This weekend will kick off the 2011 USA Swimming Grand Prix series in Austin, Texas at the Lee and Joe Jamail Swim Center. This will technically be the second Grand Prix meet, but the first in the new year and the first in a long course meters setup.
Things will get off to a bang, as there will be over a dozen National Team members in the field. Swimmers confirmed to be competing include:
Michael Phelps (Baltimore, Md.)
Ryan Lochte (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
Jason Lezak (Irvine, Calif.)
Katie Hoff (Towson, Md.)
Kate Ziegler (Great Falls, Va.)
Garret Weber-Gale (Milwaukee, Wis.)
Tyler Clary (Riverside, Calif.)
Chloe Sutton (Mission Viejo, Calif.)
David Walters (Yorktown, Va.)
Peter Vanderkaay (Rochester, Mich.)
Eric Shanteau (Lilburn, Ga.)
Kathleen Hersey (Atlanta, Ga.)
Ricky Berens (Charlotte, N.C.)
Nick Thoman (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Missy Franklin (Centennial, Colo.)
Top Stories to Watch
1. Ryan Lochte Kicks off Drive for Shanghai – Sure, Lochte, like many of the big name swimmers competing, will be coming off of a taper meet at the 2010 Short Course World Championships in Dubai, where he set two individual World Records (in the 200 and 400 IM’s). But that would be ignoring the fact that by all credible accounts, Lochte wasn’t tapered in Dubai and was back in the pool training the day his flight landed. This means we should still be expecting some blazing-fast swims out of him.
2. Gator Swim Club Synergy – This will be Peter Vanderkaay’s first meet as a member of the Gator Swim Club (though, by USA-Swimming rules, he will likely swim “unattached” officially). He, Lochte, Tullius, et al. have been putting out some great and competitive practices down in Gainesville, and here we’ll get to see what that looks like off the blocks.
3. The Return of the Great One? – Michael Phelps is only the third most interesting story of a meet? That’s sort of what things have come to for the greatest swimmer in the history of the sport. This will be his first competition of this level since Pan-Pacs last summer, though he has not looked great in lower-tier meets in the interim. Phelps has been popping up in a lot of tabloids lately for his exploits out of the pool, let’s hope that hasn’t been too much of a distraction and that we will see him back in the news for his exploits in the pool after this weekend, as the American relays sorely need him on top of his game in both Shanghai and London.
4. Franklin for 8? – Ok, so 8 medals at a Grand Prix meet in January isn’t as impressive as 8 golds in an Olympics. But still, if Franklin is able to win 8 medals in a prelims-finals meet in only 3 days, I will be hugely impressed. Publicly, she and her coach have said all the right things about continuing to swim as an amateur, but after this meet, with $20,000 under her nose, she and her family are going to have to start seriously considering the possibility of her turning pro. If/when she finds 4 or 5 individual events to really focus on, she’s going to be even beastlier than she is already.
5. The March to Shanghai – While most age group swimmers are still in their short course season, this meet effectively marks the beginning of the Shanghai pre-season for our country’s elite swimmers. Anyone not already qualified who is hoping to battle for relay spots will begin this weekend. Furthermore, this likely marks the beginning of 18 grueling months of training in the leadup to the Olympics, which will see most swimmers have very little rest. Get ready to ride the rollercoaster.
4. Breaststrokers Making a Break – The women’s breaststroke field in this meet is relatively week, without any breaststrokers who ranked in the top 80 in the world last year. Still, this is a chance for swimmers to make a name for themselves by winning a breaststroke race at a highly publicized event. International swimmers Haylee Johnson and Raminta Dvariskyte hold down the top two seeds, but the young Skylar Smith, a high school senior out of Houston that will be headed to Texas next year, is a name to watch for future NCAA glory.
Psych sheets are available here through the University of Texas website. Below is a glimpse at what some of the stars will be swimming thanks in part to our friends at the Reezy Nation.
Clary: 200bk, 200fr, 200fly and 200/400IM
Shanteau: 100/200br and 200 IM
Weber-Gale: 50/100/200/400 fr
Lezak 50/100 fr
Tullius: 50/100/200fr, 400 IM, 100/200 bk
Berens: 100/200/400 fr, 100/200 fly, 100 bk, 200 im
Vanderkaay: 100/200/400/1500 Fr
Phelps: 200im, 100/200fr, 100fly, 100 bk and 200br
Lochte: 100/200/400 fr, 100 fly, 100 bk, 200im
Hoff: 50/100/200/400/800 free
Schneider: 50/100 free, 100 fly
Smit: 50/100 free, 100/200 back, 200/400 IM
Pelton: 100/200 free, 100/200 back, 100 fly
Franklin: 50/100/200 free, 100 fly, 100/200 back, 200/400 IM
The series standings after the Minnesota Grand Prix are listed below. With $20,000 on the line, this has become a significant measure. At the moment, Missy Franklin has taken a commanding lead thanks to seven event victories in Minneapolis. She will need to continue to grow her lead if she wants to win the championship, as she may run into conflict (academically and athletically) with her high school schedule for future Grand Prix meets. With 8 events at this meet, that’s a definite possibility. Even if she were to win, she wouldn’t be able to accept the prize without giving up her high school and NCAA eligibilities.
That leaves Ryan Lochte and Ricky Berens as the far-and-away leaders in the dash for the cash (assuming Franklin maintains her eligibility). Mike Alexandrov, Lia Neal, Erica Erndl, Haley Spencer, and Bobby Savulich are all sitting this stop out. Bonnie Brandon won’t be expected to score many points here, and neither will Todd Patrick, though a few bronzes here and there won’t be out of reach. Pelton has a chance to make a big push upwards with wins in the 100 and 200 back, where she has the number 2 and number 1 seeds, respectively.
Swimmers like Hoff, Smit, and Tullius could also thrust themselves into the mix with 6 events each and big potential points.