Thursday, June 28, 2012

U.S. Olympic Trials: Day Four Prelims

With another morning session in the books in Omaha, the Trials are almost to the halfway point. Most of the major contenders got into the semi-finals of the men's 100 free, women's 200 fly, and men's 200 breast without any real statements made. Sure, Clark Burckle and Scott Weltz must be happy with 2:10s in the 200 breast, and Kim Vandenberg and Cammile Adams both look great with 2:08s in the 200 fly, but we won't really know anything about what is to come at least until after tonight's semi-finals.

The glamor event of Trials has begun, and it is the men's 100 free. Notably absent, though, is the greatest of all time in Michael Phelps, who remains focused on his 200 fly tonight. Ryan Lochte, though, did swim prelims and will compete again in the semi-finals tonight. I, obviously, have expectations of Americans getting into the 47 range over the next two days in hopes of putting up a challenge to the Australian favorites in the 400 free relay. Lochte and Phelps will both be big pieces of that puzzle. Phelps has earned his spot on the relay with years upon years of impressive leadoffs, but Lochte did not make that final foursome last summer in Shanghai after two years on the squad.

I view Lochte as one of the nation's top-four 100 freestylers, pending what we see in the final. However, if he makes the final, he would have to swim that along with the semi-finals of both the 200 back and 200 IM on Friday. Sounds like a nasty triple. Tonight, then, look for an impressive swim out of Ryan Lochte. There remains a good chance that he will pull out if he makes the final eight, so he needs to make his mark tonight. And if Lochte does pull out, watch for whoever finishes ninth and ends up taking his place. At the 2008 Trials, Nathan Adrian tied for ninth before winning a swim-off with Alex Righi to make the final, and he ended up finishing fourth from lane eight. A year later at World Championship Trials, Matt Grevers earned the lucky spot that Lochte voided and ended up swimming a key leg on the winning 400 free relay two weeks later in Rome.

The women's 200 fly remains one of the weaker events for the U.S. and also one of the most wide open. One finals spot probably opened up this morning when Elaine Breeden missed out on the semi-finals, ending up a very disappointing 17th. 2007 World silver medalist Vandenberg leads the way, but she'll have veteran threats in Kathleen Hersey and Teresa Crippen on her tail, along with NCAA runner-up Adams. But the 200 fly offers a big opening for some young talent to really jump into the mix and make a statement. Becca Mann has already done just that in making finals in both the 400 IM and 400 free. Mann finished seventh in prelims today, right in front of fellow teens Courtney Weaver and Megan Kingsley.

Kingsley, who led the way headed into the circle-seeded heats this morning, represents the Mount Pleasant Swim Club from right here in the Charleston area. Indeed, the top story on our NBC affiliate's website read "Swimmer from Mount Pleasant advances in U.S. Olympic Trials." Kingsley's swim galvanizes the local community and creates local excitement regarding the meet. Swimming only gets this kind of attention once every four years, so to have a local swimmer from a swimming-deprived state make it into a semi-final sure creates some buzz.  But for right now, go Megan!

We've got three finals tonight, two women's to go along with a race for second in the men's 200 fly.  Michael Phelps isn't peaked here, but like I said last night, he will pull this one out in a 1:54-low. Bobby Bollier looked great in the semi-final last night, and Tyler Clary is always a contender, but I'll stick with Davis Tarwater to finish second. After another killer seventh-place finish in the 200 free, Tarwater wants another shot at the Olympics after finishing third in the 200 fly four years ago.

On the women's side, Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt will battle in the women's 200 free. I expect both to be in the 1:54-range and under Schmitt's American record of 1:54.96. Schmitt wins here, but all bets are off when London comes around. Dana Vollmer is the best of the rest, and hopefully the others will turn on the jets to show off a good contingent for the American 800 free relay come London. Finally, we've got world record-holder Ariana Kukors facing off with Elizabeth Pelton, Caitlin Leverenz, and Elizabeth Beisel in the 200 IM. I've seen Leverenz just dominate the race so far at Trials, and I think she'll come out on top. Expect a really tight, strategic race, and I'd like to see more than one time in the 2:09, or even 2:08 range.

Updated Predictions:
Women's 200 Free:
1. Allison Schmitt
2. Missy Franklin
3. Dana Vollmer
4. Megan Romano
5. Shannon Vreeland
6. Lauren Perdue

Men's 200 Fly:
1. Michael Phelps
2. Davis Tarwater

Women's 200 IM:
1. Caitlin Leverenz
2. Ariana Kukors

This prelims blog will be my only post today. I am swimming tonight at a summer league meet before I get up early tomorrow morning. That's right, tomorrow begins my adventure to Omaha and the Olympic Trials. Please come find me or let me know if you'll be there! I will be up in the stands watching carefully and blogging, and I have some interesting features coming up on the Swimming World website. Enjoy finals, and next time you hear from me, I will be on my way to Omaha!

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