The 2012 edition of the Missouri Grand Prix will be in stark contrast to January’s Austin meet, in that the lineup will be a lot less star-studed. There will be no Michael Phelps, no Ryan Lochte, no Natalie Coughlin, and no Missy Franklin. In fact, a huge majority of the major post-grad groups (SwimMAC, Gator Swim Club, FAST).
Full psych sheets available here.
This meet’s headliners, in fact, will be international swimmers. The Canadians will earn more stamps on their passports, as a large contingent of them will be back again for this meet. The Brazilian crew from PRO16 will also be in town, including Cesar Cielo and Thiago Pereira.
There will be some big name Americans in town. Amanda Weir, Jasmine Tosky, Chloe Sutton, and the breaststrokers from Trojan (Eric Shanteau, Mike Alexandrov) along with Mark Gangloff. A solid crew from Auburn will also be at the meet, including Laure Manaudou, Tyler McGill, Gideon Luow, and Fred Bousquet. Tucson Ford will also be out en masse, including power-couple Annie Chandler and Matt Grevers; along with Christine Magnuson among others.
While these names might not sell as many tickets as the “big four” listed above, their absence opens up a whole new flood of storylines for the meet.
1. Claire Donahue Back in Action – A lot of people have forgotten about Claire Donahue over the past four months, for a few reasons. For starters, she chose to remain at Western Kentucky, where she competed collegiately, rather than move to a big name program. Secondly, she’s hardly competed since Summer Nationals. She doesn’t have a single official race under her belt aside from a pair of modset butterfly swims at the Duel in the Pool, and some big races at Pan Ams. But don’t forget that she was the 2nd-fastest American in 2011 at 58.05 (tied with Coughlin and faster than Magnuson). And that was without any significant National Team support.
Racing against Magnuson and Canadian Katerine Savard here, I’m curious to see exactly what sort of time she’s able to put up. There’s not a great reference, given that she was focused on yards at this time last year, but she hasn’t been afraid to put up fast times in-season. My guess is that she goes under-59 in Columbia.
2. Cesar Cielo Firing Back at Magnussen – Two weeks ago, Australian James Magnussen put up a spectacular 100 free mark of 48.05. Magnussen has been talking to the Aussie press a lot lately (as he is wont to do) and says that he was doing heavy, two-a-day training headed into that swim, and that his opponents in London should see that as a warning.
One of the presumed recipients of that rattle was Brazil’s Cesar Cielo, the current World Record holder in the 100 free who along with his PRO16 teammates is coming off of heavy training that ranged around 10,000 meters per day in Mexican altitude. He’s one of maybe two who could challenge the Missile’s World-Champ status in London, and so while they’ll be competing thousands of miles away (Magnussen at the New South Wales State Champs), they will surely keep at least one eye on each others’ results.
3. Sinead Russell v. Rachel Bootsma – Canadian star Sinead Russell just made her verbal commitment to the University of Florida over the weekend, and this is going to be her first chance to compete with full confidence in where she’ll be training 8 months from now. There’s a great backstroke field in this meet, but maybe the best head-to-head battle will be Cal commit Rachel Bootsma versus Russell in the 100. As two of the top three recruits in the class, this is a preview of a battle that will be borne out at NCAA’s multiple times over the next four years. (If Pelton were here, it would really be a great battle).
In addition, Russell will be racing French veteran Laure Manaudou, Missouri’s Dominique Bouchard, and former NCAA Champions Julia Wilkinson and Maggie Meyer. As they always seem to be lately, these backstroke races are loaded. (Ignore Fabiola Molina, following the CAS’ ruling to tack on an extra 4 months to her suspension).
4. Loaded Men’s Breaststroke Races – If there is one set of races where the field is as good as (or exceeds) what we saw in Austin, it’s the men’s breaststrokes. The names include Japanese superstar Kosuke Kitajima, Mark Gangloff, Mike Alexandrov, Felipe Lima, Henrique Barbosa, Marry Murphy, Eric Shanteau, Clark Buckle, Damir Dugonjic, Thiago Pereira, and a whole slew of other, moderately-significant names. Still no Brendan Hansen, and we haven’t seen him yet this year. Likely he’s confident enough in his experience and the performances he’s put up since making his comeback that he doesn’t need to race a whole lot, and would prefer to focus on working through tough training.
There’s some good battles-within-battles going on here, too. Shanteau, Alexandrov, and Gangloff in the 100 will be fighting for an Olympic spot (assuming you like Hansen’s chances), and throw in Adam Klein in the 200.
A similar battle is going on between the Brazilians, with Barbosa, Pereira, Lima, and Cerdeira are duking out for a couple of spots on the Brazilian team in the breaststrokers. There’s a few other names who will throw their hats in the ring for those positions as well for the deepest breaststroking country in the world outside of Japan.
5. Young Leah Smith – Lost among the rockstar distance youngsters like Gillian Ryan and Rachel Zilinskas were those of Leah Smith, a 16-year old out of Pittsburgh. She will be one of a group who will give Chloe Sutton a good push in this meet.
In Austin, Sutton toned-down her usually-crazy Grand Prix schedule to just four races (100/200/400/800 freestyles). This week, she’s adding the 200 fly and 400 IM to that schedule to get more of the ironman feel to her lineup that distance swimmers thrive on in-season. Don’t be fooled by seeds in the 400 and 800 freestyles, though – the races will be by no means a runaway. Sutton’s training partner Ashley Twichell has been racing very well in the pool, and the two Canadians Brittany MacLean and Alexa Komarnycky will be chasing as well.
Race-within-the-race for the women’s distance freestyles is a battle between two evenly matched, 14-year old, National Age Group record holders in Becca Mann out of Clearwater and Katie Ledecky out of Curl Burke. Both are relatively new to the GP circuit (for Ledecky, this is her debut; it is Mann’s 2nd appearance after Minnesota late last year), but both figure to be fixtures for a long time to come.
6. No Matt Grevers in 200 Backstroke – Grevers has swum the 200 back at a few meets, most recently his win in the event in Austin, in the past year or so. In Missouri, however, he’s swimming a very light schedule of only the 100 free, 100 fly, and 100 back. There were a lot of people who were getting excited at the thoughts of Grevers trying the 200 back at Trials. He’s dabbled in the event here-and-there, but after an in-training 1:57 last month, many were chomping at the possibility of a titanic Clary-Grevers showdown at Trials for the number-two spot in the race behind Lochte. For now, those dreams are on hold.
7. Laure Manaudou Still With Something to Prove – In my opinion, Laure Manaudou has performed fairly well since her comeback from retirement. In the past month, however, I’ve spoken to elite swimmers who still think that she won’t make the French Olympic Team. There’s a lot of young French swimmers who are swimming very well, but I was still surprised (after a 1:59 last july in the 200 free, for example) that there are still those who think she’s not going to make the Olympics. If she can crack two minutes again in that race (or 1:01 in the 100 back), I think that should silence any doubts about her viability for London.