Monday, June 25, 2012

U.S. Olympic Trials: Day One Prelims

Trials have begun, and in the first morning of prelims, we've already seen some fast swims. Those swims include a world-leading time and another that ranks in the top-three. Obviously, though, we are just getting started. I wanted to take a quick look at this morning's swims before the first heats of finals dive off the blocks, and the first swimmers qualify for the Olympic Team.

Ryan Lochte was the top qualifier in the 400 IM. By a lot. Swimming by himself in the final heat, Lochte put up a time of 4:10.66, more than four seconds faster than Michael Phelps and three seconds faster than he swam in prelims at Trials four years ago. At that meet, Lochte swam his still-standing lifetime best time of 4:06.08. Do I think he drops three seconds off of that in finals? No, but I think he wins the race, and I think he goes his best time. Phelps' U.S. Open record of 4:05.25 is in jeopardy.

Now, the real battle is for second. Phelps dragged North Baltimore teammate Chase Kalisz to the second seed, but I think it comes down to lane five versus lane six, Phelps vs. Tyler Clary. Both have indicated that they didn't really put much effort into the race in prelims, but I'm going to stick with my prediction that Clary takes the second spot onto his first Olympic team. Never a good idea to pick against Michael Phelps, though, and I recognize that. Look for an epic race tonight.

Updated Predictions:
1. Ryan Lochte
2. Tyler Clary

Dana Vollmer. That about sums up the women's 100 fly. Vollmer swam the top time in the world this year with her 56.59. That is faster than Sarah Sjostrom's 56.79 from March and Inge de Brujin's twelve year old U.S. Open record of 56.64. And that was prelims. Vollmer wants a world record. Vollmer wants to swim a 55. And at this point, it's hard to doubt her. Beyond Vollmer, Claire Donahue looked good in breaking 58 to qualify second, and Elaine Breeden and Natalie Coughlin are both in the mix, as expected. Christine Magnuson, though, could be in trouble. She qualified eighth in 59.05, but she needs to make a statement in the semi-finals tonight if she wants to have a chance of making the team.

Heat ten of the men's 400 free, the first of the circle-seeded heats, featured a four-way race between Connor Jaeger, Charlie Houchin, Matt Patton, and Conor Dwyer. Jaeger ended up taking the win in 3:48.06, while the other three all got under 3:49. Ryan Feeley and Matt McLean ended up going 1-2 in the next heat, before Peter Vanderkaay won the final heat over Michael Klueh and Michael McBroom. When the dust settled, McBroom finished eighth in 3:49.89, while McLean was ninth in 3:49.96. Tough break for the defending national champion McLean, who also ended up ninth four years ago. McLean, though, still could make the Olympic team in the 200 free as a relay swimmer, but the road is much tougher.

Vanderkaay, despite qualifying fifth, is still the favorite to take the win. Vanderkaay says he's going for his best time tonight, a 3:43.10 from the 2008 Olympics. I'm not sure he can go that fast right now, but I expect a swim in the 3:44-mid range, around the 3:44.83 he swam to take fourth at the Worlds last year. Second place will be a tough battle, but I'll go with Conor Dwyer for that second spot in a tight battle. I think a time in the 3:46-mid range should be enough to get on that Olympic team.

Updated Predictions:
1. Peter Vanderkaay
2. Conor Dwyer

I picked Elizabeth Beisel and Caitlin Leverenz to go 1-2 in the women's 400 IM, and I can't see the race turning out any other way. Beisel led the way with her 4:35.72, and only Leverenz was within four seconds. In what turned out to be a fairly weak field - only three broke 4:40 in prelims - Beisel could come close to Katie Hoff's American record of 4:31.12, set in Omaha four years ago. The world champion will set herself up for a run at Olympic gold.

Updated Predictions:
1. Elizabeth Beisel
2. Caitlin Leverenz

The men's 100 breast prelims featured six swimmers under 1:01, surprisingly led by John Criste at 1:00.29. Favorite Brendan Hansen ended up just one one-hundredth behind at 1:00.30, and two-time Olympian Mark Gangloff ended up third, followed by Scott Weltz, Kevin Cordes, and Eric Shanteau. Oh, and Mike Alexandrov, Clark Burckle, and Marcus Titus are looming. Should be interesting to see who makes top-eight, and the semi-finals tonight will sort through these top-16.

Some of my personal highlights from prelims came in the earlier heats. Megan Kingsley from Mount Pleasant Swim Club dropped three seconds in the women's 400 IM to place 25th overall. Just 16 and swimming from lane one, Kingsley dominated her heat from the outset and didn't let anyone catch her. While she didn't advance out of prelims, she just picked up this Trials cut six weeks ago at the Charlotte UltraSwim. Watch out for her in the 200 fly coming up.

Swimming World's Jeff Commings competed in his third Olympic Trials today, and he put up a strong time of 1:04.12 in the men's 100 breast. It has been quite a pleasure reading Jeff's blog over the past year as he chronicled his journey to the Olympic Trials, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him swim. Now, Jeff goes back to work, but he doesn't have far to go; watch for Jeff in Swimming World's coverage of the meet.

Trials go live on NBC at 8pm ET tonight, and I'll be glued to the TV for the hour following. After that, semis of the men's 100 breast will be broadcast online. Should be fantastic. I'll be back to share my thoughts on the first night when it's all over.

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