The 2011 Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix, as has become the norm, was a huge competitive and marketing success. Now that it’s been a few days, and the dust has had time to settle, it’s time to look at our 5 big things and 5 little things from the weekend’s meet.
5 BIG THINGS
1. Jones versus Schneider – The 5o freestyle, at any elite level, usually comes down to who hits their best swim on the right day. Teammates Cullen Jones and Josh Schneider are virtual equals in terms of quality, but in the swim-off on Thursday night, Jones came out on top. As a demonstration of this “right place, right time” concept, Schneider came back in the individual 50 free on Saturday and beat out Jones by .01 seconds. Either would have made a fine representative of Team USA in Shanghai, but Jones will be the man. Schneider will instead venture to be a fine representative of the USA in Shenzhen at the World University Games (meaning Josh Daniels won’t have a spot on that roster).
What was great to see about the race is that both swimmers were intense and competitive, and pulled no punches in the swim-off. However, it was clear throughout the rest of the weekend that it is without a doubt a very friendly rivalry. As more and more swimmers condense at a few elite programs, these teammate-versus-teammate battles are going to become increasingly prevalent. In the post-race interviews, both athletes handled it with a ton of grace, and pointed out that the outcome of the race will relieve tension rather than creating it sine they can go back to being JUST teammates, and not adversaries.
2. Michael Phelps Trips, Bob Bowman Vacations – Bob Bowman revealed during this meet that he had spent the last 3 weeks on vacation in Australia, citing the need to take a break from coaching the most high-profile Olympic athlete in the world. Though this was first revealed publicly at the meet, its not surprising given how much the Australian media has been discussing what Bowman has said over the last few weeks.
In his absence, it appears as though Phelps hasn’t made a whole lot of progress on his 200 fly, despite Bowman saying it will still be a focus event for him at the Olympics (over the 100 free, which falls on the same day). He lost again to Chinese swimmer Wu Peng (his second loss in the event in two meets, after not losing for almost a decade). He did, however, look strong in his 200 back, where he posted the 5th-best time in the world. Although the path to qualifying for London might be easier in the 200 fly, I think that the 200 backstroke should be a serious consideration for Phelps. If he’s lost his motivation to train butterfly at an elite level, maybe a change of stroke will give him a jump-start. And really, is there much doubt that at his best, Phelps can medal in just about any event he swims?
3. Missy Franklin’s Freestyle – Missy Franklin is a great backstroker, and we’ve known this. She set career-best times in each of the two backstroke distances at the Indianapolis Grand Prix in March. But she’s really coming into her own as a freestyler. She placed 3rd in the 100 in 54.60, and won the 200 handily in a career-best 1:57.66 (finishing half-a-second over Allison Schmitt and two better than Dana Vollmer). She is going to be a key part of the American 800 free relay in London if they want to reclaim their dominance in the event (they had won every gold ever awarded in the event prior to 2008).
But if her freestyle was exposed for how good it is, then her weakness in the backstrokes were exposed as well. She obviously didn’t have her best swim in the 100, which is surprising when comparing her freestyles. Perhaps this race was mitigated by swimming next to her self-proclaimed idol Natalie Coughlin. Coughlin is the queen of underwaters, and Franklin looked almost like an age-grouper next to her. A commenter made a great point that Franklin is making a great decision by retaining her amateur status with the goal of swimming in college. She’s got a World Championship and Olympics to worry about before she swims her first NCAA meet, but the constant focus (combined with her athleticism and 6’0 frame) should really help her nail down her wall work. If she can get hers anywhere near Coughlin’s, then the World Record will be in serious danger.
4. Ryan Lochte is Training Hard – Ryan Lochte swam some truly terrible (by elite standards) times at the Charlotte Grand Prix. The closest he came to a win was a lightning-fast start in the 200 free, which devolved into a 4th-place finish. He lost by over a second-and-a-half to Phelps in the 200 back. He missed the A-final in the 400 free, and didn’t even manage to finish in the top 10 in meet scoring to earn some cash.
So why did Phelps get such a hard time about his performance, and Lochte didn’t for his significantly worse performance? Mostly because of recent history, which has shown that Lochte (along with the majority of his Gator teammates) don’t always well in-season, but kill it at the end of the year. In fact, the worse Lochte’s times are right now, the more excited Lochte fans should be. Though we know he’s going to show up huge in Shanghai, this weekend showed that Gregg Troy must be absolutely killing his swimmers in practice right now. That type of work in May leads to big times in July.
5. Eric Shanteau Thriving in Southern California – Eric Shanteau looked phenomenal in this meet, and had great swims in both the 200 (2:10.95) and 100 (1:01.49) breaststrokes. Dave Salo’s influence was felt the most in the latter of those races, where he actually had the fastest opening 50 split (which is highly unusual for him). In the 200, he moved into the top 8 in the world with the win. If there were any doubt as to whether or not all of the breaststrokers migrating to Los Angeles were making the right decision, I think Sheanteau’s early returns are an emphatic “YES!”
5 little things
1. Eugene Godsoe – Former Stanford NCAA Champion Eugene Godsoe took a blow torch to the “Eugene-Godsoe” personal record book in front of a home crowd in Charlotte. In his four flat-start finals swims, he set four career-best times (and this is in a mid-season meet for a swimmer who was in his 20’s during the tech-suit era). His all-time bests were in the 100 free, 200 free, 100 fly, and 100 back. If you include his invitational meet from the weekend before, he set a personal-best in 5 events (the 200 fly) in a week. This is a huge weekend, and for a guy who had an uncertain future in international swimming, this has to encourage him to continue pursuing an international career.
2. Katinka Hosszu – Hosszu has looked pretty flat in her first two long course meets of the 2011 season, but not Lochte-flat. Her progression between the two meets indicates that she probably took a few weeks out of the water after winning NCAA Women’s Swimmer of the Year for USC. But she’s going to have to pick things up quickly if she wants to be ready to compete for expected medals in Shanghai. Her best swim of the weekend was easily her 2:12.29 in the 200 IM (that puts her 10th in the world right now), but her conditioning is clearly not quite there for her 400 or the 200 fly.
3. Jessica Hardy Hyper-extends Her Elbow – Jessica Hardy is missing important training, just a few months out of Shanghai, after hyper-extending her elbow at the finish of the 100 breaststroke on Saturday (where she happened to swim a dynamite time). The official diagnosis is hyper-extension of her ulnar tendon. The injury was enough to scratch her from the 100 free, and to keep her out of practice until she gets the go-ahead from her medical staff. According to her Twitter account, she seems to be taking things day-by-day. Hardy has been swimming her mind out since learning two weeks ago that the IOC wouldn’t apply the 6-month doping ban/Olympic suspension rule to her case, which makes this an unfortunate, momentum-halting injury. Hopefully she gets back in the water soon and gets back on track for the 50 free and 400 free relay in Shanghai.
4. Swimmers’ Generosity – You can say that its a result of USA Swimming’s new Athlete Partnership Agreement, which requires a certain number of promotional/charitable appearances, or you can say that swimmers are just naturally benevolent people, but either way, the USA National Team is doing a spectacular job of using their celebrity to support good causes. Rebecca Soni was signing autographs at the “Girl Up” tent, and Ricky Berens was supporting Tyler’s Treehouse, as well as the Dave Thomas Foundation which works to get foster children adopted. There was also Chloe Sutton’s NEGU attire, in support of a young teammate at Mission Viejo who is battling inoperable cancer. Even Michael Phelps got in on the fun, as he donated his $1,000 meet prize to charity as well. Big ups to the swimming world. They don’t have the types of national TV exposure to earn huge followings, but continued generosity with their time will certainly earn them many fans. (Heck, you could probably throw in Garrett Weber-Gale’s Chowdown after Sunday’s session to that mix too, check out the comments here to read one fans recap of the event.)
5. SwimMAC Domination – Be it by design, by accident, or by adrenaline, David Marsh’s host SwimMAC Carolina squad stole the show at the UltraSwim. In team scoring, they bested the next-closest team, SwimOntario, by 129 points- even if you include unattached swimmers with programs like Trojan Aquatics and Gator Swim Club. This is great for SwimMAC, as a National Center of Excellence, and also huge for increasing the reputation of the sport. More importantly, Marsh allowed his top swimmers to participate in relays, which is incredibly exciting for the young fans (they haven’t yet been conditioned to USA Swimming’s dastardly notions that club-level relays are the antithesis of elite swimming).
Good swimming by the home team is a huge way to attract fans to swim meets (it works in every other sport, why not swimming?). SwimMAC put on a great show top-to-bottom, and a big-time team win was the perfect way to cap it off.