Day 1 of the 2012 Austin Grand Prix, which was almost a mini-National Championship meet give or take, are in the books.
The top team on the day was SwimMAC, who despite not winning any races had a lot of very good swims. Aside from that, there were a ton of individuals who had very good days, most notabley Amanda Weird in the 100 free and Allison Schmitt in a tough six-swim day.
Women’s 100 Free
Like the women’s sprint group as a whole, Amanda Weir has been in a bit of a slump the past few years. But on day 1 in Austin, her 54.14 win in the 100 free caught everyone (myself included) totally off-guard. That time beats her best time from Worlds (she went another 54.14 at Nationals), and is the fastest she’s been, in textile, since 2006. Weir might be peaking just at the right moment as the Americans search for the right 4th-leg to help push them past the Dutch at the Olympics.
Missy Franklin placed 2nd in 54.46, and Allison Schmitt taking 3rd in 54.55. Schmitt has found some great sprint speed the past 6 months, and could ultimately be a relay factor in London as well.
The Canadians Victoria Poon and Julia Wilkinson took 5th and 6th in 55.36 and 55.55, respectively. Kara Lynn Joyce continued to struggle in 7th at 55.83, and Natalie Coughlin was 56.10 for 8th. Coughlin appeared to be swimming tired (though she doesn’t peak anywhere near where she did when she was younger), so that dampers some excitement for her 200 IM later in the meet.
Madison Kennedy was no-worse for wear after swapping training grounds to SwimMAC. She won the B-Final in 55.85. Rachel Bootsma was 56.38, also in the B-Final.
Men’s 100 Free
The top three in the men’s 100 free highlighted three different styles in which the race can be approached. South Africa’s Gideon Louw takes his 100 out very hard, and does his best to hang on. Ricky Berens hangs back and accelerates through the turn and to the finish. Nathan Adrian tries to balance the two – he goes out fairly strong, but doesn’t burn all of his juice on the front-half.
On this day, it was Adrian that won out, with a victory in 48.97. Berens was dead-last at the turn, but fought all the way back for 2nd in 49.13, and Louw faded back to 3rd in 49.19.
At the top of the 2nd-tier of finishers was Anthony Ervin in 49.90. After nearly a decade out of serious competition, that’s a phenomenal swim for him, and should really rev the engines of his sizable fan-following. He went out relatively hard, and though he tired a bit on the back-half, he still did very well to drop from morning to finals. He spent some good time with SwimMAC training over the holiday while visiting his parents, and that combined with the work he’s been doing with Cal seems to have hit a winning combination.
Michael Phelps won the B-Final in 49.14, with Lochte placing 15th in the same race in 50.58. Roland Schoeman, coming off of a nasty forearm injury, was 13th in 50.48.
Women’s 200 Breast
Rebecca Soni has developed an uncanny ability to show up and put up huge times on any given day, and any given-where, and at the end of the year still dominates the Championship. She did this again in the 200 breaststroke in Austin, with a winning swim of 2:22.73. That gave her a full five-second victory, and to put that swim in further context, only one other swimmer (Yulia Efimova of Russia) was better in all of 2011. She won’t stop working, but I think it would probably be safe to pre-update Soni’s Wikipedia page and add another gold medal to her tallies.
In 2nd was Micah Lawrence, who’s swimming well at SwimMAC, with Kaitlin Freeman 3rd in 2:27.94. Kierra Smith, a part of the young Canadian insurgency and a future Minnesota Gopher, was 4th in 2:29.87. That put her well ahead of fellow Canadian, and former Gopher, Jillian Tyler in 5th at 2:31.00.
Texas A&M sophomore Breeja Larson was 7th in 2:31.97. She was about three seconds faster in the long-course prelims of the Tennessee Invitational, but aside from that this is her lifetime best. The Aggies were well-rested at that meet, though, and are in heavy training now, so still a good follow-up.
A surprise in the B-Final came from Canadian SMU freshman Rachel Nicol, who topped that heat in 2:30.94. She’s only been a 2:14 in yards, but seems to have much better than that in her. Fourty-year old Lisa Blackburn took 14th in 2:38.40, which is her best time in 5 years. If she were to repeat that at a Masters’ meet, it would clear the National record for 40-44’s.
Men’s 200 Breast
Though Brendan Hansen was absent from this meet, former Longhorn Aquatics swimmer (and current Trojan trainee) Eric Shanteau made a big statement in Austin with a 2:10.72 win in the 200 breaststroke. Those two are now well ahead of the rest of the country in this race, and are the favorites for the Olympic spots.
The man best-positioned to take one of those spots away might be Cal swimmer Sean Mahoney, though he was only 6th here in 2:16.31.
Ukrainian Valeriy Dymo took 2nd in 2:12.53. That’s the best textile time of his career.
A nice highlight out of the B-Final was local Nitro swimmer Benjamin Walker, who at only 14 was the youngest swimmer entered in the event. He swam a 2:22.90 for 22nd. His 2:22.19 from prelims was the best of his career by three seconds, and puts him 5th on the all-time list for the age group. He won’t age-up until after the next long-course season, and could take a run at Gunnar Bentz’s National Age Group record this summer.
Women’s 400 Free
In swim two of her night, NBAC’s Allison Schmitt looked as strong as in her first, with a 4:05.90 win. That’s a huge swim for her and is the best textile-swim of her career. With that swim, she is faster than any American was in 2011, and thus adds yet another possible Olympic event for her. On a related note, Schmitt has been ridiculously fast at every meet she’s swum this year. She and coach Bob Bowman are clicking big-time right now.
British swimmer Jazz Carlin took 2nd in 2:07.89. She’s a heavy favorite for an Olympic spot alongside Rebecca Adlington in her home-country. Texas A&M’s Sarah Henry, who hasn’t swum for the Aggies this season after undergoing another ACL surgery, had an interesting swim for 7th in 4:13.48. She may be going after a redshirt to focus on getting healthy for this summer’s Olympic Trials.
And the second-swim that everyone was waiting for, Janet Evans took 16th (last in the B-Final) in 4:18.15. Along with her 4:17 in prelims, the performance was right on the expected target, and most importantly relieved some stress with an Olympic Trials cut.
Men’s 400 Free
There were no fireworks in the men’s 400 free, but still lots of interesting swims. Canada’s Ryan Cochrane swam a 3:50.66, which is a bit slower than he’s used to in-season (though very close); meanwhile Michael Klueh took 2nd in 3:51.23, which is much better than he was at this same meet last year (about two seconds). But perhaps the biggest story coming out of the swim is that Cochrane swam with a cap. He’s infamous for swimming sans top, but is trying something new this year. Perhaps this is in preparation of using the new Speedo Fastskin 3 system, which includes a special built-in cap synergy. Cochrane is a Speedo-sponsored athlete, but didn’t appear to be wearing the newest suit at this meet.
Meanwhile, Charlie Houchin, who is now training at Bolles in his own, Hutchison-like program, had a strong 3rd-place time of 3:51.77.
The best time of the final, however, was Klueh’s FAST training partner Matt McLean in the B-Final, who swam a 3:49.88. That’s the fastest he’s ever been outside of Nationals earlier this summer.
The Florida swimmers Peter Vanderkaay and Conor Dwyer swam better than they typically do in-season to go 4th (3:52.90) and 6th (3:54.07), respectively. By comparison, for both swimmers that’s about 5 seconds better than they were at Winter Nationals in December. Dare I say it, but might the Gator post-grads have put in a bit of a mid-season rest for this meet?
Women’s 100 Fly
In what is a likely partial-preview of the London Olympic final, American Dana Vollmer topped Britain’s Jemma Lowe in the 100 fly by tally of 58.02-58.16. Vollmer was able to flip-the-script on her Winter Nationals performance by putting up a great finals times (in Atlanta, at Nationals, she was very fast in prelims, but fell apart in finals). She’s been really focusing on her underwaters, and that paid off as she was half-a-second better in the evening.
Lowe, who has been training in California along with many of her top Welsh teammates, closed the race well.
In what was a fairly thin field, compared to the rest of the meet, Natalie Coughlin placed 3rd in 59.22. Another good SwimMAC’er performance came from 22-year old Katherine Mills, who was 4th in 1:00.15.
Rachel Bootsma and Missy Franklin took the top two spots in the B-Final at 1:00.27 and 1:00.64, respectively. For Franklin, that’s the best time of her career.
Christine Magnuson, who was the second American representative at last year’s World Championships, was DQ’ed in the prelims.
And on her third event of the day (the maximum allowed under the rules), Allison Schmitt continued a great session with a 1:00.41 for 6th. That’s the second-best time of her career, which is none-too-shabby at the end of a long day’s work. Some swimmers probably would’ve scratched this race to prepare for the next day, but big credit to Schmitt for toughing it out.
Men’s 100 Fly
Michael Phelps got in on the winning action with a 52.41 in the 100 fly. That’s faster than he was at this same meet last year, when reports were that he was in much lighter training than he has been in the leadup to this meet. Worlds bronze-medalist Tyler McGill took 2nd in 52.96, and SwimMAC’s Davis Tarwater took 3rd in 53.30, as one of three SwimMAC teammates in the A-Final.
Among the other two was Tim Phillips, who is taking leave from Ohio State for the season to train for the Olympics. He placed 5th in 53.80. He’s swimming very well in his off-year, but with one of his biggest competitors for an Olympic spot (Tarwater) training right next to him, he’s still got a big uphill climb to earn a ticket to London.
Women’s 400 Free
Normally, relays at these meets are little more than an afterthought, but a bit of a David versus Goliath matchup went down at the top, as the A-relay from the Provincial Swim Ontario team (Lauren Earp, Victoria Chan, Paige Schultz, and Brittany MacLean) took the win in 3:47.07. That trumped the team representing the entire nation of Canada (including National Teamers Julia Wilkinson and Alex Komarnycky) in 3:47.12. Seventeen-Year old Brittany MacLean swam a strong 55.26 anchor leg to run down Komarnycky at the touch.