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 TheSwimGeek.com, blogging all along the way.