On night one of the Minneapolis Grand Prix, there was a ton of great racing. The field for this meet is so loaded, that every name in every final is a “big name,” which is the kind of atmosphere that brings the fans out in droves for this meet.
The great Brendan Hansen, who is one of the most popular American swimmers ever, gave the fans a thrill when he kicked his meet off with a win in the 100 breaststroke in 1:01.13. Hansen got out to a great start, and though 200-meter specialist Clark Burckle (1:01.86) was able to close a touch in the closing strokes of the race, Hansen cruised to a sizable victory. Mike Alexandrov, the speedster, was just out-touched in 3rd at 1:01.87.
Hansen got the victory, which pretty much reaffirmed what we learned at Nationals – American breaststrokes are weak enough that he can make the Olympic team. Burckle was the swimmer who really impressed me in this race, however. He was within 5-tenths of his time from Nationals in August, and I think that he will give Hansen a huge run in the 200.
In 4th place was an impressive swim from Minnesota junior Josh Hall as the highest-finishing collegian in 1:02.23. That’s a career-best time for him by a second-and-a-half, which is an impressive drop in 3-months since Nationals. The Gophers have a history of resting heavily for this meet, but with that time, Hall is a swimmer to watch headed towards NCAA’s and 2016.
In the women’s version of the same race, Jessica Hardy topped her Trojan teammate Rebecca Soni by time of 1:06.42-1:07.04. For Hardy, that’s a very good early-season swim, and is in-fact her 3rd-best time of the year (though she didn’t get to swim it on a first taper in 2011). Canadian Jillian Tyler, competing in her hometown Minnesota Aquatics pool, swam a 1:07.93 for 3rd. She was extremely fast at this meet last year, but seems to be approaching her training cycle a bit differently as a post-grad.
Michael Phelps, another superstar of the meet, won the men’s 100 fly in 52.26. That’s a great time for him given the level of work he’s put in the last few weeks. We’ve heard the “it’s time to get back to work” from him more than once over the last few years, but with some serious time spent at the Olympic Training Center, it seems to be for real this time. This is the last big-time National meet we’re going to see from Phelps this year – he’s already chosen to skip Nationals and the Duel in the Pool after a long time away from home – and it seems like he’s shown up ready to compete.
Former Florida Gator Brett Fraser took 2nd in 53.36. He’s generally been a freestyler throughout his career, but as of late has started to put some swims into the 100 fly (he swam it at the Pan Am Games too). His older brother Shaune finished 10th in 54.61. Ryan Lochte touched 8th in 54.49.
Cal’s Amanda Sims had a huge senior season at Cal where she took the NCAA title in the 100 fly. Now, as a post-graduate, she’s started with a win in the 100 fly here at the Grand Prix in 59.84. That’s within half-a-second of her career-best time. She showed great nerve to chase down the veteran Christine Magnuson on the last 50 and barely get her fingertips to the wall first. Magnuson took 2nd in 59.85.
An interesting name in this race was Liz Pelton, who took 5th in 1:00.77. That’s her best time since the 2008 Olympic Trials. Pelton is generally known better as a backstroker, but this is a good time that will help lead her into her Cal career, where the overabundance of backstrokers will call for some versatility from their young swimmers. Her future teammate Rachel Bootsma was in the B-Final, but went a 1:00.78.
Earlier in the meet, the women’s 200 free was stacked (as it always is), but NBAC’s Allison Schmitt still took a dominant win in a huge time of 1:55.82. That’s her best time of the year (moving her to 6th in the World Rankings) and is the 2nd-best time of her career, behind only the 2009 World Championship finals. It’s amazing that she was able to bookend a 2-week training session at the Olympic Training Center (where there’s always a ton of work done) with an American Record in short course (at the Berlin World Cup) and now a season-best time. She didn’t have a great World Championship meet, but she’s on fire right now.
By comparison, Missy Franklin, who was also in Berlin and trains in Colorado…year round…took 2nd in 1:57.13. She’s the World Leader in the event in 2011. Katie Hoff (1:58.89), France’s Camille Muffat (1:59.16) and Liz Pelton (1:59.84) were the only other swimmers to break two minutes. Canadian Sam Cheverton closed well to place 6th in 2:00.47. Minnesota freshman Kiera Janzen was impressive in the B-Final in 2:01.56, which is a career-best time for her. Even if you account for the fact that the Gophers are probably rested, the career-best swims that they are putting up all over the place are still quite impressive.
Prior to his win in the 100 fly, Phelps also took a victory in the 200 free in 1:46.88. His splitting shows again that he’s miles ahead of where he was early last season (25.3 – 27.1 – 27.6 – 26.8). He dominated the runner-up, and budding French superstar, Yannick Agnel, in 1:48.10.
In the 400 IM, Katie Hoff put up a win in 4:40.51 which gave her A 6-second win against a weakish field (Ariana Kukors was at the meet, but swam the 100 fly instead). Hoff put away runner-up Kathleen Hersey (4:46.03) thanks to a very strong breaststroke leg of 1:18.6. In 3rd place was 13-year old Rebecca Mann of the Clearwater Aquatic Team in 3:50.17. Mann, the holder of two 11-12 NAG Records, is a superstar in the making. That time clear, by just over a tenth, a 2006 Elizabeth Beisel time as the fastest ever done by a 13-year old American. She’s got 11 seconds to drop in the next year-plus to catch Hoff’s NAG Record at 4:39.
And finally, the first event won by a teenager went to (in a bit of a surprise) Georgia commit Chase Kalisz in 4:21.13. The NBAC product (that made three wins for the club in the day’s 8 individual events) split a 1:11.4 on his breaststroke leg, which is a full 5-seconds better than Conor Dwyer (4:23.34) who is a very strong breaststroker himself.
In the relay action, the Minnesota women and men both swept. There were great splits on both sides, but the standouts were Tess Behrens who led the women in 56.56, which is her best time by a full second; and a 51.0 relay split from Hrovje Capan for the men.