Thursday, August 5, 2010

U.S. Nationals: Day 3

The meet reached its halfway point with the conclusion of this morning's prelims, which with few exceptions went according to script. All of the major players got into their respective finals, with one notable exception, as Josh Schneider was DQ'ed from the 50 free for a procedures violation. Other than that, no major news from the deck, but there are several interesting storylines headed into finals.

The men's 100 fly equals Michael Phelps. He should be able to surpass the top time in the world, which is 51.70 held by Russia's Evgeny Korotyshkin. A sub-51 time would be an excellent swim, but he has not proven to be capable of such a time right now. A 51-low seems like a reasonable goal for Phelps. Last year, with Phelps the big favorite, the other seven swimmers in the field raced for second, with Tyler McGill emerging victorious. McGill went on to finish seventh at Worlds, breaking 51 in the prelims with a personal-best time of 50.90. Returning for his senior year at Auburn, many expected a great outing from McGill at NCAA's, as Auburn's team captain leading them to a potential national championship. However, McGill ended up overextended as a new member of many relays and finished out of the top three in the 100 fly in what ended up a very disappointing meet for Auburn.

Coming back for the long course season, McGill began a resurgence. At the Charlotte UltraSwim, he finished second to Phelps in a strong 53.15, then blasted a 52.25 at a meet in June and a 52.80 at a Sectionals meet three weeks ago. Besides himself and Phelps, no other American had even made the top 25 in the world until prelims today. He has to be the favorite for that second position. His strength is the back half; besides Phelps, no one will come home faster. He has a very real chance to break into the 51-range again, and maybe even challenge Phelps. His excellent season will cumulate tonight in what could be a much closer race than many anticipate.

Another excellent case of perseverance this week has been the comeback of Caitlin Leverenz. After a promising 2007 where she won gold in the 200 breast at the Pan American Games and won the 400 IM National title, she never managed to break through. She finished fourth in both IMs at the 2008 Olympic Trials and then a heartbreaking third in the 200 breast. In 2009, she made the finals in both medleys in Indy at the World Trials, but she had no spectacular results. As a hyped freshman at the University of California, she made an impact but not to the level of her potential.

Leverenz turned everything around with a stellar effort in the 200 IM, finishing second in 2:10.84. She continued her hot streak this morning with as she led the 400 IM in 4:36.76, dropping nearly two seconds from her lifetime best of 4:38.54 from Olympic Trials. She has an excellent chance to reclaim that National title from three years ago, but she will be hard-pressed by Olympians Katie Hoff and Elizabeth Beisel on either side of her. Hoff continued her comeback meet with a 4:40.00 this morning, looking easy and relaxed. Beisel, meanwhile, posted what seems like her bazillionth 4:39 this season; she has had monster consistency as of late, and those three will highlight the race tonight. It will be a strong heat all along, as Andie Taylor and Teresa Crippen have both been swimming excellent during the meet, while 200 IM world record-holder Ariana Kukors looms as a threat as well. Dagny Knutson and Justine Mueller also could be tough from the outside lanes.

A major threat is gone from the men's 50 free, with the disqualification of Josh Schneider for failing to properly scratch from the 100 fly. Now, the race should be all Nathan Adrian, currently ranked sixth in the world at 22.01. The two most recent American record-holders, Cullen Jones and Garrett Weber-Gale, will also make a charge, while Jimmy Feigen could have an outside shot from lane eight. After finishing a disappointing ninth in prelims, Feigen becomes the big beneficiary of the Schneider DQ, as he moves in to try to claim a spot on the Pan Pacs team.

The other two races on the docket for tonight, the women's 100 breast and 50 free, will both feature Jessica Hardy. The world record-holder in the 100 breast, Hardy will battle world champ Rebecca Soni in the breaststroke event, where Leisel Jones' world best of 1:05.79 should be threatened. Perhaps a half hour later, Hardy faces Olympic sprinters Kara Lynn Joyce, Amanda Weir, and Dana Vollmer in the 50. Although she would be favored under normal circumstances in the second race, the lack of ample rest time could come back and haunt the speedster.

Updated predictions:

Women's 100 Breast
1. Rebecca Soni
2. Jessica Hardy
3. Annie Chandler

Men's 100 Fly
1. Michael Phelps
2. Tyler McGill
3. Tim Phillips

Women's 50 Free
1. Kara Lynn Joyce
2. Amanda Weir
3. Jessica Hardy

Men's 50 Free
1. Nathan Adrian
2. Cullen Jones
3. Garrett Weber-Gale

Women's 400 IM
1. Elizabeth Beisel
2. Katie Hoff
3. Caitlin Leverenz

These are the scores in the prediction contest after night two, and they are official:

1. Reed 107
2. Tom 100
3. David "THE Swim Geek" Rieder 98
4. G. John 88
4. Matt 88
6. Rob 83
7. John 81
8. Andy 80
9. Chris "TAKE THAT!" DeSantis 73
9. Braden 73
11. Jerry 70

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