Sunday, July 1, 2012

U.S. Olympic Trials: Day Seven Finals

Of the three finals sessions I witnessed over the course of my weekend here in Omaha, tonight's brought the smallest crowd to the CenturyLink Center. No matter; I walked out of the arena for the final time having witnessed one fantastic display of talent, work ethic, and guts that I will never forget. I met some fantastic people and enjoyed every minute of my adventure. I witnessed greatness, the likes of which the U.S. may not see again.

We started things out tonight in the women's 200 back, where consensus picks Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Beisel picked up their tickets to London in yet another event. While neither approached the kind of time I believe they are capable of, they finished off a long week in style. Shout-out, though, to Elizabeth Pelton, who took third twice this week. She will move to train with Teri McKeever at Cal next year, and McKeever has been known to help just-missed potential Olympians regain their swagger after disappointing Trials. See Coughlin, Natalie.

Like the 200 back, the men's 100 fly ended up with a very predictable finish. Michael Phelps and Tyler McGill took out the top two slots as expected but only after a very wacky race. Tim Phillips, as expected, took the race out hard, but 23.62 turned out to be a bit too hard, and he faded. In a jumble at the halfway point, Phelps found himself in sixth place, behind even Ryan Lochte. Phelps, though, did what he does best, destroying the field off the wall and pulling away along with McGill before winning by two tenths at the touch. Phelps claimed tonight to be his final race ever on American soil. If Phelps does indeed retire as he plans to do, I feel honored to have been a witness.

From there, the races turned unpredictable. Kate Ziegler bounced back from a rough 400 free to make the team in the 800, but who saw Katie Ledecky coming two months ago? Who ever thought she would break 8:20 and enter the Olympics with the second-fastest time in the world? Tonight's performance announced her to the world stage. Chloe Sutton, meanwhile, found herself back in fourth. Again, who would have picked Sutton to miss the team in the 800 at any point over the past two years? But at Olympic Trials, anything can happen, and those who handle the pressure the best find their way to the Olympics.

Katie Ledecky blew away the field from the start in the 800.

I saw one more final, the men's 50 free, another where the long-assumed favorite found himself on the outside looking in. Nathan Adrian posted the fourth-fastest time in the world in 21.68, but Cullen Jones and Anthony Ervin swam even faster. Jones came in at 21.59 for the second-fastest time in the world, just 0.21 behind Cesar Cielo. Ervin, meanwhile, moved to third in the world at 21.60, 0.20 under his best time from 12 years ago. After receiving his medal, Ervin shouted to the crowd in utter excitement, "I'm going to the Olympics!" Hard to believe that this guy stepped away from the sport disinterested a year before he could go for his second Olympic team. Even without Adrian, these guys are major medal contenders.

Anthony Ervin relishing making his second Olympic team.
The women's 50 free saw a few major statements in the semi-finals. In the first semi-final, Christine Magnuson showed that she has transformed into a pure sprinter. After falling well short of the team in her signature 100 fly, she clocked a 24.72 50 free tonight to claim lane five for tomorrow. She made a statement tonight, and she will be a strong contender to make her second team in a totally different event than her first. Jessica Hardy won the second semi-final in 24.56, while Dara Torres took second in 24.80. Torres looked strong the whole way tonight, even closing on Hardy at the end. Magnuson swam fast tonight, but Torres has more experience than anyone else at the meet. The full day of recovery time will seriously help Torres as well. Expect another bam-bam race in the final, just like in the men's race.

Tomorrow, the meet wraps up with the finals of the women's 50 and men's 1500. Expect a serious race in that mile. Favorite Chad La Tourette will start out of lane seven, but he is a serious racer with some guts, as he showed on his final 50 that he needed to pull out a win in his prelim heat. Andrew Gemmell looked smooth in qualifying and moving to fifth in the world. Connor Jaeger broke 15:00 to the feet this morning, and Peter Vanderkaay looms out of lane six. Expect another strategical race, and I don't know who to predict. As for me, though, I will watch on NBC from my home in Charleston, SC. I fly home in the morning, but I enjoyed this weekend so much. Thanks to everyone I got to meet and all of the swimmers I got to watch swim fast. Here in Omaha, though, one more day.

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