Lochte, Olympic Trials 200 Back Best Bet

Here’s the second installment of our 2012 US Olympic Trials preview, as we delve into the 200 backstrokes. I don’t think the pick for either of these races will be much of a surprise – nor will the outcome in Omaha. For a full rundown of all of the race-by-race predictions and previews, click here.

Men’s 200 Backstroke

This men’s 200 back is really one of the easier top-two picks of the entire meet. Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary are the only two (probable) entries in this race who have been under 1:57 since 2009, and they were 1:52.9 and 1:54.6, respectively, for gold and bronze at last year’s World Championships. Clary, for all the time he has been around, just turned 23. That’s the same age that Lochte and Michael Phelps were at the 2008, and the same age at which each of those two men came into their primes as the biggest megastars the sport has seen in decades.

There’s only one thing that can probably upset the 1-2 finish of Lochte and Clary (in some order), and that’s Mr. Phelps himself. For all he’s done in the sport, he’s an incredibly underrated 200 backstroker (he was going 1:54’s in 2007, before the suits). Of course, Phelps even entering this event would send massive waves through the swimming community. I wouldn’t wager even a dime on that happening. The 200 back finals fall on the same day as both the 200 IM final and the 100 fly semi. There’s no way he goes after a triple.

With that probably wrapped up (though there are few definites in sports), the rest of the attention will be placed on the future of USA Swimming in this race, and that’s from the number 7 and 8 seeds Ryan Murphy (16) and Jacob Pebley (18). Murphy will take one final stab at Aaron Peirsol’s National Age Group Record at this meet, as the 200 back final will fall a mere 2 days before his 17th birthday. Pebley, who is committed to Cal next year, is also a young phenom who has been consistently under two minutes in the 200 back in-season this year.

The road, unfortunately, doesn’t get easier for either swimmer after London; Lochte has said he won’t retire, and Clary is young enough that I wouldn’t guess he will either.

Two other likely finalists are swimmers who will be more focused on their 100 than their 200’s. That’s Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman. Grevers has looked very good recently in this 200 back (he was a 1:57.5 in Columbus in early March) and Thoman was really moving more toward the 200 as his primary stroke early in his career before drilling down on the 100 lately. He too has been pretty good in-season swims.

Aside from a Phelps bombshell, this is where an upset would come from. Either of those guys could get to a 1:55 – high (especially with Grevers’ motivation after missing the World Championship Team last year). If Clary is not prepared for the competition, or is looking ahead to a possible battle in the 200 IM with Lochte and Phelps, I think that Grevers could nip him. But Clary is smart enough to know where his Olympic spot is coming from, so I don’t think that will happen.

Rex Tullius is the true 200 backstroker in the field (though I think if he wanted, he could make a run at the 800 free relay as well). His 1:57.48 from last summer’s Nationals is almost back to his best swim in a rubber suit. He broke through at this meet in 2008, where he dropped three seconds to place 4th overall – he might step-up again and this time go even higher.

The best out of the collegiate ranks are former Pac-12 rivals Cory Chitwood out of Arizona and Alex Lendrum out of USC. Neither was spectacular per se at NCAA’s last year. Chitwood had quite a rough meet before bursting through to win this race at NCAA’s, while Lendrum finished 6th. Both were faster at the mid-season Texas Invite than they were at the end of the year, though, which shows the kind of potential they have. Both are also good – but not great – long course swimmers. Chitwood became famous for his last wall in the 200 backstroke during his senior season – that won’t benefit him as much at this level, but if it comes down to him versus a high-schooler for the last spot in the final, for example, I like his chances.

David Nolan has never put up a great time in this race long course (only a 2:04 best), but he hung right with Chitwood stroke-for-stroke at NCAA’s en route to a 1:39 in yards. I think he’ll save his efforts for the 200 IM though.

We’ve recently learned that Jack Conger is really good at a lot of events, with a 1:58.54 in this 200 back among them. He should be able to final in this race as well (I don’t think we’ve seen near his best in this 200 back yet). If he tries to double with the 100 fly, this will become a bit more challenging for him.

The semi-finals of this race, at least, could be littered with high school swimmers, which is an exciting development of youth for the Americans.

Ultimately, I see this one ending up pretty close to seed, with the two favorites earning the Olympic bids. Lochte will probably come down just enough to dip to a 1:54-high, with Clary somewhere in the 1:55 range. Lochte could be knocked off just because he will try to conserve his energy for the 200 IM battle with Phelps later in the session if he sees a big lead coming off of the last wall, so don’t expect him to be crazy fast here.

Picks include current training group, as well as the swimmer’s former collegiate affiliation (just for fun), and seed times.
1. Ryan Lochte (Florida/Gator Swim Club) – 1:52.96
2. Tyler Clary (Michigan/FAST) – 1:54.69
3. Matt Grevers (Northwestern/Tucson Ford) – 1:57.26
4. Rex Tullius (Florida/Gator Swim Club) – 1:57.48
5. Ryan Murphy (Undecided/Bolles) – 1:57.82
6. Nick Thoman (Arizona/SwimMAC) – 1:57.71
7. Jacob Pebley (Cal/Corvallis Aquatic Team) – 1:58.30
8. Cory Chitwood (Arizona/Tucson Ford) – 1:59.04
Next four out (in no particular order): Jack Conger (Undecided/Rockville-Montgomery), Alex Lendrum (USC/Trojan Swim Club), David Russell (Cal/California Aquatics), Austin Surhoff (Texas/Longhorn Aquatics)

Women’s 200 Backstroke

We don’t know which races that highschool superstar Missy Franklin is going to shoot for at the Olympics. We probably won’t really have an idea until she shows up in the ready room before each race. But if there’s one race that you can bet the farm on, it’s this 200 backstroke. She’s the defending World Champion in the race, the fastest swimmer ever in textile, and last fall she broke the World Record in short course meters – even though short course is supposed to be her weaker events.

So yeah, we’re picking Franklin to win this race. And I think it’s going to be a slam dunk.

After that, the event gets somewhat interesting. There’s a ton of turnover since 2008 – out of the top 5 from the last Olympic Trials, four are retired: Margaret Hoelzer (who broke the World Record at Trials), Hayley McGregory, Mary Descenza, and Kristen Heiss.

The swimmer who remains out of that top 5 is Elizabeth Beisel, who is also a teenager. Despite her age, Beisel probably still qualifies as a veteran of international swimming; she’s made the American international squad every year since first breaking through at the 2007 World Championships – when she was only 14. Beisel will make the team in something; she was certainly more successful in this 200 back at the recent NCAA Championships than she was in either of the IM races with a national title. She was clearly less than full rest at that meet, however.

When you’re looking for Olympic candidates in this 200 back, you actually have to spend more effort looking for swimmers who aren’t going to be teenagers. Liz Pelton (17) is the number two seed. She hasn’t been as fast as her 2:07 from Pan Pacs in 2007 since. That which we have seen in the last 6 months or so since returning to train with Paul Yetter at T2 Aquatics has been dazzling.

Franklin’s biggest high school rival in Colorado Bonnie Brandon was 3rd at last year’s summer Nationals in the race to put herself on the National Team in this event. Those are the only four swimmers who have been under 2:10 in the relevant qualifying period, however; Kylie Stewart is the 5th seed in 2:10.61.

Then we finally get into the “elder” swimmers – Morgan Scroggy is best known for her 200 free that put her on the World Championship team, but she was a finalist in 2008 in this race in 2008. Now, she’s 22 and with much more experience under her belt. Her 2011 season was a big letdown, so she’ll need to figure out a big bounceback to be in the mix here.

Teresa Crippen will also be up there, though her chances are undoubtedly better in the 200 fly than this race. Maya DiRado is another swimmer coming out of the college ranks – at the NCAA level, she’s best known for her IM’s, but she’s also an outstanding 200 backstroker, especially in long course. She only made the C-Final at Nationals in this race last year,

The two swimmers ready to pounce in the race are Madison White and Megan Romano, the latter of whom has exploded in the last year between the freestyle and backstroke distances. They were both also finalists at last year’s Nationals. Ashley Jones was on the American World University Games team last year, but that was the last time we saw her race; she’s now coaching at the Yorktown Swim Club, and her career may be over.

Former Wisconsin swimmer Maggie Meyer is a former NCAA Champion in the race, but in long course she’s generally better in the 100 back. Auburn commit Jillian Vitarius out of Houston could be in the semi’s. Kaitlyn Jones was on the American Youth Olympic Team in 2010. She’s one of a large group of potential contenders in this race that didn’t drop any time in the year 2011. There’s no guarantees that she or the others (Amy Modglin, Meyer, White, Scroggy, Pelton) will reverse that trend, but the bounceback in that situation can be really exciting – especially in a race like this where the American depth is relatively underdeveloped.

But we don’t have to reach too far to pick out the legitimate candidates for this win. We already talked about Missy being the favorite. Pelton and Beisel both will have very similar event schedules (which means a lot of swimming up until this race); they both have very good starts; but on the basis of momentum, I’ll pick Beisel for the slight edge in a 2:06-high.

Picks include current training group, as well as the swimmer’s former collegiate affiliation (just for fun), and seed times.
1. Missy Franklin (Undecided/Colorado Stars) –  2:05.10*
2. Elizabeth Beisel (Florida/Gator Swim Club) – 2:07.82*
3. Liz Pelton (Cal/T2 Aquatics) – 2:07.48
4. Kylie Stewart (Dynamo) – 2:10.61
5. Madison White (Crow Canyon) – 2:11.67
6. Bonnie Brandon (Arizona/Mission Aurora) – 2:09.91
7. Maya DiRado (Stanford/Stanford) – 2:11.14
8. Megan Romano (Georgia/Athens Bulldogs) – 2:12.07
First four out (no particular order): Morgan Scroggy (Georgia/Athens Bulldogs), Teresa Crippen (Florida/Gator Swim Club), Kaitlyn Jones (Delaware Swim Team), Kendyl Stewart (North Coast Aquatics/USC)

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Mike W

Lochte is a great swimmer. He is also a hunk and a half.

Nadador

Phelps is good at anything (apart from the breaststrokes, probably?). After Beijing, I thought he would go for those other events, backstroke being way up on my list of wishful thinking. BUT it seems he will go for the three-peats.

So, the 200m back is Clary’s best chance.

As for Franklin, she’s got the talent. I hope she makes wise choices (like Coughlin in all her Olympics) and don’t spread herself too thin (like Hoff in Beijing).

The GoldMedalMel piece on her (very good – congrats and thanks) had me thinking: right now she trains at altitude all year round (and that is an advantage): will her move to another, non-altitude location negatively affect her?

bond

conger’s time is 1:58.5 or so

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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