A beautiful night two at the Mesa Grand Prix featured great swims by Olympians Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin, and Nathan Adrian, who all turned in times near the top of the world rankings.
Katinka Hosszu led things off with a win in the women’s 400 IM. The field was even after the opening 100, but Hosszu pushed the pace through the backstroke, building a 3.5-second lead over that was too much for Stina Gardell or Caitlin Leverenz to close. Her time of 4:40.01 was easily her best of the season, and good for 7th in the world this year. Gardell was challenged by Leverenz on the third leg, but ultimately out-closed the Cal breaststroke specialist to finish 2nd in 4:42.26 (Leverenz was 3rd in 4:42.64).
The women’s 200 free brought the show down we all hoped to see between Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin. The two teenage stars had the race of the night, putting up the 2nd and 3rd best times in the world this year (Sarah Sjostrum of Sweden is first). Franklin took the lead early, and it looked like she would pull away from Ledecky on the third 50. But Ledecky dug deep, out-splitting Franklin 29.36 to 30.19 over the final length to touch first in 1:56.93. Franklin was just 0.03 back in 1:56.96. The ageless Erika Erndl touched 3rd in 2:00.12.
Franklin bounced back quickly from that swim to win the 200 handily, finishing in 2:09.35. That’s well off her world-leading 2:07.31 that she dropped at the Austin Grand Prix earlier this year, but still a very good time at this point in the season, especially for the second swim of a back-to-back. Short course American record holder and NCAA champion Elizabeth Pelton was 2nd in 2:12.37, good for top 25 in the world and third fastest amongst Americans this year (Franklin and Kylie Stewart hold the top two spots). After a great swim this morning where she cut multiple seconds off her seed time, 17-year-old Clara Smiddy dropped another eight tenths to finish 3rd in 2:13.33.
To close out the evening session, we saw another great effort from Natalie Coughlin. After swimming a season-best 100 free yesterday morning that was good for top ten in the world, she was destined for a great swim in the 50. When all was said and done, Coughlin broke 25 seconds for the first final time since 2008. Her final time was 24.90, tops among Americans, and tied for 5th-best in the world this year. After taking a break this summer, Coughlin appears to have put the other strokes on the back burner, focusing almost exclusively on the sprint freestyles, which includes training extensively with Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin. Jessica Hardy, who finaled for the U.S. in this event last summer in London, was 2nd in 25.38. Christine Magnuson touched just behind in 3rd (25.47).
Tyler Clary opened up the men’s events with a convincing win in the 400 IM, touching in 4:24.90 for his first victory of the meet. Clary is known for having one of the best opening 200’s in the world, and tonight was no different; he built a lead of nearly seven seconds in the first half of the race, and held off a great back-half from breaststroke specialist Scott Weltz (who touched 2nd in 4:26.37) to seal the win. Should Weltz continue to pursue this event, he has the potential to be a darkhorse this summer at World Championship Trials. Apart from his world-class breaststroke ability, Weltz is a strong flyer and reasonably good freestyle. If he can limit the damage over the backstroke leg, look out. A pair of high-schoolers, Samuel Smiddy of AK Sharks and Curtis Ogren of PASA, claimed the next two spots in 4:26.86 and 4:27.75, respectively.
Ricky Berens of Longhorn Aquatic Club used an explosive final turn and supurb closing speed to charge home for the win in the 200 freestyle. Berens was 4th at the 150 mark, but came back in 26.87 to pass Darian Townsend, Anders Nielsen, and Conor Dwyer to touch 1st in 1:48.93. After briefly flirting with retirement following the London Olympics last summer, Berens looks more than ready to step up and fill the void left by the retirement of Michael Phelps and Peter Vanderkaay. In addition to recently breaking the short course American Record in this event, Berens is also the top American swimmer this year by over a second. Though Ryan Lochte still has to be considered a medal threat taper time, look for the former Longhorn to make his own run at the podium this summer in Barcelona.
Townsend was in control for most of the race (he was leading at the 100 and 150 mark), but ultimately faded over the final 50 meters to finish 2nd in 1:49.61. Nielsen (1:49.67), Michael Klueh (1:49.77), and Dwyer (1:49.85) came up just short, and may have been able to clip Townsend had the race been five meters longer. Ryan Lochte (1:51.26), Tom Shields (1:51.50), and Tom Kremer (1:51.73) rounded out the top 8. Notably, Matt McLean ran away with the consol heat, touching almost two seconds ahead of the heat to win in 1:50.00.
In the 200 backstroke, Matt Grevers, the Olympic champion in the 100 backstroke, attacked the race early (out in 57.12) and built a full second lead over the first half of the race. But Tyler Clary, fresh off his victory in the 400 IM, used a brilliant second 100 (he was the only swimmer under 1:00 coming home) to close on the newlywed Grevers to pull away from the heat for the win. Ryan Murphy of Bolles, who actually had the fastest final 50 of the heat, also flew past Grevers to finish in 2nd (1:59.28).
Nathan Adrian dominated the men’s 50 freestyle, touching 1st in 21.72. That time is just shy of his season-best of 21.70 from the Austin Grand Prix last month that has him ranked #2 in the world. 2000 Sydney gold medalist and 2012 London finalist Anthony Ervin was a distant 2nd in 22.31. Joey Hale was 3rd in 22.85.