The Grand Challenge is unique in holding four-swimmer finals. They hold two consolation finals of eight swimmers before the final four take the blocks. Third place in the finals receives $100, second place $200, and first place gets anywhere from $300-$1,000, decided by spinning a "Mystery Wheel," which can also change how money is awarded.
A quick preview of the races:
Two of the top female swimmers in Irvine are Trojan teammates Rebecca Soni and Jessica Hardy. Soni dominated the breaststrokes at the Charlotte UltraSwim, posting blazing times of 1:05 and 2:22. Expect another dominating 200, but Soni and Hardy will battle it out in the 100, as they do so often. Hardy, meanwhile, will also be a top contender in the 50 and 100 freestyles.
FAST's Ariana Kukors, the world record-holder in the 200 IM; her teammate Katie Hoff, a former world champion in both IMs; and Stanford's Julia Smit should have good races in both IMs. Could be very fast. Hoff, meanwhile, will go head-to-head with Mission Viejo's Chloe Sutton, the youngster who has dominated the distance races on the Grand Prix circuit.
Another big race is the women's 200 fly, where Stanford's Elaine Breeden, the NCAA champion, will go head-to-head with USC's Katinka Hosszu, the Hungarian who won bronze in this event at the Worlds in Rome. Other international players on the women's side include FAST's Margaret Hoelzer and Kara Lynn Joyce, both two-time Olympians, and Stanford's Kate Dwelley, a member of the U.S. World Championship team.
The most anticipated races of the meet will be the men's sprints, where 50 and 100 free national champion Nathan Adrian will face off against the great Jason Lezak. Also, the men's backstrokes will be competitive with double Olympic silver medalist from 2004 Markus Rogan, short course 50 back world record-holder Peter Marshall, and Cal-trained David Russell, Mathias Gydesen, and Guy Barnea.
The most decorated individual swimmer at the meet is Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, who won gold in both breaststrokes at the last two Olympics. He is the class of the field in both breaststrokes, but he could get some pressure from Cal's Damir Dugonjic and Sean Mahoney.
Another big race will be Tyler Clary vs. Thiago Pereira in the 400 IM, who finished second and fourth, respectively, at the Worlds in Rome. Clary recently relocated to FAST while Pereira now trains with Dave Salo at USC.
The 400 and 1,500 free could be interesting races as well, where Stanford's Chad LaTourette, the young hope in American distance swimming, will face off against Texas-based Michael Klueh. In addition, Cal's break-out swimmer of NCAA's Tom Shields will make his long course season-debut in Irvine, which will include a race with Kenya's Jason Dunford in the 100 fly. Dunford's brother David, who just finished his eligibility at Stanford, will also compete, as will some experienced swimmer's new to FAST: Charlie Houchin, who just graduated from Michigan; rising Stanford junior Bobby Bollier; and U.S. Olympian and 2004 bronze medalist in the 400 free relay Gabe Woodward.