The FINA World Championships ended just two days ago in Shanghai, but America’s best swimmers are already assembled at Stanford University for the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships. Five days of prelims/finals racing await the top swimmers in the country, with slots for the Pan American Games and World Junior Championships up for grabs. Right now I will take a look at the six National titles up for grabs tonight and who will be in the mix to earn those titles.
The meet kicks off with the women’s 100 fly, and Dana Vollmer is in the field. Last week, she clocked an American record-time of 56.47 and a relay split of 55.74. She also won the world title. Basically, she’s the overwhelming favorite. She clocked 57.68 in prelims and said on Twitter today that her goal for finals is a sub-57 swim. However, Olympic silver medalist Christine Magnuson is the three-time defending champion and will not go down without a fight. Magnuson did not swim especially well at Worlds or in prelims, so look for Olympian Elaine Breeden to challenge, as well as Western Kentucky’s Claire Donahue, who earned the second seed this morning in 58.91.
The men’s 400 free should be a doozy tonight. Peter Vanderkaay has won this title three of the last four years, but he scratched out of this race after finishing fourth at World Champs last week. In his absence, Charlie Houchin led prelims with an impressive 3:48.03, faster than he swam at the World Champs last week. Matt McLean and Matt Patton both broke 3:50 as well, while defending runner-up Michael Klueh looms in fourth place. Look for Klueh to put the burners on tonight and make a run at Houchin. This final has some young blood in it, with the likes of Jackson Wilcox, Michael McBroom, Sean Ryan, Evan Pinion, Andrew Gemmell, and Connor Jaeger.
Katie Hoff and Elizabeth Beisel stand well clear of the pack in the women’s 200 IM after prelims, but the star of last week’s Worlds is in the field as well: Missy Franklin. Hoff and Beisel clocked respective times of 2:11.68 and 2:11.85, while Franklin won the slowest of the seeded heats in 2:14.80. I expect all three to be in the 2:10-range tonight, maybe better. Also watch Stanford’s Julia Smit, who put together a fourth-ranked 2:13.33 in prelims, but she has a lifetime best of 2:09.37 from the suit era. Two more World teamers, Morgan Scroggy and Teresa Crippen, qualified for this final, but neither impressed last week in Shanghai or made any championship finals.
For me, the most anticipated race of the night and possibly of the meet is the men’s 100 breast. 2004 Olympic silver medalist Brendan Hansen is back, and he proved it in prelims with a top-ranked time of 1:00.17, the top time by an American since techsuits were banned two years ago. In fact, no American other than Hansen has ever been faster in a jammer. He should win tonight, and anything under 1:00 will set him up very well for next year. Meanwhile, Mike Alexandrov qualified second in 1:00.70, much faster than his 1:01.41 at Worlds which left him 25th, while Marcus Titus finished third in prelims in 1:00.80. American record-holder Eric Shanteau also made this final, while World Champs finals Mark Gangloff scratched.
Four members of the World Championships team made the final in the women’s 400 free: Chloe Sutton, Allison Schmitt, Elizabeth Beisel, and Dagny Knutson. Sutton finished ninth in this event in Shanghai before finishing fourth in the 800 free, while Schmitt took sixth in the 200 free. These two should enter as favorites for tonight. The pair finished third and second, respectively, behind Katie Hoff in last year’s final. Ashley Steenvoorden clocked a lifetime best time of 4:09.16 to lead all qualifiers into the final, but expect Sutton to pick up the pace and win tonight’s final in a 4:06.
The men’s 400 IM will bring the night to a close. Andrew Gemmell qualified for his second final of the night with a top-ranked time of 4:18.33, followed closely by Conor Dwyer (4:18.75) and Robert Margalis (4:19.01). Jack Brown and Tyler Harris also got under the 4:10 barrier to qualify fourth and fifth, respectively, while NCAA Champion Bill Cregar qualified ninth to earn a berth in the ten-man final. Most of the contenders are known for their back half push in the breaststroke and freestyle legs, so this race won’t be decided until the last 50. Look for Austen Thompson to take the race out hard and try to hang on.
Also tonight, the pros from SwimMAC Carolina take to the blocks in the men’s 400 free relay. Line-ups have not yet been released, but look for the likes of Nick Brunelli, Josh Schneider, Cullen Jones, Davis Tarwater, Eugene Godsoe, and Tim Phillips to make a splash. Should be an exciting first night of competition in Palo Alto! Check out live results from the meet here or here, and you can watch live video at USASwimming.org and also at Universal Sports.