We complete our breaststroke previews now with the 200. The Americans sit in much better shape overall than they do in the 100, with at least one medal all-but locked up. Both races are pretty interesting, with a little bit of every flavor in the mix.
Thanks again to our friends from Reezy Nation for adding some variety in with their own picks.
Men’s 200 Breaststroke
One of the two spots in this men’s 200 breaststroke is earmarked for Eric Shanteau. He made the Olympic Team in this race in 2008, but maybe distracted by learning of his testicular cancer didn’t make the final in Beijing. He was the silver medalist at Worlds in 2009, and was 4th in Shanghai last year. He’s been swimming so well the last 6 months, taking his races out very well, that I see him as extremely likely to make the top two.
Based on times alone in the last two years, there’s only two swimmers who are really in the hunt for the second spot, of course unless someone surprises and leaps the gap (and there are always surprises at the Olympic Trials). But even those two are sort of recently into the mix. That shows how quickly a swimmer can make a move in this race.
Clark Burckle was going 2:12′s tapered prior to this season, then he made a huge leap forward to a 2:09.7 in Indy and changed the game. Brendan Hansen wasn’t even in the game 12 months ago, and then after winning double National Championships in August, and then repeating it at Winter Nationals in December, he’s one of the buzziest stories of this summer.
The point is, in this race, it wouldn’t be a longshot for someone to jump the gap from the 2:11-and-up where most Americans sit, to the 2:09′s where the leaders are.
Cal’s Sean Mahoney seems, in his interviews, to have grown a lot mentally since coming back from a 6-month doping suspension in 2010. He isn’t quite back to his suited times (he was a 2:09 in polyurethane in 2009), but he swam very well in 2011 – posting 2:11′s and 2:12′s routinely.
Elliott Keefer, now training with SwimMAC, has the experience of a World Championship swim behind him (he took the spot vacated by Scott Spann’s retirement). Anybody who follows him on Twitter knows that he’s been very happy with his training, but it hasn’t showed up in meet results yet – he was 2:15′s in Austin, Charlotte and Indy, and 2:16 in Columbus. But in 2010, outside of one swim shortly after his NCAA’s taper, he was in the same position or worse at most of his long course meets, but went on to make the Worlds team. Moral of the story – this might be a case to trust the training moreso than his competition results.
That’s sort of the “elite” class of the 200 breaststrokers, and after that there’s a whole lot of swimmers in the same time range. But a few of those stand out for one reason or another. The first is the biggest darkhorse maybe of the whole trials – Scott Weltz from the Marin Pirates. He will come in to the meet as the 6th seed, and that high of a seed will be a whole new experience for him. Up until 2011, he really wasn’t in the vision at the national level. He was a star of the UC-Davis team, but he was swimming 2:17′s in this event (and for that matter, was leaning more toward the IM’s in long course).
But after not swimming any long course meets during the 2009-2010 season right after finishing his college career, something clicked last summer. At the 2011 Summer Nationals, his 2:17’2 became 2:14′s. At Winter Nationals, that 2:14 became a 2:12. That’s awesome, and exciting, for a swimmer who found a way to tough out his first few post-grad years and really make a move into the big-time spotlight.
North Baltimore’s Chase Kalisz trains with Michael Phelps, and though this breaststroke is his best single-stroke race, from what we saw of him in Austin two weeks ago he might make a better run in the 400 IM than this 200 breaststroke (he was a best time in the IM in Austin, but wasn’t close in this one). Another high schooler, Cal-bound Josh Prenot, has been 2:14 untapered more than once this season. Auburn’s Adam Klein was on both the 2010 Pan Pacs team and the 2011 Pan Ams team, and is looking to make the next step onto the Olympic Team. He’s looked pretty good this season too, though not getting a lot of headlines.
Out of the college ranks, Matt Elliott of Florida was going 2:13′s in high school, but hasn’t been back there since graduating. Recent Texas graduate Eric Friedland was the 2011 NCAA Champion in the event (actually beating the 2008 Olympian, and his teammate, Spann) but didn’t have a great senior year. Cal’s Trevor Hoyt has been very quick since NCAA’s as well, 4-times going faster in-season than he was in the same period last year. After finishing 2nd at NCAA’s last season (and as the highest-placing American), He’s got some momentum behind him as well.
Hoyt’s Cal teammate Christian Higgins was another phenomenal high school swimmer who, like Elliott, wasn’t great the summer before his senior season; however he was even better than Elliott as a freshman and made the B-Final at NCAA’s.
Stanford postgrad BJ Johnson looked great in Santa Clara with a 2:13.6. Two other current/former Stanford Cardinal, Curtis Lovelace and John Criste will be in the mix for semi-finals and beyond.
And then there’s their Pac-12 rivals: two Arizona Wildcats – Carl Mickelson and Kevin Cordes. Cordes should blow away his best long course times at Trials, but is much closer to qualifying in the 100. Mickelson, however, is better in this 200. He really exploded during his junior season; he was the Pac-12 Champion in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. Expect him to blow-away his best of 2:14 at this meet.
Shanteau looks like the favorite to win this race. With how fast Hansen was last year after such a short time back in training, I think he’ll have made even more progress this year and will hold off the fast-charging Burckle, despite being almost 31.
Here’s my picks for top 8, including seed times.
1. Eric Shanteau (Auburn/Trojan Swim Club) – 2:09.28
2. Brendan Hansen (Texas/Longhorn Aquatics) – 2:09.64
3. Clark Burckle (Arizona/Tucson Ford) – 2:09.72
4. Sean Mahoney (Cal/California Aquatics) – 2:11.47
5. Scott Weltz (UC-Davis/Marin Pirates) – 2:12.37
6. Elliott Keefer (Ohio State/SwimMAC) – 2:12.09
7. BJ Johnson (Stanford/Stanford) – 2:12.39
8. Mike Alexandrov (Northwestern/Tucson Ford) – 2:12.95
Next Four Out (in no particular order): Carl Mickelson (Arizona) – 2:14.62, Eric Friedland (Texas) – 2:12.91, Christian Higgins (Cal) 2:14.14, Trevor Hoyt (Cal) – 2:13.55
Guest Picks from Reezy Nation:
1. Brendan Hansen
2. Clark Burckle*
3. Eric Shanteau
4. Sean Mahoney
5. Scott Weltz
6. Elliott Keefer
7. Mike Alexandrov
8. Carl Mickelson
*Note: The ladies at Reezy Nation have a second favorite swimmer – his name is Clark Burckle
There is probably no bigger slam-dunk race at the Olympic Trials than this one. Though she and her coaches won’t approach the event with that attitude, Rebecca Soni is as close to a sure-bet as you can ever have in a swim meet of this level. Not only is Soni nearly four-seconds better than any other American has been in the qualifying period, she has the 18-best individual swims by an American in the same period. Simply-put, the upset is so unlikely, that it’s not worth dwelling on any further than the four-sentences we’ve already dedicated to it.
But in contrast, there are few second-spots that are more wide-open at the meet than this one is. Amanda Beard, despite her disqualification in Omaha at the Swimvitational this past weekend, will come in with the inside-position on that spot. She swam on the World Championship team, and is still holding on to the number-two time with her 2:24.3 from the 2010 Pan Pac Championships.
But there’s a group of young, hungry swimmers who are nipping at her heels. Micah Lawrence, training with SwimMAC for the past year after leaving Auburn, has gone two best-times in the last three months at untapered meets (Charlotte and Indy). Caitlin Leverenz is the NCAA Champion, and has also been right on-top-of her best times at in-season meets the last few months. She may be more recognized as an IM’er now-a-days, but this is a swimmer who was going 2:25′s when she was 16, and certainly is a better swimmer now than she was then. On the other hand, this will be her third event in the schedule (after the IM’s), so fatigue will be a slight factor.
And it would be easy to forget about 2011 World University Games silver-medalist Andrea Kropp, given her hiatus from college swimming, and relative tip-toe through the long course season. But she’s been at USC training with Soni and Dave Salo for a little while now, and is one of the biggest long-course over short-course swimmers in the country. She’s been 2:26′s at three different meets in 2012.
To me, those are the four vying for that second spot. Of course, if the pace in the semi’s is slow, and the time moves back into a 2:25-high for London, there’s a whole lot of other swimmers who move into the mix. Two-time defending NCAA Champion Haley Spencer from Minnesota is a 200 specialist, and always seems to get up for her favorite race.
Laura Sogar from Texas has been scorching-hot in this 200 breaststroke the last month, having swum a pair of 2:27′s (and improved her seed time by almost a second) in her last two meets. Those races were both swum against very light competition.
Louisville’s Gisselle Kohoyda is a name that the whole country is going to become a lot more familiar with in the next three months. The sophomore came from out of nowhere to finish 4th in this event at NCAA’s, and coupled that with a 2:26.56 at the mid-season Winter Nationals. The Louisville program has an outstanding breaststroke group, and though Kohoyda has only been 2:30′s since NCAA’s, she’s got a notoriously big taper (three seconds in yards).
Texas A&M swimmer Breeja Larson is still in a spot where we haven’t seen a tapered swim from her in this 200 – but she did go a 2:28-high in November on a mid-season “rest” during the college season, and even that was in prelims at the Tennessee Invitational (which was swum yards in finals). Her chances in this 200 probably aren’t as good as the 100, but we still don’t exactly know what’s coming from her here.
There’s a pair of California girls who are going to be in this battle, but don’t get much attention (surprising given their locales). 25-year old Katy Freeman from Santa Barbara has only raced a few times in 2012, but those few times have been pretty darn good. Keri Hehn, like Freeman, put up her best qualifying time in 2010, and hasn’t quite been back to that level since. However, in 2010 her best time was before Nationals, and a 2:26. She recently turned 31, but is still travelling and racing a tough schedule while balancing her “adult” life.
Georgia’s Michelle McKeehan and Ashley Wanland are the two other major players out of the collegiate ranks. Wanland was on the World University Games Team in 2011, and went on to make some improvements collegiately in her first year under Whitney Hite. In the long course season, she’s been much slower since NCAA’s than she has in past years; however, in yards she had a bigger disparity between “in-season” and “taper” this year than she did in previous seasons. A 2:27-low is right in her scope.
The only real semi-final contenders from among high school swimmers are Georgia commit Annie Zhu and Arizona commit Emma Schoettmer. Zhu has been outstanding since joining the elite group at North Baltimore early this year, posting four of her five best times at in-season meets. Schoettmer, out of the Center Grove Aquatic Club, has also been having very strong meets in-season this year.
Leverenz has been too hot to deny her this spot. But Beard is the one to watch out for – she’s got the experience and is a big-race swimmer. She’ll be on the podium, but will fight hard to take that 2nd spot.
Here’s our top 8 picks, along with seed times and collegiate/club affiliations:
1. Rebecca Soni (USC/Trojan Swim Club) – 2:20.69
2. Caitlin Leverenz (Cal/California Aquatics) – 2:25.63
3. Amanda Beard (Arizona/Tucson Ford) – 2:24.30
4. Micah Lawrence (Auburn/SwimMAC) – 2:24.62
5. Andrea Kropp (Princeton/USC/Rattler Swim Club) – 2:26.18
6. Gisselle Kohoyda (Louisville) – 2:26.56
7. Breeja Larson (Texas A&M) – 2:28.88
8. Haley Spencer (Minnesota) – 2:27.09
Next Four Out (in no particular order) – Laura Sogar (Texas) – 2:27.26; Katy Freeman (UCSB/Santa Barbara Aquatics); Ashley Wanland (Wisconsin) 2:27.77; Emma Schoettmer (Arizona/Center Grove Aquatics) – 2:27.99
More guest picks from Reezy Nation:
1. Soni, Rebecca
2. Beard, Amanda
3. Lawrence, Micah
4. Spencer, Haley
5. Leverenz, Caitlin
6. Kohoyda, Gisselle
7. Kropp, Andrea
8. Freeman, Katy