The 2011 Charlotte Grand Prix is big (they always are), but this year’s meet might be better than ever. The pool will be thick with Olympians and National Teamers (totaling over 40 U.S. National Team swimmers) as we described last week when the psych sheets were released. Since we’ve already discussed the magnitude of competition that will be present at the meet, let’s dive head-first into the headlines for the meet:
1. Jones v. Schneider – The swim-off set-up by the swimmers’ tie at last year’s USA Swimming National Championships has finally arrived. On Thursday evening, the night before the rest of the competition starts, Josh Schneider and Cullen Jones will face-off, Mano-a-Mano, middle-of-the-pool, all eyes focused on them, for a shot at the 2011 World Championships Roster. While the big prize is Shanghai for the winner, though Josh Schneider does get a spot on the World University Games roster if he doesn’t take the win here. This should be the most exciting race of the summer between now and the big meet in July. (Stay tuned for more hype-building on this race).
2. Butterfly Battle – Christine Magnuson and Dana Vollmer ranked 1st and 3rd in the world in the 100 fly in 2010, respectively, and were separated at the top by only .07 seconds. Magnuson took the title (and the inside track on the medley relay spot in Shanghai), but in Ann Arbor Vollmer blasted a 57.50 ahead of Magnuson’s 59.84. Now they will show-down again in their continued efforts to earn the title of tops in the US.
3. Twice as Long, Twice as Nice – This past year’s NCAA Championship meet should have been highlighted by a square-off of two juniors who are among the best 200 butterfliers in the world: Katinka Hosszu and Kathleen Hersey. But Hersey left the Texas program last season (no word if she’ll return or transfer elsewhere in 2012), so we didn’t get that battle and Hosszu won going away from another Big 12 swimmer, Texas A&M’s Cammile Adams. Now, we will get to see that same race, only over the long course pool. This will be Hosszu’s first long course meet of the year, and Hersey had just a so-so performance at the Austin stop, so both swimmers should be lined up for a great race.
4. Don’t Sleep on Him – Sean Ryan is one of the brightest distance stars in the country. He’s young, and people forget that he made the US National Team in 2009 when he was only 16. He placed 7th in the mile at NCAA Nationals this past year, which is an outstanding performance for a freshman, but as only the second-highest finishing rookie, earned a big “shrug” from international fans. But long course and open water are really his big star events, and he will have a chance to show that in Charlotte. In the men’s 1500, his best chance at a pool-swim in London, he will face off against Peter Vanderkaay, his biggest competitor for the 2nd roster spot. It’s time for Ryan to earn a little bit of a star for himself.
5. Unattached All-Stars – If you were to take team scoring in this meet (they do, though it’s not always displayed), the “unattached” team would probably win, hands-down. A lot of these unattached logos have to do with foreign swimmers, or swimmers training with college teams away from their home clubs, but quite a few also have to do with the recent streak of swimmers changing clubs. Peter Vanderkaay should really be settling in to his training with the Gator Swim Club: which should mean some Lochte-esque bad in-season times if all is going well. Dagny Knutson hasn’t been in the swamp long enough to draw any real conclusions, though this will be her first meet since it was revealed that she will begin training in Florida. Kara Lynn Joyce has been in Denver for roughly a month now, and so the “great experiment” will yield its first results. Probably a little early there, but for what it’s worth, Joyce and her new Colorado Stars teammate Missy Franklin will face-off 4 times on the weekend.
6. Can Hardy Carry Over Success from Brazil? – Jessica Hardy was absolutely on-fire in Brazil last week at the 2011 Maria Lenk Trophy. She posted top-8 times in both sprint freestyles, the world’s 2nd-best 100 breaststroke time this year (behind teammate Rebecca Soni, who will also be in Charlotte), and the world’s best 50 breaststroke time this year (a full second ahead of Soni). She was pretty obviously riding a high, as the meet began just after the IOC announced its decision to allow Hardy to compete at the 2012 London Olympics, but you’ve gotta imagine the second she stepped foot back on American soil, she was back in the water and training full-bore.
7. Robison Begins Post-Grad Career – Former Virginia standout Scot Robison officially begins his post-grad (though technically he hasn’t graduated yet) career in Charlotte, which is his home-town. Robison surprised a bit by placing 6th at last summer’s USA Swimming National Championships in the 100 free and earning himself a relay spot, and this will be his first long course competition this year. Lots of eyes are going to be focused on him, as America will be seeking a few more top sprinters for post-2012 when the US is likely to lose at least two of its A-relay swimmers: Phelps and Jason Lezak.
8. Darmody Begins Pre-Enrollment Career – Another North Carolina native, Kip Darmody, will have the chance for a big step towards making the 2012 London Olympic team at this Charlotte Grand Prix. As we discussed in our most recent poll question (see the right side of the screen), I think Darmody has a decent chance at sneaking in to the 6th spot in the 200 free at Olympic Trials next year, and here’s where he’s going to start showing it. Him and Robison (along with Dave Walters, amongst a few others) will be two of the favorites for that 6th spot, so if both of them can sneak into a final together, keep an eye on the result.
9. Phelps Looks to Start a New Streak – After going nearly a decade without losing a 200 fly, Michael Phelps lost at the Eric Namesnik Grand Prix. Not only did he not win the race, but he finished a disappointing 4th. Of the three men who beat him, only Wu Peng (who was two-tenths ahead of him) will be swimming at this meet. This loss snapped him back to attention and made him realize that he needs to work harder…again…no, for real this time. That part remains to be seen, but as for this race, I like Phelps to get back on the horse and begin a new streak, which should last until he ends his career at the 2012 London Olympics.
10. Can Coughlin Hold On To 100 Back Through 2012? – Fact: Natalie Coughlin is probably the best 100 backstroker we’ve ever seen. Fact: She’s won the last two Olympic gold medals in this event. Fact: All loyalties and sentimentality aside, she might not earn a spot to swim the event in London. I think we can probably all agree that we’re rooting for her to earn one of the top two spots at trials, but there are a lot of extremely young, and extremely talented backstrokers in the American stables. This meet will feature all of them battling against Coughlin, including Missy Franklin (who finally turns 16 tomorrow), Rachel Bootsma, and Liz Pelton.
After sitting out the last few meets, Missy Franklin will be back again, still at the top of the standings, to fight for the 2011 USA Grand Prix swimming title. She has a solid cushion over the competition, and I expect her to put enough of a gap between her and everyone else that the results of the final Santa Clara Grand Prix won’t matter. Surprisingly, Ous Mellouli, who is second overall and as a result of Franklin’s amateurism is the favorite for the $20,000 prize, is skipping this meet. Yes, he’s coming off of a busy week in Brazil, but so are many of his Trojan Aquatics teammates who have chosen to attend the meet. Risky move with that much cash on the line.
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are tied for 3rd, and either (or both) could pass Mellouli after this meet, though neither of them likely needs the money, so they’re fighting for bragging rights. Nobody else really has a chance at the win, barring something spectacular.
The $20,000 prize that the Grand Prix Series champion will earn pales in comparison to the huge prize money dedicated specifically to this meet, specifically in the form of the Wendy’s Carolina Classic. Points will be awarded in all Olympic events as follows:
|Swimmer’s best two events||Points Awarded Per FINA Points Table (around 1,000 points is awarded for world-best times)|
|Pole Setter (top prelims swim)||50 points|
|Event Champion||100 points|
|Meet Record||100 points|
|US Open Record||300 points|
|American Open Record||300 points|
|World Record||500 points|
Bonus Points can be awarded in any event, not just the top two that will earn FINA points.
The scoring system has gotten somewhat more creative this year, including bonus points for being the top seeded swimmer out of prelims, which adds excitement and inventive to the morning sessions.
Prize money will be divided amongst the top 10 finishers, of any gender, and range from $20,000 for the champion and $10,000 for the runner-up, down to $1,000 for the 10th-place finisher.
The folks from SwimMAC, UltraSwim, and Wendy’s put on a fabulous show every year, and this year should be no different. Stay tuned for more coverage from Charlotte, including a more in-depth look at the Schneider-Jones showdown.