Nationals wrapped up last night in Irvine with a strong team selected for the Pan Pacs in just a week and a half. Usually, after a selection meet, the roster for each event is set, and the picture becomes much clearer for an international meet. Not this time. With up to four swimmers making the team in an event and the fact that swimmers on the team can swim any event they want at Pan Pacs, the meet's picture is even more confusing than it was before Nationals. The Pan Pacs will give swimmers a second chance to make next year's World Championship team, if they didn't have the best meet at Nationals.
Up until Nationals, Liz Pelton had been having an awesome year. 59 and 2:08 were awesome times in the 100 and 200 back in the lead-up to Nationals. Come the big meet though, she didn't swim her best, and she could only manage fourth-place finishes in both events. It looked like all of her major meet plans for the next two years had to be cancelled. In a stroke of luck, there was a spot open for her on the Pan Pacs team, and she will be back in a few weeks to try her luck a second time.
Nick Thoman was another who fell short of his own expectations at Nationals. After a strong season, where he posted a 53.70 in the 100 back in Charlotte, Thoman could only manage a third-place finish in that event in 53.78, which made his spot on the Pan Pacs team questionable. Shortly after swimming the 200 back final last night, Thoman officially became a member of the Pan Pacs team, walking out on deck with the team. But he wasn't finished. Minutes later, he led off SwimMAC's 400 medley relay in 53.78, the same time as he had swam earlier in the week, and this came just after a painful 200 back and team march. He will be ready to go at Pan Pacs to try to make the World Championships team and chase the top time in the world (52.85).
Many of the more established swimmers on Team USA took the risk (or mistake) of not fully resting for the meet, hoping that they could focus on success at Pan Pacs. Swimmers from North Baltimore (Michael Phelps, Scott Spann, Allison Schmitt, and Pelton), Texas (Aaron Peirsol, Eric Shanteau, and Ricky Berens), FAST (Katie Hoff, Ariana Kukors) and other training centers all appear to have much more in the tank with another week of rest and recovery to get down to the necessary times required to hold off some of the best swimmers in the world, such as those from Japan and Australia.
My big highlight from finals last night was the men’s mile. Chad LaTourette looked like a man on mission. After his typically slow start, LaTourette hit to GO button and kept going. After a third-place finish at the Olympic Trials, LaTourette has flown under the radar, swimming at the World University Games last summer instead of World Championships. Last night, he came out and told the world that he is the next Larsen Jensen or Erik Vendt, the tough American distance swimmer to fear in the years to come.
I watched LaTourette race the mile in the prelims at the L.A. Grand Prix, right next to Olympic champ Ous Mellouli. Mellouli took the race out fast, but LaTourette stayed close and passed the Tunisian around the 1,000 mark, and it became a real race coming home. In the end, Mellouli outtouched LaTourette by just one one-hundredth of a second, with respective times of 15:11.21 and 15:11.22. Look for a re-match at Pan Pacs in just a week and a half, with guys such as Canada’s Ryan Cochrane (also at the L.A. Grand Prix, but in a different heat) and China’s Zhang Lin and Sun Yang also in the field. Should be a great race, but for now, LaTourette is the top miler in the world.
Finally, I want to explain a statement I made on my Facebook page earlier this week. “Memo to Michael Phelps: you are no longer the best swimmer in the world. The new king is Ryan Lochte!” This week, Lochte easily deposed of Phelps in the 200 IM and cruised to victory in both the 200 back and 400 IM in solid times. He almost beat Phelps in the 200 free (where his lifetime best is nearly two seconds slower) and second to sprint star Nathan Adrian in the 100 free. His butterfly is better than it ever has been, as is his freestyle. His backstroke is just a tick off, but it’s coming back. His breaststroke is phenomenal as always, especially considering he has suffered through knee and groin injuries all year long.
I wrote the statement after he took down Phelps in the 200 IM. As the world record-holder in that Phelps, simply beating Phelps is not shocking. That win came just a half hour after his 48.83 100 free. He proceeded to use his final turn to seal the deal and double his lead. That is using Phelps’ own tools against him. With Phelps currently unable to complete any race over 100 without significantly fading, Lochte has overtaken him as the best in the world. Not sure how long that will last, through Pan Pacs, World Championships next year, the London Olympics, or through the end of Phelps’ career. In fact, Lochte’s new dominance will motivate Phelps more than anything over the next two years. But this meet was all Ryan Lochte.