Saturday, June 30, 2012

U.S. Olympic Trials: Day Six Finals

When I began to make plans for my trip to Omaha for Trials, I had one race underlined as can't-miss: the men's 200 IM. I knew we'd see something epic. While the time tonight did not really impress me, the head-to-head performance lit up the arena like nothing I've seen the past 48 hours. Nothing could separate the two men for nearly one minute, 55 seconds, and Michael Phelps got his hand on the wall nine one-hundredths before Ryan Lochte. Nobody sat down the entire race. And perhaps we saw history, the last 200 IM ever between the two on American soil.

Phelps and Lochte. Lochte and Phelps. Wow.
Like I said yesterday, if you are reading, you probably know what happened at Trials tonight. We saw Rebecca Soni reestablish her 200 breast dominance while Micah Lawrence showed that she could make a medal run at the Olympics. Soni looked like she held back the first half of the race, as did Lochte in the 200 back, who stormed home to pass Tyler Clary for the win. And then in the men's 100 free, Jessica Hardy took a surprising win, and Lia Neal, Amanda Weir, and Natalie Coughlin all etched their names on the team for the first time.

Serious credit to both Hardy and Coughlin tonight. Hardy controlled her emotions headed into the 100 final after a disappointment in the 100 breast following four years of pain after a more-than-rocky 2008 experience. I stood up to clap when she spoke to the crowd following her medal ceremony; she deserves some major recognition for what she pulled off tonight. Coughlin, meanwhile, watched teens dethrone her in her signature event, but she went out and did just what she needed to do to secure a relay spot at the Olympics. Props to a true champion for digging deep for that one.

Anthony Ervin remains a hot name on deck after a blazing 21.74 semi-final swim. That time knocked off a 21.80 from Trials 12 years ago as Ervin's lifetime best. Nathan Adrian, Josh Schneider, and Jimmy Feigen also broke 22 in the semi-final, though, and none of the four are a lock for the top-two. We are talking about the 50 free, a scramble of a race where you only win if you come through in the clutch and make no mistakes. Hard combination. Hopefully, at least one can clock a time in the sub-21.7 range in tomorrow's final, a grey area only Cesar Cielo has gotten into this year.

Almost nobody picks a swimmer besides Phelps and Tyler McGill to make the Olympic team in the 100 fly. Indeed, the two have shown why they are favorites so far, leading the field in both prelims and semis. But I wouldn't lock it up quite yet. Tom Shields has finally broken out long course, getting into the 51-range tonight, and Davis Tarwater will put everything he has into this race, the final one of his career if he does not make the Olympic team. Tim Phillips has the third-best lifetime best in the field, and he'll swim out of lane two. Oh, and what can a very fresh Ryan Lochte do? After pulling off a truly sick triple tonight, Lochte has one swim all day tomorrow, and he has some clutch powers.

Personally, some of my favorite moments tonight came out of the pool. Before the meet, I watched Katie Hoff sign autographs for jumbles of fans. It takes some serious guts to come out and be so thoughtful to the fans after the rough week she's endured. Meanwhile, I got my first up-close look at the greatest swimmer of all-time tonight. Phelps walked into the CenturyLink Center on the Skybridge from the Hilton across the street surrounded by National guard members and encased in a hoodie. Hours later, after 14,000 fans bid him a happy birthday, I watched Phelps sprint across the pool deck to find his mom and sisters for a famous Phelps family embrace in a TV moment come to life.

Katie Hoff's meet is over, but she won't let her fans down.

Michael Phelps arrives for battle.

Phelps leaves the arena after a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" and a Phelps family birthday hug.

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