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2018 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
- Wednesday, July 25 – Sunday, July 29, 2018
- William Woollett Aquatics Center, Irvine, CA
- Prelims 9 AM / Finals 6 PM (U.S. Pacific Time)
- Meet website
- Meet information
- Event Order
- Full selection procedures
Simplified Selection Criteria – Non-Olympic Events
- Top 1 to 2019 World Championships
NC State’s Justin Ress burst onto the scene in a big way in 2017 by qualifying for the FINA World Championships – his first international team – in the 50 backstroke. For the sake of perspective, his time of 24.41 was only 0.08 away from Randall Bal‘s longstanding 2008 American Record of 24.33. Since then, Ress has yet to slow down – diversifying his repertoire with a 53.27 in the 100 back, 22.36 in the 50 free, and 49.14 in the 100 free. What makes Ress so dangerous, though, is his consistency. Since the beginning of 2017, he has been 24 in the 50 back 9 times, 53 in the 100 back 11 times, 22 in the 50 free 11 times, and 49 in the 100 free 9 times.
As the defending National Champion and 2nd fastest American performer of all time, Ress is certainly the favorite on paper going into the meet. However, a mixed bag full of veterans and newcomers will be gunning for the throne – including World Junior Champion Michael Andrew, omnipresent and age-defying Matt Grevers (reigning World Championship bronze medalist in this event), 100m backstroke World Record holder Ryan Murphy, and possibly a surprise contender in Ress’ NC State teammate and training partner Ryan Held – aka the “Spin Boss.” While there is not a lot of immediate value on the line in this event as it does not qualify for this summer’s Pan Pacs, it will still provide plenty of fireworks.
Day 3 at U.S. Nationals presents Michael Andrew an interesting dilemma – with arguably 3 of his best (or better, at least) events back-to-back-to-back in the 100 fly, 50 breast, and 50 back. The 100 fly seemed to be slowly falling off of his radar for international contention until he fired off a massive lifetime best of 51.86 at the Pro Swim Series in Columbus – the 2nd fastest time by an American this year behind a 51.00 from Jack Conger (Atlanta PSS, March). Andrew is the 4th fastest American ever in the 50 breast thanks to his recent 27.12 from the Mare Nostrum in Canet-en-Roussillon – which was just outside of the world top 10 for 2018. On top of that, he is the 5th fastest American ever in the 50 back with a 24.63 from last summer’s World Junior Championships (his 2018 best of 24.70 is the 6th fastest time in the world).
So, yes, it is fair to say a difficult decision lies ahead of him. As an avid pupil of USRPT, Andrew is no stranger to competing in (at a high level) multiple races in a session. Thus, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him pick 2 of the 3 aforementioned events. Here is where it gets a little sticky, though. Andrew, now 19 years old and 5 years into a highly publicized professional career, has yet to qualify for a major senior-level international team (Olympics, World Championships, Pan Pac Championships). He even alluded to this at the Pro Swim Series in Columbus by bluntly stating, “50’s of stroke don’t qualify for Pan Pacs.” As someone who has had wild success in all 4 of the 50’s of stroke, it almost feels like Andrew is at a point in his career where he has to legitimize himself with a big swim in an Olympic event. Outside of the 50 free and 100 breast, that event is likely the 100 fly right now. Thus, it’s fair to predict he will go for the 100 fly, drop the 50 breast, and then take a stab at the 50 back as a fall back plan for qualifying for the 2019 World Championships (Remember: only 1 swimmer automatically qualifies for the 2019 World Championships in non-Olympic events).
While the spotlight might be focused on swimmers like Ress and Andrew over the 50 meter distance, it’s impossible to count out the backstroke greats in Grevers (3rd at 2017 U.S. Nationals) and Murphy (2nd at 2017 U.S. Nationals) – who have both proved time and time again that they show up when and where it matters most. Grevers is the 2012 Olympic Champion in the 100 back and Murphy is the 2016 Olympic Champ (and WR holder) in the same event.
The reality is that these 50’s of stroke are difficult to predict on merit alone. Anything can happen on any given day. It will likely end up coming down to whoever best executes the details – clean start, clean breakout, tempo, head/body position, properly timed finish, etc.
Just as it was considered a surprise last summer to see Ress pick up a victory in a backstroke event over the likes of Grevers and Murphy, we could easily see someone like Held or even Texas’ John Shebat get their hand on the wall first in Irvine. Get your popcorn ready, folks – this one is going to be exciting.
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