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.