Next up, we’ll take a preview look of the 100 breaststrokes for the US Trials. This is a tale of two races; on the men’s side, we’re relying heavily on a swimmer coming out of retirement to lead the way, while on the women’s side, we have the two best in the world.
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Men’s 100 Breaststroke
Remember when? Remember when Americans fans were panicking about the medley relay and how our breaststroker would cost them a gold in an event where they’ve never lost at an Olympics? That wasn’t too long ago. Enter Hansen.
Last summer, 30-year old Brendan Hansen made his big return at US Summer Nationals, and was the story of the post-World Championships meet. He took that title in 1:00.08, and that time should leave him as the top seed headed into trials. It’s also not far off of the swim he put up at the pre-Olympic Worlds in 2007, where he was a 59.80. We don’t know how his body will react at 30 as compared to 26, but he’s probably the Americans’ best bet at breaking a minute in this race.
The #2 seed is also in his 30’s (or, he will be by Trials) – and that’s Auburn swimmer Mark Gangloff. He’s proven later in his career to be a huge taper swimmer. After swimming no-better-than a 1:01.4 during the season in 2011, he tapered his way down to a 1:00.19 and made the final. That’s good news for him, as he’s been only a 1:01.08 this year in Austin (and in most meets slower than that). The challenge in the American system for big-taper swimmers is that they have to use that taper at a late qualifying meet. Take 2008, for example – Gangloff was a hair faster at trials than he was at the Olympics. That could negatively affect his placing at the Olympics, but we can expect him to be fast in Omaha.
Much like they are in many Phelps/Lochte-less events, the American men might not be spectacular in this race at the top, but there is a ton of parity. Mike Alexandrov had a very funky 2011 season. He hit a brick wall at Worlds with a 1:01.4 in prelims, but a week later, he was a 1:00.30 in a time trial at US Nationals.
Close behind Alexandrov in the seedings is Eric Shanteau. Shanteau is a better 200 breaststroker than 100 breaststroker, but he’s hit a spark the 8-months or so in this 100. Marcus Titus, with the stress hopefully relieved about getting a fair start, will also be in the mix if he’s focused.
The other name on the 1:00 list is the biggest surprise, and that’s Kevin Swander’s 1:00.32 from a time trial at Nationals last summer. He was the 2004 National Champion in the race, finished 2nd in the 100 at the 2006 NCAA Championships, and then went into a big lull. But it’s hard to deny that 1:00.3 as well as his upward trend in the event.
Despite the return of Hansen, it’s clear that the Americans are still very thin – those are the only 6 who have gone under a 1:01 in the past two-plus years. By comparison, the Brazilians have 6 in that same period, and the Japanese 8. The Brits have 4 this year alone.
So while those six should all be down close to the 1:00 range, to ensure a good competition, the Americans need someone else to step up and push the pace, or at least prep for 2013 and beyond. Those six swimmers will all be at least 26 by the time the Olympics roll around.
The next-fastest Scott Spann is retired, so no luck there. Sean Mahoney is a 200 specialist; he hasn’t hit his taper at the “big meet” (he went 1:02’s at Nationals last year).
Stanford’s Curtis Lovelace is an interesting possibility.
Clark Burckle took his 200 breaststroke to a new level earlier this year, but he hasn’t hit that same explosion in the 100 (though he’s undeniably been very good, including a best time by .01 at that meet). He should be an A-Finalist at least. Tucson Ford, much like they do in the college wing, has an unmatched breaststroke training group. Burckle, Alexandrov, Titus, Adam Ritter, and Kevin Munsch (who’s come on strong lately) all are working with the coaching staff at Arizona.
But there’s room for someone to just go nuts and make a statement in this race – and to me that’s gotta be another swimmer out of Tucson: Arizona freshman Kevin Cordes. Despite being only 18, he broke the American Record in the 100 yard breaststroke earlier this year. He made a big jump up to a 1:01.60 at last year’s National Championships, and it would be hard to believe that he doesn’t have another six-tenths improvement in him to get to the 1:00 range this summer.
Nolan Koon was Cordes a few years ago – he’s been a highly-touted young breaststroker since breaking National Age Group Records as a 17-18. He too had a good summer Nationals last year, though his NCAA Championships were just “good” not “great”. Eric Friedland’s challenge will be performing in the second round – in 3 of his 4 races at NCAA’s, he was slower in finals than in prelims (the exception was the breaststroke leg of the medley relay). But the speed is certainly there for at least a semi-final.
And we can’t forget about the other big breaststroke comeback, the 2000 Olympic silver medalist, Ed Moses. He’s bounced around with a bunch of different training groups in the year or so he’s been back; I don’t know that he’s got enough to make the team again, but I think he can semi-final at least.
To me, Hansen is the favorite in this race. The 2nd-place battle will come down to timing of the finish, and in that case the pick has to be the experience of Gangloff.
Top 8 picks, plus most recent (public) club/college affiliation. The time represents the swimmer’s best time in the Olympic Trials qualifying period.
1. Brendan Hansen (Texas/Longhorn Aquatics) – 1:00.08
2. Mark Gangloff (Auburn/Auburn Aquatics) – 1:00.19
3. Eric Shanteau (Auburn/Trojan Swim Club) – 1:00.31
4. Kevin Swander (Indiana/SwimMAC Carolina) – 1:00.32
5. Mike Alexandrov (Northwestern/Tucson Ford) – 1:00.26
6. Marcus Titus (Arizona St/Arizona/Tucson Ford
7. Kevin Cordes (Arizona) – 1:01.60
8. Clark Burckle (Florida (x3) Arizona (x1)/Tucson Ford) – 1:01.37
Next Four Out (no particular order) – Sean Mahoney (Cal/California Aquatics); John Criste (Stanford/Trojan Swim Club); Nolan Koon (Cal/California Aquatics); Ed Moses (Virginia/Tucson Ford)
Women’s 100 Breaststroke
The women’s 100 breaststroke, as the antithesis of the men’s race, has two huge names in Trojan teammates Rebecca Soni and Jessica Hardy. Rebecca Soni is the undisputed breaststroke queen in the world (at least in long course Olympic distances). This 100 isn’t as much of a slam-dunk as the 200 will be, but it’s still a pretty safe pick. In the pertinent Olympic qualifying period, Soni’s had 11 swims faster than anybody else’s best race. And when you dig even further and add Hardy in, they combine for the 30 fastest swims by Americans in the last two years.
In other words, Soni has some cushion. I don’t think that there are two Americans who have the speed to get down to even the 1:05.85 she swam in Charlotte.
Hardy, on the other hand, could be vulnerable. Since returning from the suspension that cost her the 2008 Olympics, she’s had an up-and-down affair with breaststroke. After failing to make the World Championship team in the 100, she decided that she was going to be strictly a sprint freestyler. After swimming a 1:06.1 in an in-season meet in Brazil in 2011, however, she seems to be back full-bore into the race.
So I think Soni is about a lock to be in the top two, and that Hardy is a strong bet for 2nd. But it’s almost disappointing how good those two are, because there’s so many intriguing names in this race. Annie Chandler, who has been the “it kid” since she was in high school back in San Antonio chasing National Records, is really coming into her own as a post-grad. She’s alluded that now, with her engagement to Matt Grevers, this will probably be her last season of training, but one would imagine Olympic qualification could change that. Micah Lawrence is swimming better than we’ve ever seen her swim training at SwimMAC now.
And then there’s the name that everyone will be talking about: Breeja Larson. She should be a finalist in her first Olympic Trials; I’m not even sure she was registered as a member of USA Swimming in the run-up to the 2008 trials (she certainly hadn’t swum any sanctioned meets). But in two years of college swimming at Texas A&M, she’s transformed into one of the best swimming stories in the country, including this past March when she became the fastest 100 breaststroker in the history of yards swimming.
Now we’re waiting to see that translate into long course. Her 2011 summer was robbed by health problems, but we saw a glimmer when she went a 1:08.29 at the Austin Grand Prix that was an in-season meet for her just a few weeks from Big 12’s. Unlike what you see from Rebecca Soni, who wants to get up and swim, Larson has huge underwaters. If there’s a woman in this race who will push the 15-meter line on her pullout, it’s the 6’1 Larson (though, we know that the 15 meter line isn’t relevant in breaststroke as more than a reference).
She’s the big potential swimmer that nobody can ever doubt in this event. Hardy isn’t going to hand her that second spot, but I wouldn’t tell Larson that she can’t rip it away.
Another swimmer following that same meteoric rise is Emily McClellan, who just finished her freshman season with Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Like Larson, she didn’t take up club swimming seriously until the winter of 2009. At that time, she was going a 1:10 in yards and a 1:20 in meters. By the end of her high school career, the former was down to a 1:03, and after only a year of college swimming she got all the way down to a 59.25 at the Horizon League Championships.
Her long course times have followed the same path, wrapping up with a 1:08.4 at last summer’s National Championships. As great as that time is, her yards improvement shows that she might still have a little extra pop-to-drop and get to a 1:07-low, or even a 1:06, at this meet.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the veterans and mothers. Amanda Beard is shooting for a 5th-Olympic Games, though for the last four years or so she’s trended toward the 200 breaststroke. Megan Jendrick (formerly Quann) has taken a much different road to this year’s Trials, after giving birth to her son in October. She was back in the water for serious training in February, though, and will be at Trials. We’ve seen her race four times since her pregnancy, including most recently two weeks ago at a local senior meet. There, she was a 1:11.08, which shows a good spark only three months back.
Kasey Carlson was great in polyurethane; she hasn’t been as highly ranked in the past few years, and didn’t have a very good NCAA Championship Meet. But she has to be considered a threat. Ellyn Baumgardner from Arizona and National Teamer Ashley Wanland from Wisconsin are other college swimmers with a chance to final. Don’t sleep on another mid-major swimmer, Laura Lindsay either; she had a great senior season at Toledo.
There’s a great super-sleeper pick in this race, watch Notre Dame swimmer Emma Reaney. She came from nowhere to be one of the best freshmen in the NCAA last year; she has only been a 1:12 and barely a Trials qualifier in meters, but she dropped her best time by 3 seconds in her first year in college.
Top 8 Picks, plus college team, most recent available club affiliation, and current seed times.
1. Rebecca Soni (USC/Trojan Swim Club) – 1:04.91
2. Jessica Hardy (Cal/Trojan Swim Club) – 1:05.90
3. Breeja Larson (Texas A&M) – 1:08.29
4. Annie Chandlers (Arizona/Tucson Ford) – 1:07.17
5. Micah Lawrence (Auburn/SwimMAC) – 1:07.62
6. Amanda Beard (Arizona/Tucson Ford) – 1:07.49
7. Emily McClellan (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) – 1:08.43
8. Ashley Wanland (Wisconsin) – 1:08.33
Next Four Out (in no particular order): Kasey Carlson (USC); Ellyn Baumgardner (Arizona); Laura Lindsay (Toledo); Laura Sogar (Texas)
Again, we’re joined by some guest picks from the swimnuts at Reezy Nation
1. Rebecca Soni
2. Jessica Hardy
3. Annie Chandler
4. Amanda Beard
5. Ashley Wanland
6. Micah Lawrence
7. Emily McClellan
8. Haley Spencer
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