Friday, June 29, 2012

U.S. Olympic Trials: Day Four Finals

Right now, I'm coming to you from 34,000 feet southwest of St. Louis, Missouri. Yep, that's right; I am on my way to Omaha and the fifth day of the Olympic Trials! But first, how about some thoughts about day four. Honestly, the finishes we saw were quite predictable. Allison Schmitt is one of the favorites for gold in the women's 200 free after becoming the second-fastest performer all-time in event last night. While Missy Franklin fared far worse timewise than most expected, she still got herself another individual swim, and she has tons of room for improvement as she chases a medal in London.

The favorite American women's 800 free relay remains a slight Olympic favorite, but they lost their tight grip on the title over the last few days. Schmitt's incredible improvement and Franklin's clutch relay potential keep the Americans up front, while no one can doubt that Dana Vollmer will come through when she needs to in London. The problem for the Americans comes on the fourth leg. Without Dagny Knutson and Katie Hoff, Lauren Perdue, Shannon Vreeland, and Alyssa Anderson all need to provide some needed improvement if the Americans want to win gold. Australia looms with the likes of Kylie Palmer, Bronte Barratt, and Stephanie Rice leading the way, and 1:57s from down under fill the world rankings. China, meanwhile, always comes to swim in the 800 relay. Definitely worth keeping an eye in the rearview mirror for the American women.

I predicted an ugly win for Michael Phelps in the 200 fly last night; he won, but I'm not sure I'd call 1:53.65 "ugly." No one else has ever beaten that time in a textile suit. After the race, Phelps predicted that the time would not win him Olympic gold, but he might not be correct. Takeshi Matsuda and the rest of the world keep getting stuck on the 1:54-low mark. Phelps owns the 200 fly, and he will enter the Olympic pool as the big favorite for a third straight gold. Tyler Clary, meanwhile, showed some serious heart in running down Bobby Bollier for the second spot on the team. After the disappointment of a third-place finish in the 400 IM, an event in which he had won two World championship silver medals, you can't help but feel happy for the new Olympian.

The 200 IM panned out about how I expected in terms of strategy. Elizabeth Pelton took it out hard – too hard, it would turn out – and ended up succumbing to the emotionally-driven charge of world record-holder Ariana Kukors. Caitlin Leverenz, meanwhile, locked up a spot on the team, but she has to be disappointed in her time. She swam a 2:09.39 at last year's Winter Nationals, almost a second faster than her 2:10.22 last night, and she had also been under 2:10 earlier this year. Kukors also had a faster time to her credit, and she won bronze at the Worlds last year in 2:09.12. Pelton, even, swam a 2:10.02 last December. While we can't be impressed with the times, fans of USA Swimming know there is tremendous room for improvement, and I would not be surprised in the least to see one of the two on the medal stand.

In semi-final action, Nathan Adrian claimed the favorite title for the 100 free, and just as was the case for three years at NCAAs, Jimmy Feigen will be hot on his heels. I do worry, though, about the 400 free relay. Australia now has the favorite title locked up headed into London, and the French always pose a threat, and Russia is a wildcard. The field contains plenty of depth, but we haven't seen the 47s required to make a big impact internationally. Adrian has that potential, no question, and expect to see his first sub-48 clocking in the final. Garrett Weber-Gale, the Trials winner four years ago, put up a monster 47.3 relay split in Shanghai, but he has not indicated yet that he can swim that fast here in Omaha.

Matt Grevers intended to scratch the final to focus on the 200 back, but he changed his mind last-minute. Grevers must think he can put down a big performance, and we should expect that after his game-changing 52.08 in the 100 back. Ryan Lochte, meanwhile, scratched the final, so we will have to wait and see if he ends up on the 400 free relay come London. In his stead, 36 year old Jason Lezak gets one last shot at Olympic glory. Lezak, out in lane eight, will try to get on his fourth Olympic team tonight and contribute more clutch relay swims for the U.S. Like I said yesterday, past beneficiaries of Lochte scratches (Adrian and Grevers) have all gone on to make impacts in the final, so we will see what happens this evening.

Cammile Adams has rolled through qualifying of the 200 fly so far to set herself up as a slight favorite headed into the final. Already ranked sixth in the world with a 2:06.76 from back in January, Adams could make her first Olympic team tonight. Don' t count out my pick for the win, Kathleen Hersey, who looks to refocus and make her second Olympic team tonight. Hersey has consistently been in the mix in this event domestically over the past five years, and I expect nothing different tonight. I expect that the battle will come from the center four or five lanes, with Pan Pac silver medalist Teresa Crippen and 2007 World silver medalist Kim Vandenberg both with realistic shots at London, while Kelsey Floyd has the spoiler role from out in lane two.

Also tonight we have the final of the men's 200 breast, and I expect the three men that dominated the second semi-final last night to do the same. Clark Burckle is the top qualifier, followed by Eric Shanteau and Brendan Hansen. On the other side of Hansen, though, will be Elliott Keefer, a U.S. World Championship representative in the event, and Scott Weltz could provide an upset from lane six. The big three, though, are the class of the field, and I expect Hansen to take the race out hard, and while Shanteau might catch him on the back end, Hansen has his 200 confidence back to take on anyone in the world. Look for a 2:08 out of Shanteau tonight, with Hansen not far behind.

Almost to Omaha, and I should make it in time to watch some of this morning's prelims session. Look for Ryan Lochte's big double with the 200 back and 200 IM and the return of Rebecca Soni and Natalie Coughlin, both coming off disappointing swims on Wednesday night. Look for some features coming up on the Swimming World website and another blog right here sometime this afternoon.

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