Tuesday, June 26, 2012

U.S. Olympic Trials: Day Two Prelims

Another day of prelims has wrapped up at the Olympic Trials in Omaha without too much drama. Most of the big names made it through their heats without too much trouble. The notable exception, of course, is 2008 Olympic silver medalist Katie Hoff, who finished well outside of the top eight in the women's 400 free. On the other side of the spectrum of Trials emotions, Matt Grevers put up a blazing 52.94 in the 100 back, the second-fastest time of his career, trailing only a swim from the 2009 World Championships.

Prelims kicked off with the women's 100 back. Missy Franklin and Rachel Bootsma bounced sub-1:00 swims off of each other, leaving veteran Natalie Coughlin in the dust with a fifth-seeded 1:00.71. Still, don't worry about Coughlin yet. Even if Coughlin can't quite hit the times she had hoped for early on in the meet, she has more mental toughness than almost any athlete you can find. She will find a way to get her hand on the wall.

The men's 200 free proceeded without incident as the top contenders all cruised into the semi-finals with swims in the 1:48 range. While I had expected slightly faster to start things off, once the pace was set, no one needed to go any faster. Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps will go head-to-head tonight in semi-final two, a race I see as a preview of the final, where the two will battle for the win. The usual suspects  Peter Vanderkaay, Conor Dwyer, and Ricky Berens – are in the mix with faces you might be less accustomed to seeing in a 200 free, like Davis Tarwater. Rising Texas sophomore Clay Youngquist grabbed himself a semi-final spot, while Texas-ex David Walters pulled out after qualifying 16th. Looks like Walters will focus on the 100 free after suffering an injury setback in the last several months.

The U.S. currently has the top three swimmers in the world in the women's 100 breast - Rebecca Soni, Jessica Hardy, and Breeja Larson. With a 1:06.52 in prelims today, Larson threw her name into Olympic contention alongside the reigning World champ (Soni) and world record-holder (Hardy). A pairing that no one disagreed would head to London a few hours ago, Larson now has a legitimate shot at a top-two spot. In an interview with Swimming World, Larson implied that she did not give 100% of her effort in the race yet, so look for something more out of her tonight.

With Grevers leading the way with his sub-53 swim in prelims, the men's 100 back lost some of its luster when second-seeded Ryan Lochte pulled out. I had anticipated the move, since the 200 free final falls minutes before that of the 100 back, but the road to London is easier for Grevers, Nick Thoman, David Plummer, and others. Every few years, someone comes out of the woodwork to surprise the country in the 100 back; in 2008, Grevers upset Lochte and Randall Bal for a spot on the Olympic team, and in 2010, David Plummer stole the National title from under Aaron Peirsol's nose. While on paper it looks like it's just Grevers, Thoman, and Plummer, I'd be shocked if it actually turned out that way.

Besides the stunning disappointment of Katie Hoff missing the final, most of the favorites made their way in for tonight's race. Allison Schmitt finished first in prelims, while Chloe Sutton took third; young challenge Katie Ledecky split the pair. Elizabeth Beisel put down a lifetime best of 4:08.37 to get into the final, and Kate Ziegler is back in the mix, just 0.01 behind Beisel. I expect Schmitt to push the pace tonight, but you really can't count out any of these five. All have the experience  or in Ledecky's case, upside  to pull off a spot on the team. For my predictions, though, I will stand pat.

Women's 100 Fly
1. Dana Vollmer
2. Natalie Coughlin

Men's 100 Breast
1. Brendan Hansen
2. Mark Gangloff

Women's 400 Free
1. Allison Schmitt
2. Chloe Sutton

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