Tuesday, June 26, 2012

U.S. Olympic Trials: Day Two Finals

What a night two at Trials... and I missed it! I was at a summer league meet, following results closely, and I had to watch all the races on my DVR hours later. In the three finals I watched, I saw one key theme: emotion. Each of the six new Olympians showed hugely different emotions that reflected the magnitude of making the Olympic team. Each came from somewhere different and faced adversity. The roads for all six ended in victory tonight. And beyond tonight, each will turn their emotions into adrenaline, and I think all can improve and swim much faster at the Olympics in a month.

Dana Vollmer made the Olympic team and won gold in 2004, but she missed out four years ago in the very same CenturyLink Center. Tonight, she put those demons behind her. In her best event, the 100 fly, Vollmer did not break the world record or even her own American record, but she made it. She didn't go the time she wanted, but how can you not feel relieved? Dana Vollmer is now a two-time Olympian. Now she can refocus and go after the ultimate prize: gold. And Claire Donahue is a first-time Olympian. Swimming in lane one yet firmly in the line of view of her competitors, Donahue came out and got it done. Sure, she is happy; how can you not be in that situation? But most of all, we saw pride from Claire Donahue. The first Olympic swimmer ever from Western Kentucky, she proudly displayed the flag of her alma mater for all to see on national television.

When Brendan Hansen touched first in the men's 100 breast final, we saw validation. Hansen felt validated in making a comeback after two disappointing Olympic performances. Combined with his renewed sense of passion and excitement, Hansen can go after the one prize that has eluded him: individual Olympic gold. And then there's Eric Shanteau. Four years ago, Shanteau couldn't really celebrate when he made the Olympic team, knowing he faced a decision if he would make the trip to London or not after learning of his diagnosis with testicular cancer. Tonight, though, he had no decisions facing him. In his weaker of the two breaststroke events, Shanteau got his hands on the fall, and he exploded with excitement. I have never seen such excitement from Shanteau, not when he broke American records, when he won a relay world title, or especially when he qualified in Omaha four years ago. No, that right there was four years of built-up emotion spilling out.

Allison Schmitt took out the women's 400 free final a second and a half under world record-pace. Batting nerves and jitters, Schmitt went out and looked invincible. That is, until she started coming back to Chloe Sutton on the final 100. No worries, though. Schmitt is an Olympian for the second straight games, and she will have her head on straight when she steps up to race Camille Muffat, Federica Pellegrini, and Rebecca Adlington in London. Despite those nerves, Schmitt has shown she can challenge the big three. Sutton, meanwhile, always swims with emotion, and she showed it tonight. Laying low on the racing scene this year after not wearing fastskins for much of the year, Sutton gave everything she had tonight and took a second off her best time to get on the team. Sutton, like Hansen, felt validation in making the team. An open water Olympian in 2008, she gave up her open water ambitions to focus on making the Olympics in the 400 and 800 free, and she will be in the pool in London.

The men's 200 free semi-finals featured two men: Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. The two went kick-for-kick off the final wall and stroke-for-stroke down the final 15 meters. Who will get those top two Olympic spots tomorrow? Lochte and Phelps. Or Phelps and Lochte. The battle is for the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth spots for the 800 free relay. Conor Dwyer has established himself as a favorite with big swims the last two nights, and you can never count out someone with the experience of Ricky Berens. Peter Vanderkaay missing out, though, hurts the U.S. team. A mainstay on this relay for eight years, the relay will look strikingly different without the reigning Olympic bronze medalist. As a member of the team already, Vanderkaay could still find his way onto the relay, especially with his coach Gregg Troy as head Olympic coach.

The women's 100 breast should be a question of how low can Rebecca Soni go, and can Jessica Hardy challenge her. If not, can Breeja Larson push Hardy for the second spot on the team? Larson has already shown her capabilities with a 1:06.52 prelims race. Hardy's inconsistency in the 100 breast makes a race with Soni for the win just as possible as a race with Larson for the second spot. But if you're putting money on this race, Soni will take the win, and Hardy will finish second.

Matt Grevers threw his name out as the 100 back favorite with a 52.94 prelims swim, and all we learned in the semi-final tonight is that the race will be tight. Grevers, David Plummer, and Nick Thoman are all 53-low going into the final, and behind them, the field has gotten a whole lot faster. Six guys swam under 54 tonight, and as I've said, count out nobody in the middle lanes in this final. Ben Hesen swam a 53.52 to place himself in lane six, a perfect spot for a spoiler, and high schooler Ryan Murphy has been cutting off huge increments of time with each passing race. I like my pick of Grevers and Thoman, but the race is on.

Missy Franklin and Rachel Bootsma both lit up the board tonight in the women's 100 back semi-finals, with respective times of 59.06 and 59.10. We saw one other sub-1:00 time, a 59.82 from Olivia Smoliga, another teenager. Where does that leave two-time defending Olympic champion and 29 year old Natalie Coughlin? Out in lane one with the seventh-best qualifying time, a 1:00.63. Do I count out Coughlin? Never. But she has the biggest battle of her career ahead of her to make the Olympic team in her signature event. Franklin has the semi-final of the 200 free before the 100 back final tomorrow, but I don't think that matters. This is Missy Franklin's coming out party, and she will secure her spot on her first Olympic team with a big win in the final.

No comments:

Post a Comment