Friday, May 13, 2011

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.

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