Friday, June 29, 2012

U.S. Olympic Trials: Day Five Prelims

Yeah, the CenturyLink Center looks cool for those of you watching at home on the USA Swimming webcast and on NBC. Well, you haven't seen anything. This place is phenomenal! On the inside of the arena, it feels like a pumped-up and crowded swim meet. Outside of the pool area, you realize that we are inside a multi-purpose arena. Junk food lines the walls as you walk between the different sessions. I haven't gotten a chance to explore much yet, but I will. I've run into a few big-name athletes and coaches, which of course is always a thrill for me. Generally, restrictions seemed fairly relaxed for prelims, but I expect that to change for finals. I've been here two hours now, and I've already heard about what I'm in store for tonight. I cannot wait.

We started things off with the women's 100 free, where Dana Vollmer led the way ahead of Jessica Hardy and Allison Schmitt. Margo Geer provided some thrills for the crowd when she went out under American record pace and ended up fourth. We saw another rough morning, though, from Natalie Coughlin. The 11-time Olympic medalist faded down the stretch of her heat to finish third in 54.99 and ninth overall. Her goal of a fourth Olympics remains alive, but she must step up in the finals to ensure a place in the final. I expect a 54.2 or so to be more than enough to earn a spot in London, and under normal conditions, I would believe Coughlin is more than capable. This meet, though, she has struggled.

Tyler Clary led qualifiers headed into the last heat of the men's 200 back, but much to the delight of the crowd, Ryan Lochte did what he does best and exploded off the last wall to take the top seed. Lochte and Clary remain the clear favorites, especially after Matt Grevers decided to scratch tonight's semi-final to focus on the men's 100 free. Lochte, Clary, and Ryan Murphy all looked easy and relaxed for the majority of their swims, so exppect them to kick it up a notch tonight.

Amanda Beard got the crowd going in the women's 200 breast when she won the second-to-last heat, but her 2:27.07 fell well short of the 2:24.95 that Micah Lawrence had established in the previous heat. Still, Beard had little head-to-head competition in her own heat, and I won't count her out until the final. After all these years, Amanda Beard is a racer, and she gets the crowd going hard. One heat later, Rebecca Soni came out and blitzed everyone else with a 2:23.11. She really turned on the gas the last 15 meters, again, much to the delight of the crowd. No one will beat her here. In the 100, she is good; in the 200, she is unstoppable.

Soni swimming away from the field in the 200 breast
Every time Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are in the same event, they find a way to swim next to each other. So nothing's new in the 200 IM, where Phelps and Lochte grabbed the second and fourth seeds, respectively. Just like we saw in the 200 free semi-final, I expect a cat-and-mouse race in which neither gets more than a few millimeters in front or behind the other. Conor Dwyer led the way in 1:59.11, and he should be able to firmly establish himself as top-five swimmer in the world in the event. Austin Surhoff also broke 2:00, and Peter Vanderkaay surprised the crowd when he pushed Lochte in their heat, taking the lead at the 150 before Lochte got his hand on the wall in front of his training partner by less than a tenth of a second. Interesting to see if Vanderkaay decides to swim this event tonight with the 1500 free coming up on Sunday.

Lochte and Vanderkaay Head-to-Head in the 200 IM
Much of the crowd emptied after Lochte finished his heat, but those that stayed lit up the arena during a swim-off for first alternate in the women's 200 breast. Allie Skekely led the whole way and held off a furious charge from Gisselle Kohoyda on the last lap. Skekely, swimming in the old FSII recordbreaker, won in 2:30.03, faster than her 2:30.28 from the prelims, while Kohoyda came in at 2:30.72. Skekely then signed autographs afterwards to the delight of those in the prime seats behind the blocks. What a way to end the morning session!

Allie Skekely Signing Autographs After Winning the Big Swim-Off
I just wrote my prelims blog hours ago, and nothing has changed regarding my thoughts for tonight's swims. Hard to figure out who WON'T be among the top-six in the 100 free; those relay events are always a toss up, and I expect the same tonight. Here we go:

Men's 200 Breast
1. Eric Shanteau
2. Brendan Hansen

Women's 200 Fly
1. Cammile Adams
2. Kathleen Hersey

Men's 100 Free
1. Nathan Adrian
2. Matt Grevers
3. Jimmy Feigen
4. Garrett Weber-Gale
5. Ricky Berens
6. Jason Lezak
Spotted: Dara Torres

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