Wow! What a first night of finals in Omaha.We saw the highs of Elizabeth Beisel swimming the fastest time in the world in the 400 IM and Caitlin Leverenz making her first Olympic team after three heartbreaking third and fourth-place finishes in 2008. We saw the lows in the men's 400 IM as Tyler Clary fell by the wayside to two all-time greats in Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. We saw an surprisingly slow race in the men's 400 free, but despite my time predictions, the two I picked earlier today came out on top. Not a ton developed tonight, but I have some quick thoughts to share.
I have long anticipated Ryan Lochte making a statement in the 400 IM final we saw tonight. He made a statement with the win, but I expected faster. I thought he would beat his lifetime best, but he fell more than a second short. But honestly, Lochte could have reached 4:06.08 - if he had not completely cut the gas at the flags. Phelps went ahead and made history with his fourth Olympic bid, but how can you not feel bad for Tyler Clary? Clary spent three years as the second-best swimmer in the world in the event, but Michael Phelps showed us tonight why he is the greatest of all-time. And the two gave swimming some publicity - a 27-second clip of the race on SportsCenter! And Lochte is trending nationally and worldwide on Twitter.
Florida-trained athletes claimed four of the six Olympic slots up for grabs tonight, but none of the four impressed me with their times. As I mentioned, I expected more of Lochte and still expect much more come the Olympics. Peter Vanderkaay won the men's 400 free in 3:47.67, but he put up a 3:44.83 at the Worlds last year to take fourth. Elizabeth Beisel beat her World Champs winning time in the 400 IM by 0.04, but she seemed genuinely surprised by her time. What could that mean? Did Gregg Troy not fully rest his athletes in hopes of improved performance in London? It sure looks like it. One thing I know is that the Gators have a lot left in the tank.
Two semi-final races tonight set up strikingly similar scenes for the finals of the women's 100 fly and men's 100 breast. Brendan Hansen is back with a 59.71 semi-final swim, almost a half second in front of anyone else headed into the final. I think the battle is on for second, with newcomers such as Scott Weltz and Kevin Cordes batting savvy veterans in Mark Gangloff and Eric Shanteau. The women's 100 fly? Dana Vollmer's American record sets her up as the class of the field and Olympic favorite, but anyone else could qualify for the second spot. Elaine Breeden has a shot at her second Olympic team, Natalie Coughlin could qualify early for her third, or a younger swimmer like Kelsey Floyd or Claire Donahue could climb into the spot. Donahue could start as the favorite, though, as she is the only swimmer outside of Vollmer to break 58 in either the prelims or semis.
Defending Olympic silver medalist Christine Magnuson got into the 100 fly final, but she will dive off the lane eight block tomorrow. We haven't seen a performance like we've expected from Magnuson in two years, since she won Nationals in 2010 in 57.32. While that time would probably make the Olympic team, I'm not sure she has that kind of performance in the tank right now. I will post my full list of predictions tomorrow after prelims; I have one night to decide who I think takes the second slot in both of these events.