Night two at the Arena Pro Swim Series – Austin has closed at the Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center. Here are five big things we learned:
1. Katie Ledecky is still on the rise: Katie Ledecky is a great swimmer. We all know this. But what’s so impressive about Ledecky’s current run is that she’s still showing marked improvement from race to race despite already being the best female distance swimmer the world has ever seen. The latest development was Ledecky’s 1:54.43 win in the 200 free. That’s more than half a second faster than her previous lifetime-best, the time she went in winning the world championship last year.
2. Sarah Sjostrom is a sprinter: It’s been an ongoing conversation. Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom is an elite sprint free/flyer, but has also been surprisingly strong in the 200 free throughout her career. She was good in the 200 tonight, but her 24.17 in the 50 free was the swim that absolutely blew the roof off the building. As enticing as it would be to see Sjostrom go after 200 free gold in Rio, it’s clear after tonight that the sprints are where she can be truly historic.
3. Nathan Adrian wants to double: In 2012, Nathan Adrian won Olympic gold in the 100 free but missed the U.S. team in the 50. Heading into 2016, it’s clear Adrian has an Olympic double on his mind. He won the 50 free tonight in dominating fashion, going 21.85 to beat world champs bronze medalist Bruno Fratus. Adrian would still have to get by France’s Florent Manaudou to win double Olympic gold, but he’s showing a great ability to at least put himself in the gold medal hunt in both races.
4. Lochte in 400 IM might not be such a stretch: When Ryan Lochte came back from his major knee in jury in 2013, it seemed like the 400 IM might be off the table as an Olympic event. At age 31, Lochte appeared set to chase more sprint-based events – but tonight’s big win in the 400 IM begs the question of whether Lochte could indeed compete for an Olympic medal in the event this summer. Lochte was 4:12.66, easily the fastest he’s been since that injury, and he beat nearly all the big names (Kalisz, Prenot, Clary) he’ll have to beat at U.S. Olympic Trials in the event.
5. DiRado takes a big step: Stanford alum Maya DiRado‘s win in the 200 back tonight was big for two reasons. First, it was a new lifetime-best, topping her previous best from Winter Nationals last month. (She was 2:08.28 then, 2:08.19 tonight). That constant upward progression is important. And so is the fact that she beat two world-class backstrokers head-to-head tonight in Missy Franklin and Katinka Hosszu. Franklin was the 2012 Olympic champ in the event and the silver medalist at 2015 Worlds, and Hosszu took bronze in Kazan. DiRado topping both from an outside lane is a big statement that she can compete with the world’s best as she chases her first Olympic bid.