Day 3 of the Arena Pro Swim Series at Santa Clara has wrapped up. Here are 5 big things included in Saturday’s action:
1. Michael Phelps back in the 200 fly? It’s still a longshot that the winningest Olympian of all-time would return to the event he dominated for so many years – after all, Phelps has hardly raced the 200 fly since his comeback from retirement in 2014. But tonight’s 200 fly win was a huge step in the right direction. Phelps was about three full seconds faster than he was in Charlotte, which was his official return to the event for the first time since the 2012 London Olympics. A 1:57.62 still isn’t much of a swim on the international scale, but anyone who’s followed swimming over the past decade knows just how dangerous Phelps can be in a 200 fly. If he continues to shake off the rust at the rate he did between Charlotte and Santa Clara… well, a possible bid for a fifth-straight Olympic appearance in the event might not be as crazy as we once assumed.
2. Rhi Jeffrey comeback picks up steam: In 2004, Rhi Jeffrey was a member of the U.S.’s gold medal-winning 4×200 free relay at the Athens Olympics as a 17-year-old. Now, more than a decade later, the 28-year-old has earned her way back to the Olympic Trials after hitting her 50 free Olympic Trial cut in tonight’s finals. Jeffrey was actually under the Trial cut at last year’s Santa Clara meet, but that was just over a month before the official qualifying period for the 2016 Trials opened. So tonight’s 26.13 in the C Final was the swim that officially qualified her to return to the Olympic Trials next summer. Jeffrey was relay piece at multiple international meets in the early 2000s, but stopped competing in 2007. She returned to the sport in 2012, but this time will have more of a full head of steam heading into the Olympic Trials.
3. Coughlin staying true to freestyle focus: Former Olympic backstroker Natalie Coughlin has made it clear that the freestyle races are the focus of her career this time around. The Olympic gold medalist continues to see her talent shine through in the backstrokes, though, raising some questions about whether she’ll broaden or shift that focus moving forward. But today was a pretty clear indicator that Coughlin will stick to her original plan. Even after setting an American record in the 50 back last night, Coughlin chose to scratch the 100 this morning, saving her energy for the 50 freestyle. That focus paid off, too, as Coughlin took third overall and was within a tenth of the win in a loaded 50 free field.
4. Efimova back with a vengeance: Russian breaststroker Yulia Efimova is finally back in competition after an 18-month ban for doping, and she’s tearing it up. Efimova won last night’s 100 breast, but was perhaps more dominant in the 200 tonight, winning by almost two full seconds over some great international competitors. Efimova was 2:23.64, but split the race in a way that really showed off her endurance. Efimova went out in 1:10.67, but came back in 1:12.97, a gain of just 2.3 seconds between the 100s. Efimova was right in the thick of the field at the halfway-point, but by the 150-meter mark, it wasn’t even close. Efimova will have to go faster than that come Worlds to take home gold, but she’s proving that if she’s in the hunt at the halfway point, there may be no one more dangerous in the pool.
5. Giles Smith flashes the speed: Tonight’s highest-ranked swim in our World Rankings was Giles Smith‘s win in the 50 fly. His 23.30 ranks at #3 in the world so far this season, a great swim for the Arizona-based pro. That time for Smith is a half-second faster than he went in the national final last summer, and is actually two tenths faster than national champ Matt Grevers. Smith’s performances last summer didn’t qualify him for Worlds this August, but he is showing enough speed to make him a potential threat next summer in what’s already an incredibly loaded 100 fly field at Olympic Trials.