Monday, August 2, 2010

U.S. Nationals: Day Zero

We are now less than 24 hours out from the start of Nationals in Irvine. The predictions are coming in fast; I posted the first three sets last night, I received three more via email overnight, and I expect to have even more to post before prelims kick off at 9am pacific tomorrow. Before I post my DeSantis-crushing picks, I wanted to examine a few of my more difficult predictions to make.

On Saturday, I talked about the monster performances that Liz Pelton has swum this season in the backstroke races. Her performances in the 200 IM, however, have not been as superb. At the Charlotte UltraSwim, Pelton finished fourth in 2:15.39, almost three seconds slower than Justine Mueller's 2:12.44. She lost nearly four seconds ground to Mueller on the breaststroke leg. Apparently, she had been (and likely still is) working on her breaststroke with her coach Bob Bowman. It didn't show in Charlotte, since her time was nearly a second slower than she had been a month before at the Ohio State Grand Prix, 2:14.54, which only ranks her tenth in the nation.

Thus, I have no idea what to expect from her in Irvine. She finished second to Julia Smit last year, with a time of 2:11.03. Based on how awesome her backstrokes have been this season, many expect such great swims in those races in Irvine, and that should be able to transfer over into the IMs. In a very deep and wide open race in the 200 IM, Pelton is the wildcard and honestly scary, because no one knew what to expect from her. Originally, I did not include her in the top three of my predictions, but things have changed slightly. Last year, only one swimmer clocked a time under 2:11 (Smit, 2:09.34), but I expect to see a lot of 2:10s all across the board, from up to six swimmers.

Pelton's 200 IM is such a mystery because we haven't seen the best out of her in the event this year. Similarly, Ricky Berens will be a wildcard performer because he did not swim the NCAA's he was capable of. At the Big-12 meet when he was unshaved and not very rested, Berens led off Texas' 4x200 free relay in 1:32.49. At NCAA's, he fell sick just days before and struggled home to a sixth-place 1:33.61. His relay lead-off would have placed him second to Florida's Conor Dwyer. Obviously, Berens is an unknown quantity in the 200 free. He could challenge the likes of Phelps, Vanderkaay, and Lochte, which would require at least a swim in the 1:45-range, which he has the potential for. Or he could struggle to break the 1:47 barrier.

Similarly, Berens could be a strong player in the 100 free. He finished sixth in the 100 free at the World Trials last year in 48.44, going on to swim the prelims of the 400 free relay in Rome. He split a respectable 48.19, but his suit split down the back before he dove in. As Garrett McCaffrey described the situation on Split Time, he was effectively swimming with a parachute on his back. Both McCaffrey and John Lohn have high hopes for Berens in the 100 free; in his predictions, Lohn predicted Berens for a second-place finish behind favorite Nathan Adrian. It is another case where I have no idea what to expect.

In any case, predictions are just guesses. Mine will be posted this evening, while I will have many more up here on the blog before that. We will see how this all shakes out starting tomorrow. Prelims begin at 9am pacific time. I will be back after that session for analysis and a finals preview. All races are webcasted live on, and they will also have all finals on-demand. Additionally, Universal Sports (TV and internet) will air finals live beginning at 6pm pacific on Tuesday and Wednesday (August 3 and August 4) with Olympic commentators Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines on the mics.

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