The stars will be out in full-force in Ann Arbor for the 2011 Eric Namesnik USA Swimming Grand Prix. The meet will begin Friday and run through Sunday, and we will post a live stream in the side bar when it’s available.
Allison Schmitt, just off of a hugely successful college season, is jumping right into long course competition on the quick turnaround for Shanghai. Many other big names will be there too, including Katie Hoff, Christine Magnuson, and Dana Vollmer. The big draw on the women’s side is Natalie Coughlin, who will be swimming her first Grand Prix meet of the season, th0ugh Grand Prix standouts Missy Franklin (this year’s leader) and Chloe Sutton (last year’s winner) are both ominously absent.
On the men’s side, former Michigan standouts Michael Phelps and Tyler Clary will be in attendance, as will the third part of the “Best All-Around Swimmers in the World Club,” Ryan Lochte. It looks like we’ll finally, at long last, get our first look at sprinter Cullen Jones since the 2010 Pan Pac Championships. However, Josh Schneider (with whom he will have a show down in a few weeks for a spot on the Shanghai 2011 team) is absent, which ruins that story-line. On the other hand, Jason Lezak will be in attendance. Jones and Lezak are likely battling for relay spots in both 2011 and 2012. Here’s a look at the top things to watch at this meet.
1. The Men’s Field is Absolutely Loaded- Just about every major male who is a World Championship medal-hopeful that trains in the Western Hemisphere will be in attendance at this meet. Besides Phelps, Lochte, Clary, and Jones, who we mentioned above, other stars in attendance will include: Cesar Cielo, Thiago Pereira, Andre Schultz (really, most of the Brazilian team), Wu Peng, Ous Mellouli, Simon Burnett, Arthur Frayler, Andrew Gemmell, Markus Rogan, Michael Klueh, David Nolan, Mark Gangloff, Mike Alexandrov, Robert Margalis, Peter Vanderkaay, Clark Burckle, and Charlie Houchin, amongst others.
2. Evolution of the Phelps’ Sprinting/Cielo Showdown- If Michael Phelps is going to convince his coach Bob Bowman (along with the rest of the world) that he is serious about the 100 free, and that it is an event worth dropping the 200 IM or free for (as some have suggested he might), this weekend would be a great time to show it. Despite a bit of a “whiff” at 2010 Pan Pac’s, Cesar Cielo is still the fastest sprinter in the world. If Phelps can win this race then it would be a huge boost to his cause and might make people take him seriously as a sprinter.
3. Ous Mellouli Appears to be Taking 400 IM Very Seriously- In 2008 and 2009, Ous Mellouli won the premier event in the 1500 free (the Olympics, and World Championships), and emerged with 3 out of the 5 fastest times in history. In 2010, he had sort of an awkward season, where he was around for all of the big meets, but never really in the kind of shape it takes for the grueling events that he usually takes on. But it looks like he may be shifting his focus from the distance freestyles to the relatively glamorous 400 IM, which is an event that he focused on much earlier in his career. Out of the 7 events that he’s entered in for this meet, only 1 is freestyle (and that’s the 100). He’s loaded up on 200 yard stroke races that, similar to a schedule of someone like Tyler Clary, would seem intent upon preparing him for the 400 IM. In 2011, he is currently ranked 3rd in the world.
4. Allison Schmitt Begins Long Course Quest- After a fantastic college season, Allison Schmitt has garnered a lot of attention in terms of her international potential for Shanghai and especially London. Rumors have begun swirling that she might use her redshirt during the 2011-2012 college season to focus on London, and (if her mind isn’t already made up) her success during this summer’s long course season could be a huge factor in that decision for her.
Other collegiate swimmers kicking off their long course season include Cal’s Caitlin Leverenz, Michigan’s Sean Ryan, Florida’s Marcin Cieslak, USC’s Stina Gardell, and Missouri’s Jan Konarzewski.
5. Wu Peng Skips Chinese Nationals To Swim in Ann Arbor- Club Wolverine’s Wu Peng is one of the few Chinese swimmers who doesn’t train in the country, and he (somewhat surprisingly) didn’t swim at Chinese Nationals, instead opting to compete in this Grand Prix. After a great performance at the short course Championships in Dubai last December, he has become a popular darkhorse pick in the men’s 200 fly. If he wants to earn a medal in London, however, 3 of the men he will have to get by are his current or former Michigan teammates: Phelps, Clary, and Dan Madwed. All 3 of those guys will be competing in this race, which should make for an exciting battle for the home-town crowd.
6. Young Guns of American Distance Freestyle- Chad La Tourette, who’s currently is the USA’s only real hope in the distance freestyles in Shanghai, is sitting this meet out. But this leaves the door open for a great battle from America’s two rising stars: Arthur Frayler (17) and Andrew Gemmell (20). Frayler has been doing some impressive things in the distance freestyles for such a young age. In fact, we probably haven’t seen a high school student do the things Frayler is doing since Bobby Hackett scored silver at the 1976 Montreal Olympics in the 1500 when he was only 16. Andrew Gemmell recently made the tough decision to leave the Georgia team to focus on international training, and we’ll see how that pays off for him here. This could have been an incredible race if all in attendance swam it, but with stars like Mellouli, Vanderkaay, and Sean Ryan opting for alternative event schedules, the race is deflated a bit. The veterans Michael Klueh and Chip Peterson, however, will be there pushing their young USA teammates.
7. Dana Vollmer- Thus far in 2011, Vollmer has seemed to focus on the shorter distances (the 50 free, the 100 free, and the 100 fly), and has yet to break 2-minutes in the 200. This seems to indicate that there may be a bit of an event-shift for her after ranking 3rd in the world in the 100 last year. However she’s entered in a bit of a curve-ball race in the 400 free at this weekend’s Grand Prix meet. This sort of goes against what her previous meets indicated this year, so perhaps the shorter races she’s swum thus far has more to do with an overall season-long training plan than a true change in paradigm.
8. Jasmine Tosky- Tosky is another in line in the modern era of young, American female swimmers who have incredible versatility (Missy Franklin, Felicia Lee, Maya DiRado, Liz Pelton). She’s been training in Palo Alto, and there’s no better place for her. Tosky is entered in 9 events in this meet, including as the top seed in the 200 fly, 2nd-seed in the 400 IM, and 3rd-seed in a loaded 200 free, which is a huge load for a 17-year old. She’s going to be a huge get in the class of 2012, though I doubt that Lea Maurer will let her escape the friendly confines of the Avery Aquatics Center.
9. First Look at Natalie Coughlin in 2011- We haven’t seen Coughlin swim since the 2010 World Championships in Dubai, where she won a surprising gold in the 100 back (probably haven’t heard that statement in about a decade) to prove that she’s still the queen, at least in short course. She doesn’t really need as many meets as some of her younger competitors, especially given her new training regiment that relies more on nutrition and dry-land exercises with less time spent in the water. In Ann Arbor, she will stick to what has become her core of events: the 100 back, 100 fly, and 100 free.
10. David Nolan Gets His Shot at the Big Boys- Ever since David Nolan permanently tattooed his name onto the national swimming consciousness 3 weeks ago, there’s been plenty of talk about which swimmer he would have beaten in what race, or which swimmers he will beat in which races. But he still hasn’t done it. Yet. This weekend, he will get his first shot at the big boys since officially joining swimming’s elite. He will do so at the new home turf of Kyle Whitaker (who will also be swimming), with whom he traded 200 IM National High School Records over the past few years. Whitaker and Nolan are very similar swimmers, except that Whitaker focuses on the longer distance of everything, and Nolan focuses on the shorter distance. Hopefully, their schedules overlap more heavily down the road, because this has the makings of a great rivalry.
This weekend, Nolan will swim the 200 IM (against Phelps, Clary), the 100 free, the 200 free, the 100 fly (again against Phelps, as well as Subirats), and the 100 back (against Phelps, Lochte, and Godsoe). We know what his yards times have done since last year, now we’ll get to see what his meters times have done.
11. Magnuson v. Vollmer- Magnuson versus Vollmer is developing into a great butterfly battle a la Crocker-Phelps circa 2006 and 2007. These two will show-down in the 100 fly in Ann Arbor in what could be another great race like we saw at Nationals last August. On the women’s side, this is probably the race that I’m looking most forward to.
Missy Franklin still holds the series lead (though, as we’ve mentioned before, she’s said she’ll decline the prize money if she wins it, to maintain her amateur status). Despite skipping her second Grand Prix meet, it’s unlikely that anyone will overtake her for the overall series lead. Ous Mellouli, who sprang into 2nd place after USA-Swimming remembered to include his 4 scoring races from Minneapolis in November, is 21 points behind. He would have to average a 3rd-place finish in his 7 events to pull even with Franklin.
Ryan Lochte sits 3rd, but is still a whopping 29 points behind. He would have to win all 6 of his events, including an unlikely 100-200 fly double, to move into 1st. He and Mellouli will be very close for 2nd after this meet, with Phelps staying put 4th. Katie Hoff and Tyler Clary will be fighting for the final spot in the top-5 of the overall series standings with just 2 meets to go.
Behind the Name
This meet, though not always an official part of the USA Swimming Grand Prix Series, has been held every spring since 2006 by Club Wolverine in honor of Eric Namesnik. He was a silver medalist in the 400 IM at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics (a piece of the legendary Michigan 400 IM tradition), and after finishing his college eligibility for Michigan in 1993 served as a Michigan assistant for 7 seasons. Namesnik died tragically in 2006 (when he was only 35) as the result of injuries sustained in a car accident in Michigan.