Tonight was the first evening, of three, at the 2011 USA Swimming Winter Long Course National Championships, and things were off to a spectacular start. If you can’t wait for the teaser, fast-forward to the women’s 200 IM, where the American women put on one of the all-time fastest National-Championship performances.
Women’s 400 Free
France’s Camille Muffat left no doubt in the women’s 400 free with a winning time of 4:03.64. That time is four-tenths faster than she was at the World Championships, and is the 5th-fastest swim in the world this season. She had a very strong, perfectly-swum performance, and negative-split all but the first 100.
The runner-up in that race was Leah Smith of the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh in 4:09.55, which for the 2nd time today is a career-best time. This one knocked nearly two full seconds off of the one she did in prelims. In fact, this is the 4th-straight career-best for her in this race, a time that she’s knocked down 4.5 seconds in the past 4 months. This swim puts her among the top-10 16 & unders in American history.
In 3rd-place, from the Etobicoke Swim Club in Canada, 17-year old Brittany MacLean continued an incredible season with a 3rd-place finish in 4:10.33. That’s just .01 seconds off of her career-best time from the FINA World Youth Championships.
Men’s 400 Free
In the men’s race, Muffat’s French teammate Yannick Agnel matched her victory, and though his time of 3:47.78 was good, it wasn’t quite as good as that of his fellow countryman. He’s been four seconds better this season. Overall, a men’s race that lined up with the potential for fireworks fizzled a bit in the final. American Michael Klueh of the FAST National Center of Excellence took 2nd in 4:50.56, with Canada’s Ryan Cochrane 3rd in 3:50.62 and France’s Clement Lefert in 4th in 3:50.85.
Though the times weren’t great, at least the battle was. Klueh sat in 6th-place headed into the final turn, which he rocketed off of. Cochrane the Canadian also had a strong closing split, but Klueh was able to put him away in the last few strokes as well. That was especially impressive given that Cochrane is one of the best distance swimmers in the world.
17-year old Georgia commit Matias Koski did well to drop another few-tenths after a big career-best this morning. That shows impressive maturity for such a young swimmer. Peter Vanderkaay, who bumped into the B-Final thanks to scratches, had a nice bounceback swim to win it in 3:55.35. His teammate Conor Dwyer similarly improved by winning the C-Final in 3:56.08.
Jean Basson, who tied Agnel for the fastest swim in prelims, scratched the final.
Women’s 200 IM
Cal swimmer Caitlin Leverenz really turned on the fury and blew up the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center with her 2:09.39 win in the women’s 200 IM. That’s the 5th-best time outside of the textile-suit era, her best by 1.01 seconds, and was the 4th-fastest swim in the world this year. It also puts her 10th on the all-time best swimmers list in this event.
When Leverenz put up a trio of incredible times at the Arena Invitational two weeks ago (including a 1:55.6 in the 200 yard IM), the assumption was that she had rested for that meet and would probably train through Nationals. As it turns out, she still had even more speed in her. These two times combined imply that she’s put in a pretty long, multiple-week taper. She’s still got at least two (three if you count Pac 10’s) taper meets in the next 6-months, so it will be interesting to see how her times play out at NCAA’s.
She wasn’t the only one who turned it on for this final. Teenager Liz Pelton, just a week after her 18th birthday, posted a 2:10.02, which is, coincidentally, 1.01 seconds better than her career-best as well. That swim moved her from 17th in the world this season all the way to 6th. All of a sudden, this 200 IM at Trials becomes much, much more interesting. It looks like it’s going to take under a 2:10 to make the Olympic Team.
This puts some pressure on Katie Hoff, who seems to be shifting her focus wholly back to the IM races, and finished 4th here in 2:12.55. That’s about a second slower than the 2:11’s she was going this summer, which made her the only one in the top-half of this final who didn’t swim very well. Julia Smit touched just ahead of her in 2:11.55 for 3rd.
National Teamers Jasmine Tosky and Elizabeth Beisel both added large amounts to finish 7th and 8th.
Men’s 200 IM
The South African tandem of Darian Townsend (1:59.27) and Sebastien Rousseau (1:59.55). The pair swam very similar races, but Townsend was just a stroke ahead of his countrymate. For Rousseau, who is 6-years the younger, that is a career-best time, which is a surprise given how tiredly the rest of his Florida Gator training-mates are racing.
Eric Shanteau had a strong finish in 2:00.29 for 3rd. Though he’s gotten away from this event a bit since the techsuits left, that time is very similar to what he was going this time of year circa 2006, when he was one of the best in the world in the race. Ryan Lochte took 6th in 2:01.42.
Future Cal swimmer Jacob Pebley won the B-Final in a huge career-best of 2:02.14. Behind him were 15-year old Joseph Bentz in 2:02.76, and future Stanford swimmer Tom Kremer in 2:02.89. Though there were no teenagers in the A-Final, that young trio should be a big part of the next generation that will be fighting to take over for Phelps and Lochte.
Women’s 50 Free
Jessica Hardy took a big win in the women’s 50 free in 25.08, though there were no real breakout swims on the level of that which we saw in the other women’s events on night 1.
Dara Torres probably made the biggest impact with a 25.24 for 2nd-place in her only event of the meet. That’s about a tenth-off of her best time since her knee-reconstruction surgery, but most importantly she was able to improve .26 off of her morning swim. That shows that, albeit just in a 50, she is able to swim well in the morning, and come back with an even better swim in the evening, which theoretically becomes more-and-more difficult as swimmers move into their 40’s.
Lara Jackson of Tucson Ford, the summer national champ, took 3rd in 25.30, with her teammate Christine Magnuson placing 4th in 25.46. The lone teenager in the field, Chantal VanLandeghem of Canada, placed 5th in 22.47.
Kara Lynn Joyce placed 3rd in the B-Final in 25.68. One has to wonder when she’ll begin getting nervous about her new training routines with Missy Franklin and the Colorado Stars. So far, she hasn’t reaped much in the way of rewards.
The winner of the C-Final was Olivia Smoliga in 25.67, which is a career-best time for her. She’s best known for her backstroke skills, but this fall she has made a point of really improving her sprint freestyles (including Illinois High School State Records in both the 50 and 100 frees).
Men’s 50 Free
Cal post-grad Nathan Adrian continued to outshow his Worlds performance with a 21.85 victory in the men’s 50 free. While that’s .01 slower than he was at Summer Nationals, but is still better than he was at the World Championships. Roland Schoeman is showing big dividends from his time training back in Arizona (though this round, he’s at the Phoenix Swim Club) with a 22.19. He was vocally disappointed in his performances throughout most of the 2011 season, but this swim shows he’s on the right track back and should be a good confidence-builder for him.
France’s Fred Bousquet swam a 22.37 for 3rd. If he wants to challenge Brazil’s Cesar Cielo for the Olympic gold in this event (he might be the only swimmer who can), he’s going to have to show stronger than that time. Though he may not be rested, Cielo has been under 22-seconds at 5 separate meets this season.
Garrett Weber-Gale accomplished his goal of being faster in finals than he was in prelims with a 22.40 for 4th (three-tenths faster than this morning).
SwimMAC’s Cullen Jones, who didn’t swim very well in prelims, was somewhat better in the finals to win the B-heat in 22.52.
Full Finals results available here.