It’s a sign that we’re approaching the Olympic Trials that the superstars of the sport have come to the forefront and dominated the first full day of action at the 2012 Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix. That included big wins from swimming power-couple Ricky Berens and Rebecca Soni, as well as a few swimmers re-establishing themselves as Olympic favorites.
Women’s 200 Free
You knew this was going to be a great meet from the first race, when Allison Schmitt put up a 1:57.38 for a new Meet Record in the women’s 200 free. When we combine that with her swims from the majority of this Grand Prix season, we can guess that she’s in pretty big training, as she was faster in the finals in both Indy and Austin. Her ability to consistently put up 1:57’s or better says a lot about the kind of shape she’s headed for. Then again, the fact that there’s been a group of athletes around the world who have been just as impressive on a consistent basis (Sarah Sjostrom, Bronte Barratt, Camille Muffat) shows how incredibly difficult this race is going to be at the Olympics.
Dana Vollmer continued playing with her potential Olympic schedule and took 2nd in a 1:58.62; not a bad time, but not as good as her 100 fly later in the session. Katie Hoff took 3rd in 1:58.85, which is right in the range she’s been in all year.
After those three, there were a lot of great swims in the rest of the A-Final. Georgia Bulldog Shannon Vreeland crushed her best time in this final with a 1:59.01 for 4th. That’s a second-and-a-half faster than she’s ever been. In similar fashion, 15-year old Katie Ledecky broke the two-minute barrier for the first time in her career with a 1:59.05 for 5th. She seems to take a huge stride at one end of her range or the other (either the shorter or the longer end) every time she swims. Liz Pelton took 6th in 2:00.08, just .01 ahead of Canadian Sam Cheverton.
Lia Neal swam well out of the C-Final to take 18th overall in 2:00.54; Chloe Sutton was worn out and swam only a 2:02.48; it’s not a great time, but it’s right around where she’s been this year.
Men’s 200 Free
Charlotte loves Ricky Berens. Sometimes, regardless of the hype of a race (Phelps vs. Lochte in their only showdown of the weekend), there’s no place like home. I’d say that after this swim, Ricky Berens is pretty fond of Charlotte as well. He took a win (and a relatively easy one at that) with a 1:47.32, which is the third-fastest time that he’s ever been in textile. He has been absolutely outstanding in this 200 free this year; we know that now that he’s training with Trojan he’s not going to have the same huge two-second tapers that he did while working with Eddie Reese in Austin, but he’s still on par to get into the 1:45-high or 1:46-low range if he hits his taper. Don’t count him totally out of an individual swim for the Olympics in this race, but he’s the big reason why the Americans are heavy favorites in this 800 free relay.
Phelps is back to his normal routine after a lights-out meet in Columbus 2 months ago. Despite only swimming one event on the day, he swam only a 1:48.01 for 2nd-place overall. Giving the groans we heard from him in his pre-race interview, he’ll probably be happy with that time. I think the 200 fly on Saturday will be a more telling swim for him.
Charlie Houchin was 3rd in 1:49.03, with Conor Dwyer 4th in 1:49.32. Dwyer has beaten his teammate Ryan Lochte more than once this Grand Prix season, which would be a surprise to many as they’re probably in pretty similar training. The feeling though is that Lochte’s weight routine is so ridiculous, even relative to his own teammates, that he’s really broken down even compared to his teammates. Lochte wasn’t bad, as this meet is the beginning of his shift in focus from just day-in day-out destruction of his body, to starting to focus on training. He was 6th in 1:49.70.
Ous Mellouli was 5th in 1:49.40, which is his best time of 2012.
Women’s 100 Breaststroke
Maybe some of that Charlotte home-cooking that Ricky Berens was rewarded with rubbed off on his long-time girlfriend Rebecca Soni. Of course, the obvious answer is that the Trojan pro group took the last week a bit easy, but we don’t know that for a fact. Either way, she exploded with a 1:05.85 to win the women’s 100 breaststroke – the fastest time in the world in 2012. Soni is always outstanding at this meet, having now gone under 1:06 for three-straight years. She seems to be right on pace to win the Olympic gold.
Her teammate Jessica Hardy took 2nd in 1:07.52.
SwimMAC home-team’er Micah Lawrence looked outstanding as well for 3rd in 1:08.06. This swim, along with her 1:08.2 from prelims, are the two best swims of her career outside of the 2010 Pan Pac Championships. With her looking this good in the 100, I think she’s actually the favorite to swim second behind Soni at trials in the 200. Lawrence is back – that’s for sure.
Rebecca Ejdervik took 4th in 1:09.46, and Caitlin Leverenz took 5th in 1:09.84. Annie Zhu was 6th in 1:10.58 – that’s her best time of 2012 and another outstanding in-season swim for the Georgia commit. Things are going well for her now transferred to North Baltimore.
Corrie Clark looked decent at 30, coming back from a recent extended competition break. She was 7th in 1:12.21. Not to be missed, 40-year old Lisa Blackburn from T2 Aquatics took 8th, but was much faster with a 1:11.70 in prelims. She represents Bermuda internationally, and this is as fast as she’s been in half-a-decade. She’s getting dangerously close to the FINA B-times; she should get close in the 200 on Saturday as well.
Men’s 100 Breaststroke
Trojan’s Eric Shanteau has always been a good closer in the 100 breaststroke. But it’s been a while since we’ve seen him close as well as he did in this race, en route to a big come-from-behind win in 1:00.46. That put him nearly a second ahead of former Auburn teammate and runner-up Mark Gangloff in 1:01.41.
Another pair of teammates in Longhorn swimmers Brendan Hansen (1:01.51) and Christian Schurr (1:02.08) went 3rd and 4th. Both of those swimmers have been on fire in the last year in their comebacks, but in reality this is as much as Hansen has struggled since his return. Schurr, on the other hand, is right around the best time he swam 3 weeks ago at a home meet in Austin.
Men’s/Women’s 50 Breaststroke
Two of the three fastest 50 backstrokers in American history went head-to-head in this race, and as one would hope for came down to the final touch in an all-out sprint. Tennessee Volunteer Jennifer Connolly touched first in 27.99, followed closely behind future Cal Bear Rachel Bootsma in 28.00.
In the men’s 50, both Lochte and Phelps scratched the race (Lochte only after a 26.70 in prelims). Eugene Godsoe ended up with the win in 25.24, which is a nice follow-up to a good 50 back at the Maria Lenk Trophy in Brazil a few weeks ago. Adam Mania took 2nd in 25.40, ahead of Nick Thoman in 25.41.
Women’s 100 Fly
As alluded to above, Dana Vollmer looked phenomenal in the 100 fly final, as she continues to work this year on finishing multiple-round meets in this event. She had a very easy 58.0 in prelims, and followed that with a new Meet Record of 57.32 in the final. That’s half-a-second better than her old mark set at last year’s meet and faster than she has ever been at an in-season meet.
Her teammate Natalie Coughlin was neck-and-neck with Western Kentucky’s Claire Donahue throughout the race, but on the final strokes over took her younger competitor for a 58.82 for 2nd. Donahue also had her best in-season time ever of 58.84.
Men’s 100 Fly
SwimMAC’s men’s group took 3 of the top 4 spots in this race, with winning honors going to Davis Tarwater in 52.87. Much like the women’s race, that’s his best in-season time, from either before or after his hiatus while attending Oxford.
In relative terms, he had the best performance of the three. Tim Phillips took 3rd in 53.28, and Eugene Godsoe took 4th in 53.38.
In between that group was a silver-medal performance from Auburn’s Tyler McGill in 52.98.
Another pair of SwimMAC’ers made the finals in this race, but Cullen Jones (11th – 54.77) and Josh Schneider (20th – 55.55) scratched the final.
Women’s 400 IM
Cal swimmer Caitlin Leverenz continues to roll after turning a corner in her IM’s in the last year, as she broke the Meet Record in the women’s 400 IM in a runaway time of 4:38.35. That’s not her best time of the season, but it did win by over two seconds ahead of Katie Hoff (4:40.82).
This year’s Leverenz is a whole different IM’er than last year’s Leverenz. Her breaststroke legs haven’t been quite as huge as they used to be, but she’s more than made up for that with a greatly improved backstroke leg. In this race, she split a 1:12.3 on the backstroke leg, which is a full two-second faster than when she was a 3:38 in finals at last year’s World Championships. Whether or not she sticks with the new strategy going into championship season remains to be seen, but for now it seems to be working.
Elizabeth Beisel took 3rd in 4:41.22. The old meet record was hers in 4:39 from 2010, but then she was still training with the Bluefish Swim Club. As compared to the 4:50 she went at last year’s meet on her way to the World Championship, this is a good swim.
Texas A&M sophomore Sarah Henry made her long course debut in this meet after a second ACL surgery. She didn’t appear to have any troubles, even on the breaststroke, and took 4th in 4:46.61. That’s the 4th-best time of her career.
Men’s 400 IM
Guess which member of the training group at the Gator Swim Club won this 400 IM. The obvious guess is the defending World Champion Lochte – but he was only 7th in 4:26.04 (slow even by his own in-season standards after losing his goggles). Next you might say Conor Dwyer, but he was 6th in 4:25.70.
The winner of the race was instead Peter Vanderkaay in a speedy 4:16.22.
It’s not that he doesn’t swim this race much. He swims it fairly frequently for training purposes, working toward the 400 and 1500 freestyles. But he never swims it this well. The previous best time of his life was a 4:23 – 7 seconds slower than this swim. Where exactly this swim came from is a little confusing – based on the swims of Dwyer and Lochte, the Gator Swim Club wasn’t prepared for this meet at all. Maybe Vanderkaay is on a different training schedule than his teammates?
Regardless of the case, that’s a great time and the third-fastest by an American this year.
Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli was 2nd in 4:18.81, and Tyler Harris was 3rd in 4:21.27.
Men’s/Women’s 50 Free
The one chink in Rebecca Soni’s formidable breaststroke repertoire is the non-Olympic 50. There, her teammate Jessica Hardy is best, and she took an upset win here in 30.82. Soni was 2nd in 30.86.
Tennessee swimmer Molly Hannis was impressive in taking 3rd in 31.85, with Micah Lawrence 4th (32.17).
The men’s race was won by Irish Olympian-to-be Barry Murphy in 27.81. That out-touched Mark Gangloff who was 2nd in 27.89.