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.