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It’s time for night one of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, and with 6 spots for the Olympic Games on the blocks (and at least one World Record with a huge bullseye on its back), the first night of competition is due to set the tone for the rest of the meet. That tone was set early by Gregg Troy’s Gators. There’s a reason that he’s the US Men Olympic Team Head Coach, as 4 of the 6 Olympic spots handed out on Monday went to his Florida Gators. That’s an impressive first day.
The arena has fans up to the rafters, and it’s time to get the action going. With fireworks locked and loaded, it’s time for day 1 from Omaha.
Men’s 400 IM
And this was it. The matchup between Michael Phelps, the greatest ever; Ryan Lochte, the greatest of right now; and Tyler Clary, the underdog hungry to win it all. The redux of this monumental event would be incomplete with acknowledging that for all of the fans wondering who will win and who will win 2nd, the motto of the 2012 Olympic Trials is whoever is 1st is 1st and whoever is 2nd is also 1st.
With that being said, I think that Ryan Lochte firmly established himself as number one in this race. He blew away the field in the breaststroke (he’s now clearly a better breaststroker than Phelps, whereas two years ago it was fairly even), and then had opened the gap to almost two seconds before almost a Usain-Bolt-esque final 10-meters. Lochte was even faster than a great butterflier Chase Kalisz in this swim.
Lochte touched first in 4:07.06, clearly the best time in the world this year, and Phelps was 2nd in 4:07.89. Lochte’s time is faster than he was at last year’s World Championships where he won the gold medal (and Phelps was better than anybody not named Lochte was in 2011). Phelps still holds the textile-best in 4:06.22, but Lochte’s time was the second fastest 400 IM ever done not in rubber.
To answer the question, I think this result elaborates on what Bob Bowman said in an interview earlier today: the goal here is to make the team. 8-tenths is not enough to scare Phelps, the greatest swimmer ever, from anybody. But Lochte continues his streak of dominance in the race, and he’s got no reason to be scared anymore either. Two fearless.
Though he finished 3rd, and off of the Olympic Team, in 4:09.92, Tyler Clary really put the first charge into this 400 IM final, when he broke open a big lead in the first three strokes of the backstroke. At the turn of that backstroke leg, By the time they got to the turn, though, Phelps and Lochte had caught on and fought their way back.
With the flare of pyrotechnics in the form of flames 15-feet high in literally feet from their face, the rest of the field seemed demoralized. In 4th was Andrew Gemmell in 4:16.07. Michael Weiss from Wisconsin continued his incredible run from nowhere in the last 6-months by taking 5th in 4:16.31. That’s 5-seconds faster than he had ever been coming into this meet.
Women’s 100 Fly Semifinal
Dana Vollmer said that she was going to break the World Record in this meet. She might not have meant the semi-finals, but she surely took her blistering prelims swim up to another level with a 56.42 in the 2nd heat of the women’s 100 fly semi-final. That’s both the fastest time ever swum in textile and a new American Record, in both cases cracking her 56.47 from last year’s World Championships in Shanghai.
Vollmer seems to still be on track to break the World Record if she can hold things together for finals. She is taking her races out WAY faster this year than last year, a look at the comparative splits below demonstrates that.
Vollmer ’11: 26.63-29.84
Vollmer ’12: 26.42 – 30.00
She needs to be able to hold it together and finish under 30 seconds though.
Now the question is for her competitors what will Vollmer do in finals. Last year in Shanghai, she was four-tenths slower than that record in final. That still means we’d need two swimmers who can go 56.8’s in finals to keep her off of the team.
Vollmer pulled her heat with her, as that second final pulled in the three-fastest morning times, with Elaine Breeden continuing to impress in 58.81 for the 2nd seed, and Kathleen Hersey just behind in 58.19. After saying she didn’t like her swim in prelims this morning very much, that’s a big half-second drop for her and just misses her lifetime best in the race.
Moral of the story, nobody’s going to get to Vollmer in finals. The pressure is off her. Claire Donahue, who was a 57 in prelims, wasn’t as good in this race with a 58.53 to tie with Tennessee’s Kelsey Floyd for 6th in 58.53 (a great time for Floyd, not as much for Donahue). Christine Magnuson just snuck into the top 8, again, with a 58.72.
Men’s 400 Free Final
This men’s 400 free was the most exciting 400 free race we’ve seen on American soil in a long, long, time, if not ever. But for all of the jockeying of positions in the top four swimmers of this race: only two men ever held the lead: Charlie Houchin for the majority of the first 375 meters, and Peter Vanderkaay for the last half-a-lap. Houchin simply burned out at the end of the race: his closing 50 of 29.38 was the second-slowest in the entire field, and the first 350 doesn’t mean anything without that final 50.
Vanderkaay didn’t really close so hot himself, but did enough work for 3 minutes to stay in the hunt that he was in position to grab the win in 3:47.67. If he’s tapered, that will be a very disappointing time from his 3:44.8 last year. He was out about as fast, but he didn’t have as big of a kick around the 300 meter mark. Dwyer was 2nd in 3:47.83, which is three-seconds better than he had ever been coming into this race. If he and Vanderkaay are truly on the same training schedule, and there’s definitely no guarantees of that, he could be the better in London.
Houchin in a matter of about 15 strokes faded all the way back to 4th in 3:48.32. The man who really looked like he might catch them all was Michael Klueh from the outside lane 1. He closed well better than anyone else, but I think he just misjudged this race a little bit. He needed to turn on the jets one turn sooner, and that misjudgement cost him a trip to London. He was 3rd in 3:48.17 – missing Dwyer by three-tenths for a trip to London. This was likely his best opportunity.
Women’s 400 IM Final
After prelims, we quipped that after Elizabeth Beisel’s 400 IM, she didn’t look tired and appeared more as if she had come down out of the warmdown pool. We’ve got good news to report for fans of the speed: the Florida Gators looked dead crawling out of the pool after this 400 IM final. But it was well worth it, as she put up a 4:31.74 – faster than she was at last year’s World Championships, snapping her own textile-best by .04, and the 10th-best time in history (and, by default, the best in the world in 2012). Beisel has clearly made strides in the breaststroke; that may be in response to Leverenz specifically or the way that IM’s are trending globally (Hannah Miley, who was the World leader before today, is also a phenomenal breaststroker), but it’s working.
She led Caitlin Leverenz after the breaststroke leg, and with that lead, there was no way Leverenz was going to catch her. But what Leverenz did too is re-establish herself as a medal-contender in London. She appeared to be headed that way before finishing last in the finals at Worlds last season, but her 4:34.48 was a personal best and jumped her ahead of Caitlin Sandeno for 3rd on the all-time list of Americans.
Texas A&M’s Cammile Adams was, not unexpectedly, out very well in this 400 IM. But she just still doesn’t have the breaststroke to keep up with the likes of Leverenz and Beisel among the best in the world. She’s about the same age as those two, but hasn’t spent as much time working on this 400 IM, so she might still develop that breaststroke in her career. For now, her 4:38.62 (plus a gutsy finish to out-touch Maya Dirado by .05) should give her a big hope that her taper is going well, and that she should have a good result in the 200 fly.
Clearwater Aquatics 14-year old, the youngest finalist we saw on this first day of competition, had a huge swim for 5th in 4:41.61. That ranks only behind a single, NAG Record from Katie Hoff in 2004 as the 2nd-fastest time ever swum by a 14 & under. If she can avoid a burnout, she’s got a bright future in a huge number of races.
Trojan Swim Club’s Haley Anderson only put up a 4:46.12 in the final after being three-seconds better in prelims. I think that shows that, despite probably swimming well here anyway, she’s still got her full intent on the open water race at the Olympics.
Men’s 100 Breast Semi’s
In the last set of races, the men’s 100 breaststroke semi-finals, the Florida Gators finally relented after dominating early action and “chose” not to even put anybody through to finals. For the sake of not totally demorazling the rest of the country. Afterall, Gregg Troy has an Olympic Team to worry about.
Brendan Hansen took advantage of that gap to blast a 59.71, which makes him the first American to break the minute barrier in textile in this race since he did so 6-years ago in 2006. Hansen now moves to 4th in the world this year. His is by-far the most successful of the global comebacks that we’ve seen this year. And the Americans need it too.
That was a great swim – but he said in his post-race interview that his legs fell out of sync at the end of his race. The result, though was him being forced to pick up his tempo, and his hands became a little bit quicker. But that’s just enough to plant a seed of hope in the minds of his competitors’ minds.
Among those competitors is Scott Weltz, one of the best stories of these Olympic Trials that nobody is buzzing about yet. He was a very mediocre swimmer when he graduated from college at UC-Davis a few years ago (in relative terms), but he’s come on like a bullet-train. Even in December, he swam a best time and it was only 1:01.65. Now he’s going 1:00.20 and is the second-seed headed into the finals with a chance at the Olympic Trials.
Mark Gangloff also looked spectacular in 1:00.22 for the 3rd seed – the wily veteran is getting it done at the right time for this meet. That’s right on the number he was at the World Championships last year. This is going to be a spectacular final as I think Hansen will come back to the field, and there’s a ton of depth suddenly forming in the race. Eric Shanteau was 4th in 1:00.27, and Marcus Titus was 5th in 1:00.49.
The young-gun Kevin Cordes also made the final in 6th in 1:00.53. That’s a new National Age Group Record for 17-18’s, marking the third time he’s broken that mark (previously held by Brendan Hansen) in this same pool – once at the SwimVitational, and twice on Monday at Trials.
The only tough-luck out from the finals is John Criste, who was the fastest swimmer in prelims, added more than a second to finish 12th in 1:01.27.