The 2011 Santa Clara Grand Prix kicked off last night with the non-Olympic distance events, but today was when the real show began.
Young Korean superstar Tae-Hwan Park got the meet off to a great early start in the first final of the meat of the men’s meet: the 100 free. His winning time of 48.92 moves him into a three-way tie for 23rd in the world, and is near a career-best time in the sprint race. Park usually focuses his efforts on the middle-distance freestyles, but if he can put up this sort of speed in the 100, then the world is in serious trouble in the 200 and 400 freestyles.
Park showed how dangerous he can be later in the session when he doubled up in the men’s 400 free. His winning time there was 3:44.99, which ranks him 3rd in the world in 2011. He made Ryan Cochrane (3:50.05) and Ryan Napoleon (3:50.12) — two swimmers with World Championship potential — look silly by comparison. It even appeared as though maybe Park could go faster in this race. Looking at his splitting, his final 100 meters (55.11) were almost as fast as his first 100 meters (55.03). Park is only 21-years old, hard to believe given how long he’s been around, and he appears to be well on his way to a Thorpe-like domination in the freestyle disciplines.
In the 100 free, Park’s first win, the runner-up was none other than Michael Phelps in 49.61. Though this is an event that his coach Bob Bowman has said he won’t be racing individually in Shanghai, he will still be an important part of the American relay. It’s difficult to gauge what that time really means, given what a roller-coaster his season has been.
In Indianapolis back in March, Phelps went his best time of 48.89. While we might hope that Phelps was closer to the 48-level at this point of his season, reports are that he’s been putting in as many as three training-sessions a day at the Olympic Training Center for the past few weeks, which could also mean he’s pretty fatigued.
His 100 fly win later in the meet left much the same feeling. He won that race in 52.41, which is his slowest finals performance since January’s Austin Grand Prix. While the reports are that his training load are going the right direction, his times certainly aren’t. It’s going to be a race against time to see if he can finish pulling everything together for Shanghai.
With that win, however, he effectively guaranteed himself to finish 2nd in the Grand Prix Series, and as the highest-finishing professional he should take home the $20,000 prize check. Especially after Ryan Lochte, who sat 3rd coming into the meet, finished well back in 8th in both of the same finals as Phelps.
It was only these monster swims by Park that were able to pull any attention away from “the debut” of the newly unretired Brendan Hansen. So far, so good, as he placed 2nd in 2:14.56. Although his target is 12-months off (June’s Olympic Trials), this time is surprisingly close to where he was at this point of 2007. The swimming world has gotten faster since then, however, has gotten much faster than that, so he’s still got some serious work to put in. The winner of this race was Eric Shanteau in 2:13.52, which is not all-that notable of a time for him.
Rebecca Soni won the women’s 200 breaststroke in 2:23.38: which snatches the meet record away from rival Leisel Jones. That’s her third-fastest swim this season (which, not coincidentally, makes it the third-fastest swim in the world this year as well). It’s less than a tenth off of her season-best from the Missouri Grand Prix in February.
The runner-up in this race was Amanda Beard in 2:27.53, which is about a second slower than she was in Charlotte last month. In third-place was Micah Lawrence (2:28.84), who is now officially representing SwimMAC Carolina as was revealed via Twitter by coach David March a few weeks ago. After two dismal collegiate seasons to end her collegiate career at Auburn, she is now spending her second-straight summer training at SwimMAC. If there’s something that SwimMAC is absolutely not known for, it’s their female breaststrokers. But for Lawrence, who reportedly plays football with the Mecklenburg Men, working in a training group that likely is comprised exclusively of men might be a decent fit. It seemed to work out well for her last year, when she qualified for Pan Pacs.
Missy Franklin went a season-best 54.33 to win the women’s 100 free and move to 14th in the world rankings. The first swimmer to touch the wall, however, was Franklin’s self-proclaimed idol Natalie Coughlin, who stopped the clock at 54.14. After the awards ceremony, however, Coughlin was DQ’ed for violating the 15-meter mark. This is a line that she usually pushes, as she has some of the best underwaters in the world, but this time it bit her.
In the women’s 400 free, Allison Schmitt and Elizabeth Beisel were locked in a great SEC battle. Beisel took the early lead, but Schmitt fought back and tied the race, two the tenth, at both the 150 and 200 meter marks. There, Schmitt made her move to open up about a half-second lead, and though Beisel made a few small pushes, she couldn’t overcome the deficit. Schmitt’s final time was 4:08.25, which is by far her best mark of the year, and Beisel touched in 4:08.57 in her time racing it this year. That puts both of them in the top 25 in the world this year.
Dana Vollmer won the women’s 100 fly in 58.22. She wasn’t challenged much in this race, though the field was rich with 200 butterfliers. Elaine Breeden (58.22) and Kathleen Hersey (59.05) both went season-best times to finish 2nd and 4th, respectively, and Australian Stephanie Rice wasn’t bad either in 58.98 for 3rd.
Full, live Meet Results are available here.