The Annual Columbus Grand Prix is never a huge meet on the Grand Prix schedule, but this year’s event will have a decent field (certainly a big step up from Missouri a few weeks ago).
The headliners will be Michael Phelps, Allison Schmitt, and the rest of the North Baltimore elite group. A portion of Trojan’s postgrad group (Mike Alexandrov, Mads Glaesner) will be at the meet, but power-couple Ricky Berens and Rebecca Soni are sitting out. As are their teammates Dominik Meichtry and Jessica Hardy, as they’re surely enjoying their new engagement from last weekend.
The other recently engaged couple, Tucson Ford’s Annie Chandler and Matt Grevers will be at the meet along with a majority of their Tucson Ford teammates. Grevers swam very well in Columbia, when the big proposal happened, and I bet he’ll repeat that in Columbus.
Ryan Lochte and the Gator Swim Club stayed home – they’ve shown a preference to swim more local meets this time of year.
A good chunk of the Hungarian National Team is on a training venture in the states, including Evelyn Verraszto, Zsu Jakabos, David Verraszto, and Agnes Mutina. If David Verraszto does swim this meet as he’s entered, then that means he shelled out roughly $2,200 for the right to do so, as that was part of his punishment for a fight after last year’s European Short Course Championships.
Former Ohio State teammates, and current SwimMAC teammates, Elliot Keefer and Tim Phillips are returning home for this meet. Most of their MAC teammates are sitting it out. It’s disappointing that we won’t see Josh Schneider at this meet: word out of Charlotte is that he swam a 22.1 in a long course 50 free in practice last week.
Jason Lezak is flying in for this meet. Most of Cal isn’t coming, but Damir Dugonjic and Natalie Coughlin are. No Missy Franklin, as she’s staying closer to home to swim a Sectionals Meet instead. No Chloe Sutton either: though she’s on the psych sheets, she’s a late scratch from the meet.
This meet sees only a partial collection of pro swimmers, but it will see a huge majority of the best high school swimmers in the country, so it will be a great chance to scope out some of the country’s best young talent. Let’s take a look at some of the top things to watch for at this meet.
1. Men’s 400 Free Relay – Leading off with a relay at a Grand Prix Meet? Where hundreds of swimmers have managed to only create ten entries? The reason why is that one of those ten is the New Trier Swim Club that a few weeks ago became the first in high school competition to break three minutes at the Illinois High School State Championships. The group of Sam Skinner, Reed Malone, Jack Mangan, and Max Grodecki will now be chasing a National Age Group Record in the long course 400 free that stands at 3:26.15. That’s going to be a tall task, but this is a very good relay.
2. Michael Phelps Sitting Out 100 Fly – Phelps is entered in this meet in the 100/200 free, the 100/200 back, the 200 fly, and the 200 IM. That’s a full three-day schedule, but what’s really missing there is the 100 fly. What does this say about him? It says “confidence” in the 100 fly. In the leadup to the 2008 Olympic Trials, when Phelps was still a mile ahead of the world in the 200 fly, he dropped that event from his Grand Prix schedule in his last few pre-Trials meets.
3. Tim Phillips Swimming the 100 Fly – When we last saw Phillips, at the Austin Grand Prix in January, he swam a pretty thick schedule that included five different events (including races like the 200 free and 200 IM) that will be outside of his Olympic schedule). As sort of the opposite of what Phelps is doing, Phillips is honing in on the events he is really gunning for in London: the 50/100 freestyles and 100 fly. He’ll get a bit of push from the likes of Phelps training partner Chris Brady and Brazilian Henrique Martins, but this is his race to lose. Expect a sub-53 in this race.
4. Austin Staab Swimming the 100 Fly – Continuing the theme, this might be the most exciting 100 fly entry of the meet. Staab has been in swimming, out of swimming, back in swimming, and now again out of swimming. We haven’t seen a race out of him since finishing his 2011 NCAA Championship meet. But swim fans have been salivating about Staab as Phelps’ heir apparent since he was in high school. But he’s got a big event schedule that indicates he’s been doing some training while laying low. We haven’t seen Staab swim a serious long course meet in over two-and-a-half years (since 2009 Summer Nationals), but he’s said he intends to try for the Olympics. Could be a great darkhorse pick at Trials.
5. Elliot Keefer – Elliot Keefer was the fill-in for the 200 breaststroke at the World Championships, after Scott Spann effectively retired. He’s now trying to establish a spot for himself on the Olympic Team to prove he belongs. That task becomes tougher with Brendan Hansen swimming well, but Keefer has been swimming practice times faster than he ever has before. Expect him to be faster than his 2:15 in the 200 breast in Austin.
6. Natalie Coughlin in the 200 IM – In what has been a continuing narrative of curiosity this season, Natlalie Coughlin will again race the 200 IM at this Columbus Grand Prix. Even knowing how good she is, I think many were surprised that she swam a 2:12.44 that makes her the fastest American this year in this race. She’ll have a great race with Hungarians Evelyn Verraszto and Szu Jakabos in this race, and if that pushes her to another 2:12-mid, the pressure will ramp up for her to swim this race at Trials.
7. Women’s 200 Free – Allison Schmitt was very fast in this 200 free in Austin – nearly eclipsing her best time from all of 2011. As 1:55’s and 1:56’s in heavy training have, worldwide, become sort of the standard rather than the exception, some pressure is on Schmitt to keep up. She’ll get a good race from Hungary’s Agnes Mutina – Schmitt is a better swimmer, but Mutina has the speed to push her on the front-half of the race.
8. Men’s 100 Breaststroke – As has become the norm for these Grand Prix meets, the men’s 100 breaststroke is stacked. There’s no Eric Shanteau, but just about all of the rest of the country’s top breaststrokers will be there: Mike Alexandrov, John Criste, Clarke Burckle, as well as American-trained internationals Neil Versfeld, Kosuke Kitajima, Barry Murphy, and Vladislav Polyakov. Kitajima has not been racing much this spring, and when we last saw him at Winter Nationals he was not that fast. Usually about this time of the season, he’s putting up times very near a minute, but that didn’t work out splendidly for him last season at Worlds.