What. A. Weekend. Smiles, sun (at least for most of the weekend), and surprises made this Mesa Grand Prix live up to its sold out title. Grand Prixs always seem to find a way to cure the swimming world’s addiction for any type of action involving the best in the sport. And while they only come once every month, the Mesa Grand Prix proved to be worth the wait and sent us into an overdose state.
The Michael Phelps‘ comeback hype was at an all time high and it did not disappoint for swim fans who were lucky enough to get a seat at the sold out Skyline Aquatic Center. The greatest Olympian of all time was all smiles Thursday morning, trying to hold back a grin before his first competitive swim in 18 months. But as soon as the whistle blew and the double arm slap was heard across the pool deck, we knew he was back. The double arm slap, the smooth, effortless stroke, and the extra large group of photographers swarming him were all things that we were used to when he was dominating the sport, but one thing that may have surprised a few of us was the endless, goofy grin we saw after every race. Even when one of the best rivalries in the sport, Phelps vs. Lochte, was renewed in the 100 fly finals and Phelps didn’t see the familiar “1” next to his name, we witnessed laughter, smiles, and jokes in the joint post race interview. While we still don’t know if he’s back to chase more Olympic golds, take his mom to Rio, or to keep feeling like a 10 year old who has just fallen in love with the sport, one thing is for the certain: the wait for Irvine to cure our addiction is going to feel like an eternity.
Allison Schmitt‘s comeback may have taken a backseat to her best friend’s return, but she definitely put on a show for fans this weekend. Swimming lights out in the 100 free, she grabbed her lone victory of the weekend, dominating the field by a half a second and letting the world know her speed hasn’t gone anywhere. Next up was her bread and butter, the 200 free, where we got to see her battle with newly sprint specialist, Katie Ledecky. While the youngster prevailed, the tight race showed that the women’s 800 free relay will be a force to be reckoned with come August. Schmitt wrapped up her impressive comeback meet with one of the most surprising swims of Saturday night: the 200 fly. With a time that would’ve placed her second overall, though coming out of the B-Final, it seems as though Phelps may be slipping some helpful hints to his training partner, which brings us back to why Schmitt has found happiness in the sport once again. While Michael has been a huge help in her return, Schmitt emphasized how the dynamic of the NBAC group has helped her push through the tough days and celebrate the good in her quest to get back in shape; it’s clearly working.
And then there’s Katie Hoff, who ended her official long course comeback with a big statement. After finishing first in the 200 IM in a blistering time of 2:12.92, she proved that she has it in her to live up to her long forgotten legacy. While we won’t get to see Hoff in any more Grand Prix meets this season, she decided last night that nationals will be the next big stop on her comeback tour. The excitement and joy in her post race interview may not match the level she reached when she was proposed to, but it’s enough to let the swimming world know that she’s having fun, and that’s the most important ingredient in the recipe for success.
Even though the theme throughout the weekend was comebacks, we can’t forget about the heat Katie Ledecky brought to the pool. While it’s only April, Ledecky scorched her swims in junior world record times and surged herself up the rankings for top times in the world this year.
As the Phelps’ hype died down Saturday due to his absence in the heat sheet, Ryan Lochte was able to keep the headlines going with his sudden scratch from the finals where he was slotted to swim the 100 back and 200 IM. In hopes that the hamstring issue has nothing to do with his lingering knee injury, the swimming world can all exhale knowing the Phelps-Lochte rivalry is officially renewed.
Their comebacks may have taken longer than we may have wanted them to, but someone once told me good things come to those who wait, and after witnessing this weekend, “good things” is an understatement.