The final night of competition at the 2011 Santa Clara Grand Prix, which is the final Grand Prix meet of the season, was probably the best of the whole weekend. There were tons of great times, awesome races, and one big stamp of “approval” from Mr. Brendan Hansen. From start to finish, just about every race on this deal had something that made it stand out, and should send plenty of headlines around the swimming-world
In the men’s 100 breaststroke, Hansen and his former Longhorn Aquatics training partner Eric Shanteau went out almost identically on the first 50. This is a part of Shanteau’s race that he has really improved upon drastically in his few months at Trojan Aquatics. With Shanteau swimming that well on the front-half of the race, it’s going to be very hard for anyone to keep him close on the back-half (in this country anyways), and he powered to a win in 1:01.54. Hansen touched 2nd in 1:01.66. The final was a great battle between the two, but what really got the swim-o-sphere buzzing was Hansen’s 1:01.37 from prelims: the fastest time by an American in 2011. Already he’s moved back into the top-40 in the world this year. Only one meet in, Hansen’ comeback definitely stands in the “legitimate” column thus far.
In the men’s 200 IM, we finally saw the first high-quality race from Ryan Lochte of the 2011 season despite his runner-up standing. Thiago Pereira swam a complete race, with four great legs to win in 1:57.63 which is the third-best swim in the world this year (behind his own time from the Maria Lenk and Phelps’ swim from the Indy Grand Prix). Lochte didn’t look awesome on the front-half of his swim, which is usually his best part, but swam a very solid breaststroke leg and the fastest freestyle split of the field to finish strong in 1:58.99. That’s his best time of the season and bumps him up to 7th in the world this season.
Also of note, Conor Dwyer took 3rd in 2:01.08, which is his best time of the season. Unless he is following a different training-path than the rest of his Gator Swim Club teammates, for him to show this kind of performance at this point of the season means that he is responding incredibly well to life after the NCAA. He’s headed towards a huge performance at the World Championships, where he’ll swimm in the 800 free relay, which would go a long way towards erasing the memories of an illness-plagued final college meet at last year’s NCAA’s.
Lochte’s performance in the 200 IM was even more impressive considering that it came on back-to-back swims with the 100 back, where he also placed 2nd in 55.22. The winner of the race was New Zealander Daniel Bell in 54.70, and in 3rd was current SwimMAC, and former Stanford, star Eugene Godsoe. He swam a 55.63 to close out his encore performance of the Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix, where he set four career-best times in four races. Godsoe is officially entered into the World lexicon in long course swimming.
Nick Thoman, who was the favorite in this race, missed most of the meet fighting a suspected bout of food-poisoning.
The excitement of the women’s 100 back was dampered a little when World Record holder Gemma Spofforth finished in a tie for 21st to miss the final and Natalie Coughlin scratched the race altogether. Still, this was a loaded heat in the A-final. Australian Record holder Emily Seebohm took the win in 59.77 ahead of the young Missy Franklin in 59.98. That makes Franklin the third woman this year to break the minute-barrier at least three times.
Women’s 200 IM World Record holder Ariana Kukors showed that she was capable of blistering times: suit or no suit. She posted a 2:09.53, whic moves her ahead of Alicia Coutt’s Mare Nostrum swim for the fastest time in the world in 2011. This ties her for the 17th-best performance of all time, and the 2nd-best swim ever in textile. She blew away defending Olympic Champion Stephanie Rice (2:11.32).
Let’s look at the comparative splits between Kukors’ swim and that of China’s Shiwen Ye from the 2010 Asian Games which is the best ever in textile.
28.52; 1:01.75 (33.23); 1:39.26 (37.51); 2:09.53 (30.27)
Ye, Shiwen (from Asian Games 2010)
28.72; 1:01.63 (32.91); 1:39.40 (37.77); 2:09.27 (29.97)
It’s clear where Kukors is going to make her money at World’s this summer, and it’s going to have to be in the short-axis strokes butterfly and breaststroke. The real challenge for her is going to be patience when she gets in a pool with the world’s best. She’s not going to be the single best swimmer in the field (or even close to it) in any of the four legs of this 200 IM, so she’ll have to be very patient and not panic early in the race, which is tougher to do when there’s 8 of the best swimmers in the world lined up next to you.
In the women’s 100 breaststroke, Rebecca Soni smashed the meet record in prelims at 1:05.83, but she left early to hop a flight back home prior to the finals. This left the door open for Jessica Hardy to win the final running away in 1:07.45. The runner-up was Ashley Wanland, who is swimming in her first big meet in the Whitney Hite era at the University of Wisconsin. Wanland’s time was 1:09.25.
In the men’s 200 fly, Michael Phelps looked like he was on track earlier in this meet to break his two-race losing streak (following nine years of nothing-but-winning), but after jumping out to a big lead, but just like happened in Charlotte and Ann Arbor before that, he faded hard on the back-half of the race. He looked like he’d have enough to hold on, but at the final touch, Pan-Pac silver medalist Nick D’Arcy of Australia was a fingernail faster in 1:55.39. The placing was similar, but the difference for Phelps was that he was more than two-seconds better than he was at either of those meets, and finished in 1:55.40. Phelps didn’t get the win, but that was his second-best time of the year (just barely missing his time from Indianapolis by less than a tenth). It seems as though he’s officially on the road to a mental recovery, and it’s coming just-in-time for him to power to a positive performance in Shanghai.
D’Arcy’s swim was a season-best, and moved him to 5th in the world (just one spot behind Phelps).
In the women’s 200 fly, there were two swimmers under the old Meet Record, but at the end it was Kathleen Hersey who touched first for both the record and the win and a 7th-in-the-world ranking. Not only was her mark of 2:06.89 her fastest of the season, it was the second-best time of her career and is the best time she’s swum since leaving the Texas Longhorns NCAA program to train with Eddie Reese and the Longhorn Aquatics program. It’s even better than her finish from Nationals and Pan Pacs last season. With this result, it seems as though she made the right decision to jump to training with the men in Austin.
Former Georgia distance star Wendy Trott won the women’s 800 free in 8:32.27. Just like she did in her win in the 1650 at NCAA’s, she hung back at the first of the race and then gradually extended her lead through a victory. This is just a couple of seconds off of the swim that she put up at South African Nationals. NBAC’s Camryne Morris, the 16-year old who won the 1500 on day 1, placed 2nd in a career-best swim of 8:35.14. That time ranks her 35th in the world. Read that name over-and-over again, and familiarize yourself with it, because she’s quickly becoming incredibly relevant. By next season, she could sneak into contention for an Olympic spot, despite a loaded 800 field for the Americans.
Texas Longhorns Michael McBroom, the defending NCAA Champion, and Jackson Wilcox went 1-2 in the men’s 1500 free. McBroom, who took the NCAA title last year in the equivalent 1650, won in 15:23.43, with Wilcox placing 2nd in 15:32.11. Many have wondered how McBroom’s short course success would translate into long course, where given his defeat of USA Swimming National distance champ Chad LaTourette, it would seem he was in great position for an Olympic spot. So-far, so-good as this is the 2nd-fastest swim of his career in this distance (and his best in textile).