With yesterday’s release of the USA Swimming National Team roster, we can officially turn the calendar from “2010-2011” to “2011-2012.” There’s a bit of an overlap with October’s Pan American Games, which still feel like last season, but the beginning of the Olympic build up will truly kick off with the Grand Prix this fall.
The schedule will be strikingly similar to last year’s, beginning with the Minneapolis Grand Prix the second week of November. That meet will this year be held in meters, as compared to yards during the last Grand Prix season. That should attract more big-names to the event (last year, you will recall, Michael Phelps backed out of this meet at the last minute in 2010.) The alternative is that the meet may lose some of its college swimmers who last year used the meet as a mid-season rest to score some NCAA qualifying times.
After a winter break for the Long Course Nationals meet, the series will resume in Austin (the same weekend as last year), and then head to Columbia, Missouri a week earlier than the past season.
The biggest change will be that instead of picking up the Eric Namesnik meet on the University of Michigan campus, rivals Ohio State will get the nod this year the second week of March. The meet will continue its midwest swing with a stop at the famed IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis.
After the first 5 stops were on college campuses, the series will roll into private clubs for the last two meets, as is the usual, with the Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix in early May and the Santa Clara International Grand Prix going into the final week of May.
That Grand Prix meet is a few weeks earlier this season, and should serve as a final tuneup for the 2012 Olympic Trials that will take place from June 25-July 2nd in Omaha, Nebraska. There was some expectation that an Omaha stop would be added to the Grand Prix to give event organizers a trial run for the temporary facility, but that doesn’t seem to be on tap yet.
Missy Franklin is the defending series champion. Look for a lot of appearances from fellow high school phenom Rachel Bootsma in this year’s Grand Prix as among the highlights. Bootsma has decided to skip swimming the high school circuit during her senior season to focus on training for the Olympics, and I have to imagine that this will include participation in a huge portion of the Grand Prix Series (because training in Minnesota, there isn’t a ton of elite-level competition like there is somewhere like California). As a member of the National Team, and with her 8th-place ranking in the 100 back, she can effectively travel to the Grand Prix meets all-expenses paid without jeapordizing her college eligibility.
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, the two biggest stars of USA Swimming, will surely have plenty of appearances in the series as usual (though Lochte usually enters the meet on big training volumes, so not a whole lot of wins will come from him). Ous Mellouli, who was 4th last year, could win this if he swims the whole event through. That’s partially because of the events he swims. There’s not a ton of competition in the 400 and 1500 freestyles or the 400 IM at many of these Grand Prix meets, so he can rack up serious points in a hurry.
|Nov. 11-13, 2011||Minneapolis, Minn.||LCM|
|Jan. 13-16, 2012||Austin, Texas||LCM|
|Feb. 10-12, 2012||Columbia, Mo.||LCM|
|March 9-11, 2012||Columbus, OH||LCM|
|March 29-31 2012||Indianapolis, Ind.||LCM|
|May 10-13, 2012||Charlotte, N.C.||LCM|
|May 31-June 3, 2012||Santa Clara, Calif.||LCM|