Friday, May 20, 2011

Which Current Male High School Swimmer Has the Best Shot to Make the 2012 Olympic Team?

Which current male high school swimmer has the best shot to make the 2012 Olympic team?” This question is The Swimmers’ Circle’s current featured poll as well as a question posed to me back in December. The poll offers the options of six of the best high school swimmers in the country right now, including Clay Youngquist, David Nolan, Kip Darmody, Nicholas Caldwell, Ryan Murphy, and Arthur Frayler. Youngquist made headlines as the Junior National champion in the 200 free, while Caldwell took the 400 free at that meet. Darmody won the B-final of the loaded 100 back at Senior Nationals, and fellow backstroker Murphy won the 200 at Juniors. Frayler is the only one on the list with senior international team experience, having swum the mile at Pan Pacs, and Nolan made headlines when he shattered three national high school records at the Pennsylvania state meet.

The most popular choice on the list is David Nolan. He swam times of 19-mid in the 50 free, 42-low in the 100 free, 45-mid in the 100 back, and 1:41-mid in the 200 IM, the latter of which would have won NCAAs. Nolan is a potential Trials finalist in up to six events, including the 100/200 free, 100/200 back, 100 fly, and 200 IM, but does he have what it takes to get over the incumbent depth on the start list? Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps loom in the 200 IM, with Eric Shanteau and Tyler Clary nipping at their heels. Nolan may have a shot at the 200 IM if Phelps chooses to skip it, but chances of that are slim in the first place. In relay events, he has been talked about as a potential 100 free contender, but, again, a 48-mid effort will be necessary to make top-six, the U.S. has been growing more and more sprint depth, with the likes of Adrian, Lochte, Phelps, Lezak, Grevers, Weber-Gale, Berens, Robison, Brunelli, Savulich, and the list goes on.

I picked Clay Youngquist as the most likely 2012 Olympian of any current high schooler. Youngquist crushed other junior-level swimmers last summer in the 200 free, swimming 1:48.44 to win the Junior Pan Pacific title. That time matched Charlie Houchin’s yearly best to make Youngquist the equal-eighth-fastest American this year. That time stood less than a second behind Dave Walters’ 1:47.78, which he swam to make the World Championships team. Ironically, Youngquist will join Walters in Texas in September, as he chases a spot on the Olympic 4x200 free relay. The competition will be tough; aside from the central core of U.S. swimmers that will swim in Shanghai (Phelps, Lochte, Vanderkaay, Berens, Dwyer, and Walters), Youngquist will face tough competition for a spot from Matt McLean, Tom Shields, and Longhorn teammate Dax Hill. However, the last few spots in a relay event are always up for grabs, and for that reason Youngquist has the best shot of any current high schooler to end up in London.

The high schooler with the best shot to earn an individual berth is Arthur Frayler. At Nationals last summer, Frayler placed fourth in the 1500 free, and he made the Pan Pacs team based on that result. He has taken huge chunks of time off his mile in recent years; at the CeraVe Invitational last January, he swam in the high-15:30s, a lifetime best. The time was down just under 15:30 by April at the Ohio State Grand Prix. In his swim at Long Course Nationals, he clocked 15:07.37, which ended 2010 as the 15th best in the world. Already this year, Frayler’s in-season times have been on par with and in some cases faster than those which he swam last year. Chad LaTourette leads the way in terms of top milers in the country, after finishing last year ranked third in 14:54.48, and Peter Vanderkaay is also a veteran who poses a strong threat. Sean Ryan, Michael Klueh, Michael McBroom, Andrew Gemmell, and Ryan Feeley are among the top challengers to those top two, and it should be another great race come Olympic Trials. However, Frayler is by far the youngest in the mix, and two more years of training under Richard Shoulberg at Germantown Academy will put him in a great spot down the line in Omaha.

Because of relays, I think Clay Youngquist is the most likely current high school swimmer to make it to London next year. However, it is even more likely that no high schooler will make the cut in Omaha next July. For instance, this summer’s World Championship team will be composed of 100% post-grads, since Nathan Adrian, Scot Robison, Scott Spann, and Conor Dwyer all exhausted their NCAA eligibility this year. Additionally, only two collegians (Adrian and Spann) and no high schoolers swam the U.S. men’s team in Beijing, a huge decrease from the six teenagers that had highlighted the team at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. That year, Michael Phelps and Aaron Peirsol both left Sydney to return to high school, while Ian Crocker, Klete Keller, and Erik Vendt went straight to their freshman years at college. Thus, a swimmer as young as Frayler, Youngquist, or Nolan on the team would be surprising, and I don’t think it will happen. Still, it remains an interesting story to watch in the lead-up to Trials next summer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Charlotte UltraSwim: Day Four

The 2011 Charlotte UltraSwim has come to a close. In addition to some intriguing individual storylines, one pervading theme this entire weekend has been the race for $20,000 grand prize for top performer of the meet. In the end, buoyed by her amazing swims in the 100 and 200 breast, Rebecca Soni won with 2283 points, followed closely by Missy Franklin (2267) and Eric Shanteau (2232). All three have been on fire this weekend, establishing themselves as top contenders in the world rankings. Tonight, however, two new swimmers moved into the top-ten in the world rankings in their respective events: Michael Phelps in the men’s 200 back and Natalie Coughlin in the women’s 100 free.

Phelps put on a show tonight in the 200 back, winning in 1:57.20 to move up to fifth in the world. Among Americans, he stands behind only Tyler Clary (1:56.61), and he moves ahead of rival Ryan Lochte (1:57.63), who took second tonight in 1:58.82. The fact that Phelps could post such a fast 200 back raises the question of why he could not do the same in the 200 free. What could Phelps be doing so that the one event on which he is not focused is his best swim of the weekend?

The only possible explanation I can come up with is that he is putting so much training emphasis on free and fly that his racing performances actually suffer. In essence, he has tired them out from training, but the times will see huge jumps forward by the end of the season. Since he is not swimming backstroke at Worlds, he has not trained too much of it, and thus it feels almost “rested.” After a mixed yet disappointing weekend of results for Phelps, this could be a good sign going forward for the greatest Olympian of all time.

Both 100 free races produced faster-than-expected results. On the ladies’ side, five of the six who will represent the U.S. in the 400 free relay in Shanghai competed, and Jessica Hardy did not only because of a hyper-extended elbow she received yesterday in the 50 free. Still, all five broke 55 seconds, an outstanding achievement for this point in the season. Coughlin’s winning time of 54.19 marks a huge improvement over her winning time of 54.86 from last year. A similar end-of-season improvement would put her in the mix for an individual medal in this event at the World Championships. Additionally, all cut time from their season bests, leading one to believe that the U.S. women could challenge the Dutch favorites in the 400 free relay in July.

While none of the men posted world-threatening times, three members of the World Champs team broke 50 seconds. This note is especially significant when considering that none broke the barrier last year. Hometown favorite Ricky Berens won in 49.46, earning him his first-ever UltraSwim victory after previously finishing third (100 free, 2009) and second (200 free, 2011). In the 100 free especially, Berens has swum more than a second faster than at this point last year, providing tangible evidence of his success at his new training base at Trojan Swim Club. Moreover, Scot Robison (49.90) and Garrett Weber-Gale (49.97) laid down exceptionally solid mid-season marks. These two will provide important depth for the 400 free relay in Shanghai, where the American men are slight favorites. Berens only made the team for the 800 free relay, so he may or may not swim the shorter relay.

SwimMAC Carolina, the host of the UltraSwim, has recently served as a point of concurrence for some of the best post-grads in swimming. Eugene Godsoe moved to Charlotte after a superb performance at the 2010 NCAAs, and this weekend he put the swimming community on notice with a series of superb swims and lifetime bests, including placing runner-up in the 100 fly. Veteran Davis Tarwater, the third-place finisher in the 200 fly at the 2008 Olympic Trials, recently returned to full training in Charlotte after an off-year, and he impressed this weekend with third-place finishes in the 100 free and 200 fly. Now, SwimMAC hosts another Olympic hopeful named Eric Knight.

Almost six years ago, Knight arrived as a walk-on to the George Mason swim team having never trained but with loads of potential. In four years, he had become the Colonial Athletic Association swimmer of the year before retiring for the first time in March of 2010. However, by September, he arrived in Charlotte out of shape for a tryout to join SwimMAC’s Team Elite. Seeing potential, however, David Marsh gave Knight a chance. Knight would swim with the George Mason team for until May to get back in shape while he finished his master’s degree before moving to Charlotte. Indeed, Knight just graduated and moved to Charlotte this week, but his teammates and coach are already impressed.

At UltraSwim, Knight swam in multiple events, finishing as high as 18th in the 200 breast. And apparently, Marsh has already begun to adjust his stroke, believing such adjustments could lead Knight as far as an Olympic berth next year. His best chances lie in the relay events, especially the 200 free, where Marsh believes there is an opening for a new generation of mid-distance stars in America. According to Nick Thoman, yet another Charlotte-based pro swimmer, with a little bit of technique work, Knight will be able to tap into his already-impressive physique and become something great before Omaha next year. I’m not sure he can make it to the Olympics, but his journey will sure be one to watch.

And now my blog series on the Charlotte UltraSwim comes to a close. As usual, this meet has been fast, furious, and exciting. Some stars shined bright while others looked dim, but the best swimming is ahead as we look forward to this summer’s World Championships in Shanghai and beyond that U.S. Nationals at Stanford. Even further beyond but already looming are next year’s Olympic Trials and London Olympics. This summer of swimming will be great, as always, and I will be here, at, blogging all along the way.

Charlotte UltraSwim: Day Three

Another session of finals in Charlotte has brought yet more massive storylines. Michael Phelps once again embarassed himself with yet another crushing loss in the 200 fly, a race that until last month, he had not lost in nine years. However, if I have learned anything in my years covering the sport, Phelps cannot be judged right now. Phelps himself doesn’t seem exceptionally upset about the loss, meaning that he may just know what he’s doing after all. Often the best just know what it takes. Take for example Cullen Jones, who took several months of a break before getting into the shape needed to beat Josh Schneider in Thursday’s swim-off. He only had swum one meet since Nationals, but he did just what he needed to do to win. As Jones proved, the best know what it takes. For that reason, I reserve judgment on Phelps, and instead I will focus on some of the more exciting storylines of the night.

The most impressive swims came in the last event, the 200 breast. On the ladies’ side, Rebecca Soni (2:23.33) and Amanda Beard (2:26.24) established solid markers for this point in the season, while Eric Shanteau came in at 2:10.95 to win the men’s 200 breast. While he fell short of his 2009 suited meet record of 2:09.71 and even his winning time from last year (2:10.59), he showed once more that his move to the Trojan Swim Club in L.A. is paying off. Tonight, he commented on Twitter about having more speed and being able to take his races out quicker at a lesser expenditure of energy. This over-expenditure was duly noted in his lackluster swims last summer, where he ended up using too much energy to try – and fail – to get out quickly and not have his usual closing speed.

Additionally, this swim puts Shanteau where he needs to be internationally; Shanteau now ranks eighth in the world, but third among non-Japanese swimmers (only two of whom will swim at Worlds). Shanteau did not make the top lists of international swimmers in the 200 breast last year, but tonight’s swim serves as a warning: don’t count out Eric Shanteau. Additionally, look out for another fast swim from Shanteau in tomorrow’s 200 IM, where he faces star power in Ryan Lochte and Markus Rogan. Just as is the case with the 200 breast, Shanteau has international potential in his old signature event, the 200 IM.

Many had anticipated the showdown between Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin in the women’s 100 back. After Franklin’s huge time drop in yesterday’s 200 free, there had been talk of her dropping into the 59-low range. However, it was not to be, as the veteran got a win on the youngster tonight. Coughlin won in 1:00.02 to claim seventh in the world, followed closely by Franklin (1:00.22) and young stars Rachel Bootsma (1:00.33) and Elizabeth Pelton (1:00.40), all well under Pelton’s old meet record of 1:00.64. Coughlin and Franklin swam right next to each other in lanes 2 and 3, and one key difference was obvious in their races; Coughlin came up a bodylength ahead of Franklin off both walls. Still, Franklin made up enough ground to the point where if the race was 103 meters, the win would have easily been hers. The fact that her details such as starts and underwaters need so much work is simply exciting for her future potential in the 100 back.

On the men’s side, national champion David Plummer took down hometown favorite Nick Thoman in the men’s 100 back, 54.04 to 54.15.. Plummer moved into a tie with Greece’s Aristeidis Grigoriadis for ninth in the world, while Thoman is ranked seventh at 53.93 from the Indy Grand Prix. Thus, despite the retirement of Aaron Peirsol, the U.S. still has five of the top thirteen 100 backstrokers in the world, none having swum rested, including Lochte (54.08), Matt Grevers (54.08), and Phelps (54.14). Most interestingly, though, was how the race played out in the water. Plummer went out fast, in 25.80, before fading with a second 50 split of 28.24. Thoman, meanwhile sat back in third at 26.61 before turning on the jets with a 27.54 homecoming split. Clearly, the effects of hard training has forced adjustments in race strategy. Still, all the times are impressive as the two men look forward to the World Champs this summer.

As previously mentioned, Cullen Jones defeated Josh Schneider in a one-on-one swim-off Thursday to secure his spot on the World Champs team. The pair clocked times of 22.24 and 22.28, respectively. After the loss, Schneider claimed to be was “mopey” and failed to respond especially well to his first taste of adversity in swimming, after a constant string of successes. Tonight, however, he got back on track with a victory. Too close to call the whole way between Schneider, Jones, and their SwimMAC teammate Nick Brunelli, Schneider “toasted” Jones by one one-hundredth of a second for the win, 22.51 to 22.52, with Brunelli just behind at 22.56. Of course, both Jones and Schneider had shaved and rested some for their swim-off, so the time is perhaps best for the veteran Brunelli.

Afterwards, Schneider described the huge confidence boost he received from this victory. After the race, he had a huge smile on his face, and he seemed far more alive in the post-race interview than he did following his loss to Jones on Thursday. Even though Schneider will not be going to Worlds, he now feels even more the will and need to be the best, and the results of this weekend will lead to more successes for Josh Schneider down the line. He will be a big go-to man for the U.S. sprint team for a while, and his minor setback this weekend will only lead to bigger and better things at this summer’s World University Games or next year’s Olympic Trials or down the line.

Following the racing tonight, Markus Rogan lit up Twitter. He relayed information through UltraSwim2011, the meet directors, looking forward to his 200 IM tomorrow and complementing coach David Marsh on putting on such an awesome meet. From personal experience, I know that UltraSwim is indeed amazing and a great topic for swim geeking! Later, he claimed on his own account that “age makes me slower but let’s me keep going longer. I just can't peak in a minute anymore.” Essentially, Rogan believes that at his relatively old age, he needs to use a challenging race to put forth a great effort and cannot simply depend on natural talent anymore. Thus, he has been much more successful as of late in the 200 free and 200 IM than the 100 back, in which he finished sixth tonight in 55.87, a swim he described as “terrible.” Wise words of advice from a swimming legend.

Finally tonight, I conclude with an excerpt from The Screaming Viking’s latest edition of “Gutter Talk” over at The Swim Brief. He posted in response to Jones’ swim-off victory on Thursday

"I just lost a lot of money. Man, I suck at picking winners." David R.- Self-Proclaimed 'King of the Swim Geeks'

For the record, I did not actually bet money on the result, but I can see myself losing money on a failed prediction. Such is the nature of swim geeking!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Charlotte UltraSwim: Day Two

Tonight at the Charlotte UltraSwim, we saw some amazing swims, while others did not live up to expectations. Missy Franklin continued her now-year-long coming out party in defeating America’s World Championship representatives in the 200 free, while Rebecca Soni and Jessica Hardy lit up the water in the 100 breast. Their Trojan teammate Eric Shanteau clocked an impressive time to win the 100 breast after three of his teammates posted a 1-2-3 finish over Ryan Lochte in the 200 free. Finally, a few surprising performances showed who could really break onto the U.S. scene in the upcoming years.

Franklin won the 200 free in 1:57.66 tonight, breaking Dagny Knutson’s meet record of 1:57.83 set last year. More significantly, she took more than a second off her lifetime best! Her old top time had stood at 1:58.75 from the Indy Grand Prix in March, where she took second to Katie Hoff (1:57.97). Now, this young swimmer – the only one younger than me on the National Team – has made yet another statement of intent. Last summer, she failed to break 1:59 in the 200 free and finished tenth at Nationals, thus missing the 800 free relay. By this point, any relay this summer without Franklin will be surprising. That race will be close, but the Americans have a strong shot; American record-holder Allison Schmitt took second today in 1:58.11, nearly five seconds faster than the 2:02.94 she swam to finish 13th last year. Dana Vollmer took nearly two seconds off her season-best. Things are certainly looking up for this squad.

Things look even better for Franklin. Having swum best times in the 200 free as well as both backstrokes at the Indy Grand Prix, she could be on track to crush those backstroke times as well. Already, she is ranked fourth in the world in the 100 back at 59.56 and third in the 200 at 2:07.97. All of the times in front of her come from various worldwide national championships. She has the potential tomorrow to approach Aya Terakawa’s world leading time in the 100 (59.17) and perhaps even Belinda Hocking’s 2:06.88 in the 200. What has become clear, however, is that Missy Franklin is on the world scene, and she is here to stay.

Rebecca Soni did it again in tonight’s 100 breast. She clocked 1:05.57, the fastest time in the world this year. She has only been faster once without the aid of a techsuit – when she won Pan Pacs in 1:04.93. She just won’t stop, and I expect another outstanding performance in tomorrow’s 200 breast. Speaking of, that world record of 2:20.12 held by Annamay Pierse has been around longer than expected already.

However, Soni’s teammate Jessica Hardy provided the real treat; just as was the case at last week’s Maria Lenk Trophy in Rio, she stayed within a half second. Her time of 1:05.90 marks the first time she has broken into the 1:05 range. In fact, it is her first below 1:06 with the exception of her world record of 1:04.45. She hasn’t beaten Soni since Olympic Trials, but finally, she is back to the best in the 100 breast. Amanda Beard will swim at Worlds rather than Hardy, showing more of America’s breaststroke strength. Beard, meanwhile, clocked 1:08.46 tonight, a superb mid-season outing for her in her first race since Pan Pacs.

Eric Shanteau also won the 100 breast tonight, clocking 1:01.49, moving to just behind Mark Gangloff (1:01.43) as the second-fastest American this year. His new training base in L.A. has clearly been beneficial for former Texas-trained swimmer; he has found speed he has never seen without the aid of high-tech swimsuits. Look for an awesome 200 breast tomorrow; this year, only two non-Japanese swimmers have broken 2:11, and Shanteau could very well become number three.

Meanwhile, fellow Longhorn-turned-Trojan Ricky Berens looked more than solid with a second place effort of 1:49.25 in the 200 free. A few spots back, Florida-trained Conor Dwyer clocked a 1:49.56 for fifth place. This time is almost a second faster than he swam at this meet last year. Thus, with a best time of 1:47.35 from last summer, he could clock as low as the 1:45-range on a relay split this year. Dwyer had his NCAA hopes cut short by illness, but the time has come for him to make a mark internationally. The first step will be his spot on America’s 800 free relay this summer in Shanghai, where he has the potential to earn a finals bid. While veterans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte swam less than stellar races tonight, the performances of Berens and Dwyer highlight just how good America remains in the men’s 200 free.

Phelps, meanwhile, performed well down from expectations tonight. As quoted by Mike Gustafson, his coach Bob Bowman said tonight, “I can’t make [Phelps] do what he doesn’t want to do.” More to come on this extremely flat performance later in the weekend when we see where Phelps stands in the 200 fly and 200 back.

Finally, the most surprising swim of the night: Eugene Godsoe’s 50.39 100 free relay lead-off. Godsoe made splashes last year when he won the 100 back at NCAAs and took third in both the 200 back and 100 fly. He did not swim especially well at Nationals, only placing 11th in the 100 back, but he stepped up to the plate today at UltraSwim. First, he used a strong second length to take second in a tight 100 fly in 53.22, just behind Tyler McGill (53.15 – ironically the exact same time he swam at this meet last year) and ahead of Tim Phillips (53.26). In comparison, Godsoe’s previous best time before today was 53.96.

Later on in the session, he led off the winning 400 free relay for SwimMAC in 50.39, obliterating his former best time of 51.11. When watching, I thought one of his more celebrated teammates like Josh Schneider or Nick Brunelli took the lead-off leg; I did not expect nearly so much from someone so inexperienced. However, we know must look at Godsoe with an outside shot to get on the 400 free relay in 2012. Out of nowhere, he has come into his own with a real shot. In the short-term, however, look for a great race with teammate Nick Thoman, Olympic silver medalist Matt Grevers, National champion David Plummer, and 200 back Olympic champ Ryan Lochte in the 100 back tomorrow, a race that could once again shape up as the race of the meet.

Charlotte UltraSwim: Day One

Most thought that tonight would be Josh Schneider’s night. Almost all of the experts I talked to picked him. At The Swim Brief’s Facebook page, all three posted in separate comments that Schneider would win. All the polls around the internet had Schneider pegged to come out on top. Personally, I thought Schneider would win. I said on my Facebook page two hours before the race that he would post a time around 22.0 to win. After what I had seen from both so far this year, I did not believe either had enough time to come down to being fully tapered for this showdown. Nonetheless, the two teammates would square off on even terms.

What a showdown it was. Like I predicted, neither man bettered their shared 21.97 from Irvine last summer, but Jones blazed out on the start and first 25 and held off Schneider down the stretch. Schneider swam his 50 with no breath and made a push down the stretch, but even a great finish could not bring him over the top of his more veteran teammate. Jones won in 22.24, followed by Schneider in 22.28. Jones moved to 11th in the world, while Schneider is tied for 15th. As Jones indicated in an interview, both have further to come down in training in looking towards their big meet this summer. While Jones will go the Worlds in Shanghai, Schneider defaults onto the World University Games team, where he will compete in the 50 free and most likely 400 free relay.

One of the interesting storylines through the remainder of the meet will be how fast the two men, both shaved and on some rest, will swim. The normal 50 free event could be especially interesting, where Schneider could beat Jones, and both could swim faster. With the absence of Fred Bousquet and the Auburn sprint crew, the two should be the class of that field. In the 100 free, the two men will be in a hotly-contested race with Matt Grevers, Scot Robison, Garrett Weber-Gale, Bobby Savulich, Simon Burnett, and Ricky Berens, the last of whom swam under 50 three times last week at the Maria Lenk Trophy in Rio. Their rest will show in that field, and I could see one of them walking away on top.

Tonight, Chloe Sutton put on a show in the women’s 1,500 free. She clocked 16:16.11 to claim ninth in the world. She swam her last mile at this meet one year ago, where she took second to Emily Brunemann in 16:21.12. She also just missed her lifetime best of 16:12.56 set wearing a polyurethane suit at the World Championships in Rome, where she finished eighth. However, perhaps the most significant information from the swim came out on her Facebook page shortly after: “Swam a super easy 16:16.11 and won tonight. My heart rate was probably about 120 the whole way until I threw down a 1:00 coming home. So excited for the rest of the meet!”

This news hints to me that not only does her mile have the potential to be much faster, but her other distances do as well. If she swims to her potential and normal race strategy in the 400 and 800, she could approach her lifetime best times of 4:05.19 and 8:24.51, respectively. If she does that (and not simply swim to win as she often does at these meets), she could be in the running for the $20,000 grand prize to be awarded to the top performer at the end of the meet. She will need to maximize points in her weaker events, namely the 200 free. For example, if she can earn points as pole setter (top prelim qualifier), that would provide a significant bonus, all of which she will need. But this could be another lucrative weekend for the 400 free Pan Pacific champ.

One of the most hyped-up races of the meet is tomorrow’s 100 breast for women. Rebecca Soni is the World and Pan Pacific Champion, Olympic silver medalist, and owner of the fastest time in the world the last two years. She has not lost a race at the 100 or 200 breast long course since the World Championships in Rome. However, world record-holder Jessica Hardy has been making a strong push as of late in the 100 breast. Since officially being cleared to swim in the London Olympics (provided she qualifies) last month, she ripped up her competition at the Maria Lenk Trophy in Rio, posting the top time in the world in the 50 breast (30.17) and second-fastest in the 100 (1:06.13), finishing second to Soni in the later race. She also clocked the fifth-fastest time in the world in the 50 free (24.80) the eighth-fastest in the 100 free (54.28) for good measure, winning both.

Hardy has not beaten Soni in a long course 100 breast since Olympic Trials. Despite the fact that Hardy did not qualify to contest the 100 breast in Shanghai, many feel that this could change soon. Both clocked absolutely phenomenal times in Brazil, both faster than Olympic gold medalist Leisel Jones swam at her Nationals. This week, both could be faster, as Hardy looks to break into the 1:05 range for the first time ever in a textile suit. I will predict we see Hardy out first to the wall, but Soni will edge her at the finish. Both will hit 1:05s, with Soni taking down her meet record of 1:05.90 set last year, in what was arguably the most impressive performance of the meet. For more good measure, NCAA Champion (and Canadian World Championship qualifier) Jillian Tyler as well 1996 Olympic and 2003 World silver medalist Amanda Beard will both be among the competitors and challengers. Notably, Beard does occupy the second spot in the 100 breast for Shanghai.

Each race tomorrow brings a number of interesting storylines. Missy Franklin, now 16, will try to take down World bronze medalist Dana Vollmer in the women’s 200 free, while Vollmer has her sights set on improving upon her fourth-ranked 57.50 in the 100 fly from the Michigan Grand Prix. Olympic champ Michael Phelps faces a tough field in the men’s 200 free, including Ryan Lochte, Peter Vanderkaay, Markus Rogan, Conor Dwyer, Scot Robison, Dominik Meichtry, and hometown favorite Ricky Berens. Mark Gangloff and Eric Shanteau renew their rivalry in the men’s 100 breast, while Tim Phillips will face a hard-charging Tyler McGill at the finish of the men’s 100 fly. World Champion Katinka Hosszu and American Olympian Elizabeth Beisel highlight the field for the women’s 400 IM, while University of North Carolina star Tyler Harris tops the psych sheet in the 400 IM. Should be quite a day of racing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Charlotte UltraSwim: Day Zero

Hours after the completion of the 10k Open Water race at Pan Pacs, I wrote that this blog would be less active for the ensuing months. The next day, I began an extremely intensive course load for my junior year in high school. That was nine months ago. Since then, we witnessed Ryan Lochte making magic happen at the World Short Course Championships in Dubai and the Cal Bears sweeping the NCAA Championships. Naoya Tomita stepped up to defeat Kosuke Kitajima in the 200 breast at Japanese Nationals to establish himself as arguably the best in the distance in the world, and Mark Dylla overcame his demons to finally win his deserved NCAA title in the 200 fly. Since then, I became a high school state champion (the slowest in the nation in the 500 free) and made changes in my life and grew up. But one thing hasn’t changed: my passion for swimming lives on; I am the swim geek, and I’m back.

What a better time to return to full-time blogging than the eve of this year’s Charlotte UltraSwim. Last year, I had the privilege of covering that meet from the pool deck and really experiencing the vibes of a professional swim meet. While I am not making the trip up to Charlotte this year, I will be posting blogs this weekend to give my perspective on what is going down in Charlotte. There are some massive storylines, from the continued Phelps vs. Lochte showdowns; Missy Franklin’s rising star clashing with Natalie Coughlin, Elizabeth Pelton, and Elizabeth Beisel; Jessica Hardy on fire once again; Rebecca Soni still superior; and the Charlotte homecomings of Ricky Berens and Scot Robison, among others. However, nothing beats the prospect of tomorrow’s one-on-one dual for a spot in Shanghai between SwimMAC teammates Cullen Jones and Josh Schneider.

Everyone knows the story. In case you don’t, I wrote a long article today describing everything that has led up to this final climax. Swimming. Legal disputes. Controversy. And more swim-offs. This story has it all, even some team drama. In an article published on the New York Times’ website today, Nick Brunelli, yet another SwimMAC elite sprinter, commented on the trash talk taking place between the two at practice. “…they weren’t joking. They meant it.” The article goes on to quote SwimMAC assistant (and former University of Georgia great) Peter Verhoef: “Unfortunately, it’s created a situation there where they each feel a certain dislike for the other person.”

Both men are confident that they can win. Each has come out and given their reasons. Schneider cites Jones’ poor practice attendance over the last year (some reports indicate he was completely out of the water from September thru December), while Jones believes he has the mental edge, partially acquired from defeating Garrett Weber-Gale in 2009 in the exact same situation. It will be one heck of a showdown and one with drastic impacts on U.S. National Team rosters. (If Schneider loses, he defaults onto the World University Games team, whereas a Schneider victory would give that spot to Josh Daniels.) Regardless of outcome, Verhoef and any fan of USA Swimming and SwimMAC would “…like them to come out of this with a hungry attitude, a feeling of let’s get back to work and push each other to be the top two in the world.”

Also tomorrow, swimmers take to the pool in the non-Olympic distance races. Each field is led by a finalist from the World Champs in Rome. Chloe Sutton, the eighth-place finisher in Rome in the women’s 1500, and eight-place finisher in the men’s 800, Peter Vanderkaay, will each swim this race as a warm-up for their signature events later in the meet. While neither is likely to have much rest, all indications point to fast swimming in Charlotte, as is always the case. Another important storyline to keep an eye on is the points system, especially since Vanderkaay walked away with the top prize of $20,000 in 2010. Unlike last year, in which swimmers earned points for the top-three places in finals, pole setter (top time after prelims), and meet records, this year’s system is based on the FINA points table, so big points are awarded for the fastest swims relative to the rest of the world in an event. A swimmer’s top two events count towards points, with bonus points awarded for any event win, pole-setting, and meet records. Should be quite a competition on that front as well.