Michael Phelps pulled another double on day 2 of the 2011 Minneapolis Grand Prix, which continues to show the great shape that he’s worked himself into early in the pre-Olympic season.
He started things off with a win in the 200 fly in 1:56.12. In taking the win there, he knocked off Wu Peng (1:57.67), who is the man that took two-straight victories in last year’s Grand Prix to end Phelps’ 9-year streak in the race. In those races, Phelps was going 1:57’s and 1:58’s. Tyler Clary took 3rd in 1:59.63.
He would follow that later with a 53.71 in the 100 back. That’s his best time of 2011, and ranks him 12th in the world this year. Though he’s best known for his butterfly races, he’s also a great backstroker (which is why his IM’s are so strong). He was able to out-touch hometown-swimmer David Plummer, who swam the event at the World Championships, in 53.87.
In 4th-and-5th were Gator Swim Club teammates Ryan Lochte (55.80) and Arkady Vyatchanin (55.88). That’s just a little sneak peak into the kind of battles that those two likely go through every day at practice. If Vyatchanin is expecting to go through the same tough in-season training as Lochte, and similar training cycles, that’s an encouraging swim from him.
In the women’s 50 free, after a tumultuous prelims session, Amanda Weir took a win in 25.04, which is a nice bounceback after failing to final at Worlds. That’s her best time of the year, and moves her into the world’s top-20. Jessica Hardy, who has swum very well in the meet, took 2nd in 25.10.
Hardy was lucky to even make the finals of her only race on day 2. After what she described as a “double beep” at the start of the race, her prelims heat was forced to re-swim the race in some morning-session dramatics.
Kara Lynn Joyce (25.30) and Dara Torres (25.30) tied for 3rd place. Torres has been taking the return from her knee-cartilage-regeneration surgery very slowly – she’s pretty much stuck exclusively to the 50 free. This time is the 2nd-best out of her 7 swims in 2011, behind only a 25.16 from Rome. She’s still fighting a bit of an uphill battle towards London, especially without much clarity on whether or not she’ll try for a 100 relay spot. The American women’s sprinters didn’t have a great year overall in 2011, but it’s going to take a 24.8 or better (at least) to make the Olympic team.
In the men’s 50 free, the Americans’ lack of depth continued to be exposed. The top three finishers were international swimmers, with Fred Bousquet taking the win in 22.17.
That’s a solid swim for the aging Frenchman, though it doesn’t quite match up to Cesar Cielo’s Pan Am’s follow-up swim. Still, that’s as good as anybody besides Cielo has been this fall, and he’s still looking in great shape for a medal in 2012.
Brett Fraser was well back in the race, taking second in 22.41. That’s a career-best time for him, as he continues to stretch his versatility (he had a great swim in the 100 fly yesterday) beyond the 200 free where he was the NCAA Champion. Third-place went to South African (and Auburn training partner of Bousquet) Gideon Luow in 22.59.
The top-finishing American was Garrett Weber-Gale of Longhorn Aquatics in 22.88. Simon Burnett of the UK/Tucson Ford actually had the 4th-best time in 22.69, but he was relegated to the B-Final.
France’s Yannick Agnel placed 6th in 23.03, which is a very good time for him (his best is a 22.85). He’s shown big improvements in the sprint freestyles as he’s matured, which history suggests would be true for most swimmers, and that should feed well into his 200 and 400 results.
Speaking of which, Agnel took 3rd in the 400 free in 3:50.52, where he fell just behind China’s Zhang Lin. Lin has been training with Dave Salo and USC as he tries to respark his form that allowed him to set an 800 free World Record in 2009. At USC, he counts among his training partners Tunisian Ous Mellouli, who took the win in this race in 3:49.60.
It’s sort of curious (though maybe not as much as it should be) how training partners can touch so closely together. This race had another example of training partners swimming very tight races – Matt McLean (3:51.61) and Michael Klueh (3:51.87), both of whom are at FAST, placed 5th and 6th, respectively.
In the women’s 200 breaststroke, without any resistance or competition, Another Trojan swimmer Rebecca Soni took the victory 2:24.77. The runner-up, A&M commit Ashley MacGregor, was more than four-seconds back in 2:29.23.
The men’s 200 breaststroke final was much more interesting. As we speculated yesterday after the 100 breaststroke, Clark Burckle took the win in 2:14.42. That’s a few seconds slower than he was at the World University Games, but the past few years Burckle has put up huge tapers from where he started the season. If he can come close to the same 4-seconds time drops that he’s done the past few years, then he’s very dangerous for an Olympic spot in this race (especially after seeing a great swim in the 100 yesterday).
Burckle’s development makes the road in this 200 tougher for comebacker Brendan Hansen, who touched 2nd in 2:14.82. It’s nowhere near time to make any drastic paradigm changes, but a few more results like this one will probably push him further-and-further towards the 100, where he could be dominant.
In the women’s 200 fly, Kathleen Hersey won in 2:09.94. Given that she was swimming 2:12’s and 2:14’s at the beginning o last season this 2:09 was a good mark.
Also, a big shout-out goes to Mallory Wegemann, who holds or shares 10 Paralympic World Records. After breaking the American Record on day 1 in the 100 fly for her S7 Classification (1:17.58), she scared her mark in the 100 back with a 1:23.62 (less than half-a-second away).
Also keep an eye on Gavin Utesch. He swam a 1:11.55 to touch first in the 100 back multi-class, but at only 15-years old has some scary potential. He competes in the S-9 classification after having his left leg amputated in 2005 as a result of a fight with cancer. He will be back in this pool in April at the Paralympic Trials. He’s been much faster this year, in a 1:08.96, which sits him in the top 20 in the world in his classification in the event.
Missy Franklin posted a 59.69 to place as the only woman under the minute barrier in the 100 back. How scary is it that less than a decade ago, Natalie Coughlin became the first woman to break a minute, and now a 16-year old is going well under it at a mid-seasons Grand Prix meet? Franklin, despite being so dominant overall, still lost some distance to her competition on the turns. At 16, it’s too early to determine if the underwaters just haven’t matured yet or if she’s going to be an Aaron Peirsol type, where she’s just so good above the water that the walls just don’t matter.
Maggie Meyer took 2nd in 1:01.24 to just out-touch Cal commit Rachel Bootsma (1;01.27). After Bootmsa really broke through at long course at Nationals with a 59.6 of her own, I might have expected that Bootsma would be a bit faster in this race based on her historical patterns. Especially given that she’s sitting out the high school season to focus on long course training, something under a 1:01 would have fit the pattern a bit better.
In the women’s 400 free, Allison Schmitt received a much bigger push than she did in her dominant day 1 win in the 200. Her 4:07.78 is again her best time of the season, and continues a great 4-weeks of racing for her. That time was done on the back-half of a double with the 200 fly, which makes it even more impressive.
Runner-up Chloe Sutton was also doing a double with the 200 fly, though she didn’t final in that race, and took 2nd in 4:08.18. Sutton is a very young swimmer (at 19, she’s only the equivalent of a college sophomore, though she seems much more mature). For how good she is, she’s really one of the least experienced elite distance swimmers in the pool. Besides her age, remember that it’s only recently that she’s made the full-time movement to the pool (in her mom’s words, she’d never really “tapered” before Worlds last year). She’s taken on a full event schedule in this meet (basically, she’s swimming the hardest event schedule you can imagine), and is trying to take a crash-course in pool swimming experience before trials. This was a positive result for her, overall, and she beat out France’s Camille Muffat in 4;08.28.