Sunday, August 1, 2010

U.S. Nationals: Day Negative 1

Yesterday, I detailed four of the brightest spots for Team USA headed into Nationals. These swimmers have stepped up and made their marks for the American team across the board. In some other events, the U.S. doesn't have quite the depth to assure, say, two swimmers making a World Champs final. Such events include the men's 200 breast and women's 200 fly, both events where the second U.S. swimmer came up short of advancing to the final in Rome.

Eric Shanteau has swum remarkably well in the 200 breast this year. His 2:10.59 from UltraSwim ranks him fifth in the world, and the only four swimmers ahead of him swam their times at their respective National championships. The next best American is 50th-ranked Mike Alexandrov, with a season best of 2:13.88, certainly not a time that will stack up well internationally. Adam Klein swam this race at Worlds last summer, but he was DQ'ed in the prelims. Even so, his time from U.S. Nationals would have tied him for 15th in prelims, barely advancing to semi-finals. Klein's season best this year is 2:16.37. Neither Alexandrov nor Klein have proven that they can get down to 2:10-range, necessary to be competitive internationally.

Promise for depth in this event behind Shanteau comes from the two swimmers who beat Klein in this race at NCAA's: Clark Burckle and Scott Spann. Both cut monster time from their seeds at that short course taper meet, leading to the possibility of doing the same at the long course meet. Burckle's season best is 2:17.11, while Spann's is 2:16.26. Neither time sounds especially impressive, until one remember's NCAA's. Burckle dropped from an in-season best of 1:55.54 to 1:52.75 in prelims, while 38th-seeded Spann posted a 1:52.24, off of a 1:58.40 in-season.

Spann has major experience in the event; he made the Olympic final in 2008 and holds a lifetime best of 2:09.08. After Beijing, however, Spann struggled with multiple knee injuries, failing to come back in time to qualify for the World Championships team. He finally broke through at NCAA's, with strong swims on both medley relays, in the 100 breast, and through the 200 breast prelims. However, in the finals, Burckle touched him out, 1:53.19 to 1:53.21. It cannot be too surprising that Burckle went slower than prelims, after being in the hospital with the Norovirus mere days prior. For Spann, however, it proved that his consistency is still not where it could be coming off his recent struggles.

Obviously, Spann and the rest of the chase group in the 200 breast still have something to prove in the event headed into Irvine. Three swimmers sub-2:11 swims would not be surprising but would be promising. However, that is not something we have seen before in America without the aid of now-illegal high tech suits.

In the women's 200 fly, there have been great moments for the Americans, beginning with Misty Hyman's upset win in the event in Sydney. Recently, Kim Vandenberg, Elaine Breeden, Kathleen Hersey, and Mary DeScenza (now Mohler) have put together memorable performances on the world stage, but nothing has lasted and created a new American legacy in the 200 fly. All four will still compete for a spot on the National team in Irvine, but new blood now floods the event and is trying to make a mark.

Vandenberg made her mark with a National title in 2006 and later a silver medal at the World Championships in 2007. Breeden and Hersey went on to have break-out years in 2008, denying Vandenberg an Olympic spot, although she had already qualified for the team in the 4x200 free relay. Breeden and Hersey went on to make the Olympic final, finishing seventh and eighth, respectively. In the same race, four-time World Champs team member DeScenza finished fourth for the second straight Olympic Trials.

In 2009, DeScenza returned to the World stage, overtaking a fading Breeden down the stretch at Nationals to earn the second berth for Rome behind Hersey. In prelims, DeScenza shocked the world, breaking Liu Zige's world record in prelims, with a time of 2:04.14. She went on to finish a strong fourth in the finals, as the top two crushed her world mark. Hersey, meanwhile, finished four one-hundredths out of the final heat.

Since Rome, the event's landscape has changed remarkably. DeScenza married Charlie Mohler and moved to Japan for her husband's work in the Marines. She returned just weeks ago to train with FAST and prepare for Nationals, but her limited season could lead to struggles against a new crop of fast 200 flyers. Hersey has struggled greatly since Rome, only managing a fourth-place finish in the 200 fly at NCAA's. Breeden won that race, ahead of Trojans Katinka Hosszu (Hungary) and Lyndsay DePaul. Breeden and DePaul have both had excellent seasons, swimming 2:08s, as has a resurgent Vandenberg. Another Trojan, Tanya Krisman has a season-best of 2:09.00, while versatile youngsters such as Dagny Knutson, Andie Taylor, Jasmine Tosky, and Felicia Lee, among others, could crash the party. Time will be nearly irrelevant; the race will come down to who can get into the finals (which won't be easy in itself) and execute their race plan better than their competitors.

Prediction contest update: make sure to get those predictions to me by midnight pacific time on Tuesday! Please send me a short blurb that I will post along with your picks in the blog. That said, if you wish for me to not post your predictions, let me know in the message/email/comment.

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