased his speed on the highest level Thursday, advancing through his preliminary and semifinal heats in the highly-competitive 50m freestyle event.
During the prelims, he swam a 22.01, which is dang good, but against this level of competition was only good enough to sneak him into the semifinals. In the semis, though, he clocked a 21.71 despite swimming in lane eight (the farther out you are from the middle of the pool, the worse off you are), which was the sixth-fastest time among the 16 semifinalists.
Bilis, who swims for his native Lithuania, owns the fastest 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle times in the country’s history. His time in the semifinals was a personal best, and he’s made himself a challenger for a medal. If he were to medal, it would be arguably a bigger breakthrough than Held’s relay gold, though both are great stories regardless.
Bilis and Held were on the NC State 4x100m free relay team that won a national title at NCAAs this year. Scary thing about State’s swimming team? The Pack sent four guys to Rio and three will be back. And if this week hasn’t made it plain enough: that team is loaded with world-class sprint talent.
When I take a step back and look at the larger picture, it strikes me how crazy this whole week has been. This is a rare experience, but it’s not a miracle performance by State swimmers, it ain’t a one-off thing, it’s no fluke. This is great coaching and great talent and potential being realized. NC State is Sprint U. right now, and head coach Braden Holloway deserves all the raises.