The USA Swimming Winter National Championships, held in Atlanta at the Georgia Tech Aquatics Center, are upon us (beginning on Thursday). This year’s meet will be held in long course meters, which has given it a huge new level of both national and international attention.
To read a breakdown of who will (and will not) be at the meet, as well as see the psych sheets, check out our mini-preview here. For a breakdown of our 10 favorite storylines headed into the meet, keep reading.
1. Katie Ledecky Swims with the Big Girls – A few weeks ago, Curl Burke’s Katie Ledecky smacked the National Age Group Records in the 500 and 1000 yard freestyles. In this meet, she will be swimming the 100-800 freestyles, including matching up with some of the greats in the world, like Camille Muffat, Kate Ziegler, Wendy Trott, and Alexa Komarnycky. She’s 7 seconds off of the 8:29.35 mark in the 800 free for 13-14’s and three seconds off of the 4:07.15 time in the 400. Both of those swims were don back in 1978 by Sippy Woodhead, the same year that she did the 500 free record that Ledecky broke. Those might seem like big gaps, but consider that her swims from the National Age Group Challenge meet were both double-digit time drops for her. I think the 400 record is toast, with the 800 being in serious danger as well. Update: Ledecky willl miss this meet after contracting a viral illness, but wishes luck to everyone else at the meet.
2. French Powerhouses – The French have a reputation for swimming fast in-season. There will be specific races involving French swimmers that will warrant extra-special attention, but overall expect the team to swim very fast. Aside from the aforementioned in-training prowess, the fact is that you don’t fly 3/4 of your National Team across the Atlantic Ocean and put them in hotels and training for a month if you don’t plan on having an explosion of a meet at the end.
3. Katie Hoff – Transition Complete? – At the beginning of her career, Katie Hoff looked capable of branching in a few different directions. The IM’s were her best, but she also dabbled well into the distance freestyles (infamously at the 2008 Olympics, which were the beginning of her collapse). After she reemerged from her swimming hybernation in 2010, she put her focus strictly on the distance freestyles, much to the chagrin of her fans. Slowly, but surely, she has been shifting her attention more-and-more back towards the IM’s, which is coming to a head at this meet. She’s not entered in either of the distance freestyle events (the 400 or the 800) and seems to have a meet schedule that revolves entirely around the IM races (200/400 IM, 50/100/200 free, 200 back, 200 breast). I can’t see her actually swimming all 7 of those races, but it appears as though she’ll be gunning for two IM spots and an 800 free relay spot in London if all goes well at this meet.
4. Men’s 400 Free – This lineups is absolutely stacked, thanks in no small part to the international contingent. Check out the top 8 seeds – Yannick Agnel, Peter Vanderkaay, Ryan Cochrane, Sebastien Rouault, Matt Mclean, Michael Klueh, Robbie Renwick, and Clement Lefert. That’s as good of a field as you’ll find outside of a Continental/World Championship meet. That doesn’t even include names further down the list like Conor Dwyer, Ryan Lochte, Ryan Harrison, Matias Koski, Ryan and Adam Hinshaw, and Nicholas Caldwell. Basically, you could get well beyond the C-Final of this race before the quality drops below an elite level.
5. Manaudou Manau-can – When Laure Manaudou returned from a brief retirement, she said that she was going to focus on the shorter races and specifically the backstrokes. She had a great return at the Athens (Georgia) Sectional meet earlier this year, and will look for more of the same here. Interestingly, she’s entered in the 100 back and 200 backs and the 200 free, which was expected, and oddly enough the 400 free on the meet’s first day. It would be easy to read too far into this as her getting the itch back for an event that she was once so dominant in, but more likely it is just a training-measurement to fill out her day 1 schedule (the 200 IM and 50 free were her other choices). Interesting benchmark for her though.
6. Spoff in the 100 Free – Former Florida Gator, and current World Record holder for Great Britain, Gemma Spofforth has always been a tremendous backstroker and has likewise done fairly well in the IM’s. But at this National Championship meet, she will venture into the 100 free, which is an event in which she hasn’t done much in a meters course. Great Britain is one strong leg away from a very good 400 free relay, and it seems like Spofforth should be able to better her 57.50 even without much rest (she was very good at the race in NCAA relay action). Julia Smit falls into a similar category in the 100 free – even with a 55.1, I don’t think she’s hit her potential yet. She could be a sneaky contender for an American relay in London.
7. Men’s 50 Free – The men’s 50 free will have a strong field with a nice mix of international and American competitors. Nathan Adrian is the top seed, and we will see him for the first time since Nationals (where he only swam one race). It’s wasn’t uncommon, even when he was still swimming in the NCAA, for him to take a big chunk of time away from competition in the fall, which is a trend he appears to be continuing as a post-grad. His biggest competitors will be France’s Fred Bousquet, Longhorn’s Garrett Weber-Gale, and South African Gideon Louw, who had a great first professional year after finishing up his eligibility at Auburn.
8. Birth of a Division 2 Rivalry – This is one that’s going to be off of many peoples’ radars, but there’s a phenomenal rivalry shaping up in Division 2 NCAA swimming that will see it’s first battle at this meet. The reigning king of the sprint freestyles is Wayne State’s Andrey Seryy, who set NCAA meet records in both the 50 (19.39) and 100 (42.91) freestyles last year in yards. But this year, there’s a new contender in Queens College’s John Long, who is a one-year Auburn transfer that has the best times in the division this season. Remember that Queens College is a new program that was under some level of guidance from SwimMAC’s David Marsh, one of the best sprint coaches around. Seryy, on the other hand, comes out of a Russian program that has been developing freestylers like crazy, and has an outside shot at the Olympic Team.
They won’t be in the same heat, but know that both swimmers will be keeping a close eye on each others’ swims at this meet.
9. The Missyle Continues to Hone Event Schedule – Missy Franklin and coach Todd Schmitz continue to pare back her famously-brutal event schedules as she approaches the 2012 Olympic Trials. She is entered in “only” 6 events in the three day meet, including what most expect to be her core, with the 50/100/200 freestyles, the 100/200 backstroke, and the 200 IM. This may not seem like a huge reduction to some, but consider that in the past she’s done as many as 10 events in a 3-day meet (like last year’s Minnesota Grand Prix). Given that she broke a World Record in Berlin without resting, and that she’s beginning to limit her entries, it’s scary to see how good she will be coming down from the mountains.
10. Ashley Danner at Full Steam Long Course? – In 2010, when George Mason’s Ashley Danner began showing up atop the psych sheets at NCAA Championship meets (she’s been a 59.0 in the 100 yard breast), she caught a lot of people off-guard. While she’s now a well-known quantity at the college level, she really doesn’t swim a whole lot of long course meets. Last season, she swam a total of three, and even that was a big number for her relative to the year before. She swam at USA Swimming Nationals, but didn’t even swim season-best times there. I’m really hopeful that she’s able to put in a bit of a mini-taper for this meet and swim some really fast times, just to see if she’s a future Olympic contender. One would imagine she’s capable of at least 1:08/2:30 in meters.
Bonus: Dara Not the only 40-Year Old at The Meet – 44-year old Dara Torres will be making her usual appearance in the women’s 50 free, where she’s the 6th seed, but she won’t be the only 40+ year old to swim at this meet. Lisa Blackburn of T2 is seeded 63rd in the 100 breaststroke at a 1:13.23 (she will swim sandwiched between a 14 year old and a 15 year old) and Sheri Hart from Georgia Masters is the 79th seed in the 100 back at 1:05.41. Both of those women check in at 40 years old. 39-year old Erika Braun will join the ranks next year. The presence of multiple 40-year olds should further extend the impact of what Torres is accomplishing, because it shows that it is possible for others of similar age to do really impressive things athletically.
Odds and Ends – Meet Notes
- International swimmers are allowed to swim all finals of this meet, but only those representing American can score points towards the team competition
- A condensed replay of the meet will air on Sunday, December 4th, at 2 PM Eastern Time.
- Prelims will begin each day at 9 AM Eastern, with Finals at 6 PM Eastern Time
- Ten lanes will be used for both prelims and finals, meaning that 30 swimmers in each event will earn second-swims.