It’s time for day 6 of the 2012 US Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, and we’ll see another set of 12 Olympic roster spots handed out, tentatively.
The big story of the day will be Ryan Lochte’s triple, with the 200 back and 200 IM finals (the latter of which will be a showdown with Michael Phelps), and the 100 fly semi-final at the end of the session.
Men’s 50 Free Semifinals
The men’s 50 free semi’s was sweet, sweet redemption for the men’s sprint group. In the 100 free, there was some disappointment from around the sport; not in the sense of who made the team necessarily. Everyone was thrilled for those guys, especially the veterans who were largely counted out like Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak. But it was the times.
Those memories will be largely adjusted, if not erased, on the basis of what we’ve already seen in this 50 free semi-final. There were four Americans under the 22-second barrier already, as compared to just one all of 2011 combined.
At the top of the pile was Cal’s Anthony Ervin in a 21.74 from the 2nd heat, which is a lifetime best. Sprinting has changed a lot since he won the gold medal in 2000, but he’ll continue to gain confidence as he keeps putting up times like that in these rounds.
Behind him, tied for 2nd, was Nathan Adrian and the mass-of-muscle that is Josh Schneider from SwimMAC in 21.81.
Jimmy Feigen, who is the big young talent in the sprint freestyles, sits 4th in 21.89. Cullen Jones continues to swim well, and shaved a fingernail off of his semi’s time with a 22.08. He’s still not getting into the finish, but he’ll get one more shot at it.
The big surprise to final is Ohio State’s Jason Schnur. The 21-year old senior took the 6th seed in 22.11. That’s 7-tenths better than he had been coming into this meet. He had a great college season, but has never shown this kind of speed in long course.
Matt Grevers and Adam Small, training partners at Tucson Ford, also snuck in.
Shayne Fleming from Cal continued to improve in this final as he was 10th in 22.35; Garrett Weber-Gale tied for 14th in 22.53. The 2008 relay gold medalist has now officially missed the 2012 team.
Women’s 200 Breast Finals
Rebecca Soni rebroke the Olympic Trials record in this women’s 200 breaststroke with a 2:21.13 to win and take a second swim for London, but never really was in contention for the World Record. She’s got a big challenge for her – she revealed in morning interviews that she makes a conscious decision not to go out too hard, but if she’s not out under 1:08 (she hasn’t been in this meet) there’s no way she can close well enough to go a 2:20 low. It would really be a pretty-big gamble for her gold medal if she pushed for the World Record too hard, based on how she likes to swim her races.
Micah Lawrence has a truckload of talent, but her challenge has always been putting it together at the big race. Not 100% of the time, but more than once it’s happened. She finally got that monkey off of her back today, with a 2:23.03 to place 2nd and make her first Olympic Team. Hopefully now that she’s really broken through with that swim, she will be able to do so again in London – a repeat performance would be medal-worthy.
USC’s Andrea Kropp had a phenomenal swim for 3rd in 2:24.82. She just wasn’t able to get enough of a drop off of her semi-finals time in this race to make the run with Lawrence, but she’s a name that you need to put down on your watch lists for 2016. She’s a phenomenal talent, and feels like a star. With more time spent training with the likes of Soni and Jessica Hardy and Dave Salo, her star will continue to rise.
Texas Laura Sogar was 4th in 2:25.56; she’s finally getting back in her stride with one year to go in Texas. She’s one of those swimmers who will have a tough decision to make after next season about whether to keep training toward Rio, but I would hate to see her momentum end right when she’s making her big moves.
And then there’s the great Amanda Beard. She sounds like she’s ready to get back in and start training for Barcelona next year, but this was at least the end of her run for a fifth Olympic team in 2012, as she finished 5th in 2:25.56. That’s only a few-tenths slower last year, and had a little bit of trouble with her closing speed.
Winner of the 100 Breeja Larson took the race out very fast and led on the first turn, but finished 6th in 2:27.52 – not quite as good as she was in the early rounds. She’s still working on her base to get up to this 200. Minnesota’s Haley Spencer was 7th in 2:27.82, and 2008 third-place finisher Caitlin Leverenz was 8th in 2:28.54.
Men’s 200 Backstroke Finals
Ryan Lochte began his insane triple with a 1:54.54 in the men’s 200 backstroke final. That’s actually still just the number-two time in the world this year, but it’s really hard to get a good feel about how hard he pushed this race.
Tyler Clary couldn’t hold onto his lead at the final turn, where Lochte, who has been so unbelievably good in this meet at just that point, took off and put him away. Still, Clary positioned himself as only the third man in the world this year to go sub-1:55, with a 1:54.88 – which falls second only to his swim at last year’s World Championships as the best textile time of his career.
Nick Thoman, who is underrated as a 200 backstroker, was 3rd in 1:57.06. It was a valiant effort, but he’ll be settled with just the 100 back (once individually, once presumably as part of the medley relay).
The young swimmers couldn’t challenge for relay spots as some had hoped they might in this event, with Ryan Murphy swimming a 1:57.39 for 4th place and shockingly not getting to Aaron Peirsol’s World Record. Still, between him, 5th-place finisher Jack Conger (1:58.97) and 7th-place (1:59.46) the future of the United States look great in this race, regardless of whether Lochte and Clary push-on beyond London.
Women’s 200 Back Semi’s
Missy Franklin cruised through the 200 backstroke semifinal to sit just in the same place as she did after the 100 back semi’s – as the top seed swimming out of lane 4. But this time, she wasn’t as spectacular to get there. The top seed is more based on the fact that the majority of this field is getting fairly tired at this point of the meet.
She posted a 2:07.91 to take the top seed so far.
Elizabeth Beisel took the 2nd seed in 2:08.41, followed by Liz Pelton in 2:08.71. The name not to sleep on has to be Bonnie Brandon, who was the 4th seed in the semi-finals in 2:09.03. She’s been a high school rival of Missy Franklin’s for years and will head to Arizona next year, and is extremely tall. She’s still swum quite a few race, but looks like she’s still a little bit fresher than the other three, which is about a second better than her best time.
The next-fastest, 5th, was Jillian Vitarius in 2:11.96. She had a great first 150 meters, but the last 50 is what separates on these 200 backstrokes.
Men’s 200 IM Finals
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte squared off head-to-head for the third time of the meet in the men’s 200 IM final, though looking just at the splits wouldn’t tell the whole story of this race.
Phelps led at every turn, but Lochte took that over by about half-a-body-length coming off of the final turn. Phelps closed Lochte down in a scene that looked like a rewind of the closing length of the 200 free. Phelps overtook Lochte coming into the touch to take the score of two-to-one in 1:54.84. Lochte was just behind in 1:54.93, and those are the two best times in the world this year.
The top five are all wrapped up in two teams: Gregg Troy’s Gator Swim Club and Bob Bowman’s North Baltimore Aquatic Club. 3rd-place went to the Gators with Conor Dwyer in 1:58.92, not quite matching his semi-final time, and North Baltimore’s Austin Surhoff (also a Texas Longhorn, in 1:59.58) and Chase Kalisz was 5th in 1:59.87.
Tyler Harris was 6th, Cody Miller was 7th, and Kyle Whitaker was 8th.
Women’s 100 Free Finals
Jessica Hardy, after losing her spot on the 2008 Olympic Team, and finishing 3rd in the 100 free, earned sweet redemption with a 53.96 to win the women’s 100 free. She went out very hard in this race, and though she didn’t close well, she was the only swimmer to crack 54 seconds. Both she and Madison Kennedy set up well for the 100 free, that will begin Sunday morning, with big front-halves.
Missy Franklin scored the other individual spot for her third of the meet (so far) in 54.15. Both she and Allison Schmitt (54.30 for 3rd and a relay spot) were off of their best times (Schmitt has been faster this year even).
In 4th place was Asphalt Green’s Lia Neal in 54.33, meaning that the American relay will have at least two swimmers on it who are going into their senior year’s of high school. Neal is developing a few years behind Missy Franklin, but her potential, at least in the sprints, is every bit as huge.
Amanda Weir made her second Olympic Team after missing the squad in 2008 with a 54.41.
And Natalie Coughlin, at the last moment, got her fingers to the wall with a 54.44.
Dana Vollmer stunningly was only 7th in 54.61; there will be some interesting decisions made about this women’s 400 free relay, both about whether Vollmer gets to swim it at all, or whether she and Coughlin should be on the finals relay. I think that Vollmer should certainly be in the finals.
Men’s 100 Fly Finals
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte will have one more big matchup in the 100 fly, but in this one Phelps will be a heavy favorite. He posted a 51.35 that is a world-leader this year. Lochte, meanwhile, on his third event of the night, was safely through the semi’s tied for 6th in 52.47.
Meanwhile, Tyler McGill didn’t make a big drop from prelims, but continues to look very good with a 51.88 for the 2nd seed. He had an incredible reaction time coming off of the blocks and swam a very good, very balanced swim.
Behind him are plenty of big names, including Tom Shields in 51.89 (he has a ton of ground to make up off of just a .81 reaction time); SwimMAC’s Davis Tarwater in 51.95 in what he still says is his primary focus for the Olympics; and Tarwater’s teammate Tim Phillips in 52.17.
Eugene Godsoe (tied with Lochte) and Giles Smith (52.52) rounded out the top 8.
Maclin Davis won the battle of the high schoolers over Matt Ellis 53.20 to 53.26; Davis gets more hype than Ellis, but Ellis is having a great meet as well. The two are a bright future for USA sprint butterflying.