Saturday, June 30, 2012

U.S. Olympic Trials: Day Five Finals

If you're reading this blog, I'll assume you saw what I saw at tonight's finals in Omaha: some really awesome racing and a big upset in the men's 200 breast (which I foreshadowed). I think the winners of each event shape up as medal contenders, though probably not the favorites right now. The American 400 free relay, meanwhile, looks in trouble with a relatively-slow final tonight. Don't get me wrong, I think Nathan Adrian will drop time from that swim – as he did in his progression from Nationals to Pan Pacs two years ago – and I think we will see some massive relay performances. Australia, though, has easily claimed the favorite title headed into the Olympics.

More on that relay battle coming up. Let me share some of my thoughts from the buzzing CenturyLink Center tonight. When we started things off in the men's 200 breast, I continually shared my belief that Eric Shanteau would not only make the team, but he would take home the win. Well, with Scott Weltz and Clark Burckle coming through, Shanteau found himself shockingly locked out in a surprisingly-slow time. You could see Shanteau's own shock. He officially received his Olympic team medal tonight for his second-place finish in the 100 breast, and he sounded dejected in a deck interview with Summer Sanders, a far cry from the elation he showed after the 100.

Up next, we saw semi-finals of the women's 100 free and men's 200 back. The entire pool deck felt the pressure of Natalie Coughlin finishing sixth in her semi-final and realizing how close she came to her Olympic dream coming to a crashing halt. She faces a really deep field tomorrow, but she has the talent and mental fortitude to step up and seize her final opportunity. You don't give a swimmer like Coughlin that many chances to make an Olympic team without her capitalizing on one. Expect her to finish in the top six.

Next up, Tyler Clary and Ryan Lochte picked up middle lanes for tomorrow's 200 back final, and they took incredibly different paths to those lanes. Clary consistently outsplit his opponents in route to lane five tomorrow. Clary picked up some major confidence with a second place-finish in the 200 fly last night, and he showed off that confidence as he accepted his official invitation to the Olympics, pumping his fists to the crowd, in sharp contrast to, for example, Shanteau. Lochte, meanwhile, played cool through the first 150 and turned more than a second behind Clary's pace at the 150. The entire arena, though, knew what came next. Lochte zoomed off his final turn with his patented underwater kicks, and the arena burst to life. Lochte will swim the final from lane four.

We didn't see any incredibly fast times or statements sent in the next two finals, but we sure saw exciting races. Everyone in the arena knew Cammile Adams had set herself up for a monster race, and she battled down the stretch to take down Kathleen Hersey. Hersey, meanwhile, showed some grit to hang on for second after what had been a rough week with a third place-finish in the 100 fly and missing the final of the 200 free.

As with Adams, everyone knew Nathan Adrian would win the 100 free, but beyond that, no one knew who would take the spots. In a big surprise, Cullen Jones put up his lifetime best in a textile suit to get second in 48.46 and grab an individual spot. Much to the delight of the crowd, Jason Lezak did rocket to get into sixth place, and he got some nice recognition for that. America loves its Olympic hero four years down the line from one of the biggest swims in American Olympic history. However, some have raised question if Lezak actually gets the spot with Michael Phelps a near lock to swim the relay and another possibility in Ryan Lochte. I have heard nothing official, though.

The last two semi-finals of the night showcased veterans and newcomers trying to make their mark. In the women's 200 breast, Rebecca Soni posted one of her best back-halves in years on her way to a 2:21.45 swim, the top time in the world this year. Looming, though, is Micah Lawrence, who posted a 2:24.12 tonight to set herself up as a favorite to advance to London behind Soni. Soni won't lose tomorrow night, and she could finally threaten the world record and the 2:20 mark. Lawrence, meanwhile, keeps chugging along in hopes of making it to her first Olympics.

Phelps and Lochte went at it again in the 200 IM semi-finals. In a semi-final – i.e., not a final – 14,000 stood up and cheered for the two greatest in the world. Lochte won in 1:55.51 after completely turning off the gas once again the last 15 meters, while Phelps came in at 1:56.32. Did they need to swim that fast? No. But they raced each other tonight, and they will battle again tomorrow from lanes four and five. No one else made the final out of the first semi-final heat, but Conor Dwyer established himself as the clear choice for third with a 1:58.32 swim to win the second semi-final. Dwyer will swim fast in the final, and he could get down into the 1:57-mid range or even faster. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of him making the top-five in the world. But in the end, that won't matter. Dwyer will remain number three domestically.

Tomorrow's prelims should be interesting with the fast-twitches ruling the pool in the men's 50 free and 100 fly, while we will get a good look at the competitive field taking shape in the women's 200 back, and one final look at some of America's stars in the women's 800 free. Chloe Sutton already made the team in the 400 free, but Kate Ziegler and Katie Ledecky only have one shot, and I look forward to watching them for the first time. Also, Katie Hoff will swim the 800 after a very disappointing meet in which sickness derailed her hopes in the 200 and 400. Hoff apparently feels much better, and I look forward to watching her swim for the first time tomorrow.

Elliott Keefer finished fifth in the 200 breast tonight after spending a year training with David Marsh at SwimMAC.
Nathan Adrian enters the CenturyLink Center in style.
Teresa Crippen warms up before a fourth-place finish in the 200 fly.

1 comment:

  1. Good reporting, David - keep those active verbs coming!