There was a lot of huge meets going on this past weekend, specifically several National Championships/World Championship Trials, and for those of you who don’t have time to read 3,000 words about each meet, we thought we’d give you a high-points recap of the most important things that went down and which races you need to know about. We’ve saved the Chinese and Australian Champs for their own highlights after those meets end (preview: there’s a lot of fast swimming going on down under), but we’ll try to hit most of the other important championships here.
Spanish Spring Open/World Championship qualifying
1. Mireia Belmonte Rocks Spanish Open Nationals- Spain’s Mireia Belmonte broke out at the Dubai short course championships. And when I say broke out, I’m not using hyperbole. She won the 200 fly, both IM’s, and took silver in the 800 free, which gives her about the most brutal schedule you can swim. But there were a lot of questions about whether or not she would carry that success through to the long course season. She answered that question in Madrid by winning all 4 of those events, including holding off Chile’s Kristel Kobrich in the 800 by exactly 1 second (though Kobrich did post the world’s best time in the 1500). Her world-ranks through today: 200 fly 2nd (2:06.25), 200 IM 3rd (2:10.26), 400 IM 1st (4:34.91), 800 free 9th (8:27.88). The most impressive was that 400 IM, which is turning into her primary event. She’ll have to cut off another second or two from that 4:34 in Shanghai, but for now it’s easily the best in the world and will serve as the rabbit headed towards the World Championships.
2. Melanie Costa Schmid Also Sets Spanish National Records– Belmonte’s teammate, Melanie Costa, also broke National Records last weekend. She swam a 4:07.09 to win the 400 free, a time that ranks her 12th in the world. Her first go-around at the Olympics was less than successful–she failed to make the semi-finals in the 200 free in Beijing–but that was a great learning experience for her. She seems to be getting a little bit longer in her focus as she ages (she’s still only 21), which puts her amongst great competition on the Spanish team. This could push her to huge levels over the next 2-6 years.
3. Rafael Munoz: Good, Not Great- Rafael Munoz was the subject of much controversy during 2010, where he was given a pardon by WADA despite missing 3 random drug tests. Now, on a short leash, he’s back in the water. In the 50, his specialty, he wasn’t quite at the level that he was last season, but posted a 23.77 to rank 6th in the world. In the 100, however, he put up a 53.28 which is less than a tenth off of his 2010 best time. Headed towards the Olympics, I’d expect him to continue to put more focus on the 100 (since the 50 is not an Olympic event). He’s still among the favorites in that 50 for Shanghai though, but without much (read: any) domestic competition, he was probably only worried about getting his A-cuts in this race. Aschwin Wildeboer, who had a great Short Course Worlds, was also underwhelming at this meet, with a 54.3 100 back and a 1:59 200.
4. Poland’s Konrad Czerniak Beats Munoz in the 100- I said Munoz didn’t have much domestic competition, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t pushed at this meet. Poland’s Konrad Czerniak stopped by, and ripped off a 52.59 in the 100 fly, which ranks him 4th in the world. Not many countries have a better thing going than in the butterfly events than the Polish do right now. He also gave Munoz a little scare in the 50, with a 24.04. Another international, George Bovell of Trinidad, posted a great 22.38 in the 50 free, which won that race.
Canadian Nationals/World Championships Qualifying
5. Annamay Pierse Back on Form in Canada- Breaststroker Annamay Pierse set the World Record in the 200 breaststroke in Rome (a mark that she still holds), but had a rough 2010 season that included contracting Dengue Fever at the Commonwealth Games. She is sometimes overlooked as a good swimmer that was propelled to greatness thanks to the rubber suits, but she’s had a great start to 2011 that might help reshape that perception. She posted a 2:24.10 in the 200, her specialty, which ranks her 2nd in the world behind only the great Rebecca Soni. With Leisel Jones appearing ready to drop the 200 from her schedule, Pierse might become the silver-medal favorite in this race for both Shanghai and London.
But she’s not the only Canadian who had a great championship. In the 100, NCAA Champion Jillian Tyler posted a 1:07.56, ranked 7th in the world, and the young Tianna Rissling swam a 1:07.90 that ranks her 9th in the world. Rissling, who just turned 18 in January, still has not made a public commitment to an NCAA team, but is probably the biggest recruiting chip still on the block. In the 200, Pierse was pushed the whole race by Martha McCabe (2:24.43), who is now ranked 5th in the world.
6. Collegiate Women Strong As Well in Canada- The Canadians weren’t the only ones lighting up the pool in British Columbia. The meet played host to a lot of international swimmers, including many collegians who were looking for a World Championships official qualifying meet (or a qualifying meet for other purposes) at which to achieve A-times, without having to stray too far from their studies. Among the best of those was Rebecca Ejdervik of Arizona State/Sweden, who posted the world’s top time in the 50 breaststroke at 31.06 (those Swedes sure can sprint, ehh?)
Texas A&M’s/USA’s Sarah Henry was second-fastest in the 400 IM, with an 18th-ranked time of 4:44.39 (and 2nd best American this year). An injury her senior year of high school threw many off of her trail, but make no mistake: she was one of the top recruits in the country last year.
7. Julia Wilkinson has Great Canadian Meet- Henry wasn’t the only Texas A&M swimmer to have an awesome meet. Aggie grad and Canadian National Julia Wilkinson lit things up by winning the 100 back, 100 free, and 50 back. She lost her National Record in the 200 IM–a race in which she finaled in Beijing–to Erica Morningstar (2:11.23-5th in the world), but picked one up in the 50 backstroke where she crushed her own mark with a 28.13. She also swam a great 1:00.39 in the 100 backstroke, to rank 8th in the world. The three-time Commonwealth Games medalist is a real threat for a backstroke medal in Shanghai, especially in that shorter distance.
8. Brent Hayden Pacesetter for Canadian Men- Sprinter Brent Hayden, who ended 2010 with the world’s only sub-48 100 freestyle time, showed more speed at Nationals. He won the 50 free in 22.37 (ranked 7th in the world) and the 100 free in 48.83 (ranked 10th in the world). Distance swimmer Ryan Cochrane also posted top 10 times in the 400 free (3:49.30) and 1600 free (15:08.59), his specialties.
9. Cal Men Carry NCAA Success to Canadian Championship- The Cal men were present in full-force at the Canadian Championships, and are moving to make their stamp on international swimming as well. Damir Dugonjic looks ready to finally make his mark on long course pools with a 1:01.41 that was the fastest of the field, and a 27.72 in the 50 which ties him for 3rd best in the world. Another Cal Bear who recently used up his eligibility was Guy Barnea, who swims internationally for Israel. He posted the best 50 back time of the meet in 25.41, which ranks him 13th in the world.
William Copeland, who graduated in 2008, might be ready to challenge for relay spots on the American team. He was impressive with a 22.55 50 free (14th in the world) and a 50.04 100 free.
Danish Open/World Championships Qualifying
10. Gydesen Performs Well on Quick Turnaround- Cal’s Mathias Gydesen, just a week after finishing his college season at the NCAA Championships, was in his native Denmark competing for a spot on the World Championships roster. He just barely missed the FINA Automatic Qualifying time, but still won in 55.38.
11. Ottesen Makes Top 5 in 100 free- Jeanette Ottesen moved to 5th in the world in the women’s 100 free with a time of 54.16. This is already .4 faster than she went in all of 2010. She showed her versatility by posting a 58.33 100 fly (11th in the world) and 26.21 50 fly (5th in the world).
12. Friis Shows Consistency in Distance Events- Distance swimmer Lotte Friis didn’t quite match her times from French Nationals a few weeks ago, but she showed some great strength and consistency with an 8:27.10 in the 800 free, and a 16:07.74 in the 1500 free. Still, she ranks 3rd in the world in both events, and in the 800 (which is the Olympic distance), only Rebecca Adlington has put up a more impressive duet of times.
13. Pedersen Makes Top-10 Move in Women’s Breaststroke– Rikke Moeller Pedersen is Denmark’s best hope at a medal outside of the freestyle events, and had a great meet with a clean-sweep of the breaststroke events. She swam a pair of 1:07.6’s in the 100 (just missing her 1:07.5 from France), but her 200 breaststroke time was the most notable. She threw down a 2:24.91 to move herself to 6th-best in the world