The Santa Clara ‘International’ Grand Prix really lived up to its billing on the 2nd-day of competition, as 7 out of the day’s 12 races (including relays) were won by international swimmers. The Australian women especially lit up the stage, with two wins and world top-5’s in the process.
The first big swim dropped on the 2nd day was Australian Stephanie Rice’s win in the 400 IM – the day’s first final – in 4:36.52. That time is her season-best by over two seconds, and pushes her from eighth to fourth in the World Rankings this year. This swim should officially put to rest any long-term concerns over the health of Rice’s surgically-repaired shoulder, as she appears to be just about back to the full-form that won her 3 gold medals in Beijing. Though she’s still probably a little off-schedule following about 10 weeks out of the water, in the modern swimming era, three months out of the water is more commonly viewed as a “mental break” rather that lost training time. Don’t be surprised to see Rice win at least two medals this summer in Shanghai.
Also of note in that race, another World Championship medal contender, Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, finished 5th in 4:42.93. Though that’s the best time of her season, she’s still struggling to work herself back into long course shape after being named the NCAA Swimmer of the Year. It will be interesting to see how she handles her senior year at USC next season, because she can’t afford this sort of start to her long course season headed into next year’s Olympic Games.
The second big Australian win went on the board in the women’s 200 backstroke, where Meagan Nay won in 2:07.16, which vaults her into 2nd in the world in 2011. The only swimmer ranked ahead of her is Australian teammate Belinda Hocking, who was about three-tenths better at Australian Nationals in April. There’s a lot of doubts about how many medals the Aussies will win at World’s this summer, given a sub-par finish to the 2010 season, but they are looking really strong so far this summer. With only one taper meet to worry about (as compared to the dozen or so last season), I think they’re going to do quite well in Shanghai.
Michael Phelps swam only one race on day 2: the 200 backstroke. There he took a win in 1:57.05, which moves him up to 5th in the world this year. As one of our readers astutely pointed out, this is an indicator that it is, in fact, a huge workload that resulted into his below-average swims on day 1. High training volumes usually lead to improved endurance, such as would be beneficial in the 200 backstroke, and decreased top-end speed, as is necessary for good swims in the 100 free and 100 fly.
Ryan Lochte was 2nd to Phelps in the prelims of the 200 back, but scratched the final to avoid over-exertion by racing again shortly after his 400 IM swim. In that 400 IM, which is Lochte’s first time swimming it this season, he finished 2nd in 4:17.76, behind Brazilian Thiago Pereira in 4:15.89. Despite expectations that he would begin to show some speed from his extremely challenging training regimine, Lochte is still underwhelming the field in Santa Clara.
Unlike many of the collegiate World Champion-hopefuls, Allison Schmitt has really started to come down in her times. She took the women’s 200 free title in a season-best 1:57.31 to push herself into the top-10 in the world rankings. In the process, she out-touched one of her biggest competitors for this title in Shanghai: Bronte Barratt (1:57.48). Barratt currently is ranked 2nd in the world with her time from Aussie Nationals.
Speaking of the Aussies, the defending Olympic Champions will be one of the USA’s biggest competitions in the 4×200 free relay in Shanghai. Missy Franklin’s continued development will be a key to the Americans returning to their dominant status in this race, and after swimming a career-best time in Charlotte, she took another big-step in Santa Clara by successfully holding that speed at 1:57.77 for 3rd-place.
Korea’s Tae Hwan Park took his 3rd meet title by winning the 200 free in a meet record of 1:45.92. That broke the old mark set by Peter Vanderkaay back in 2009 and puts Park 4th in the world this year. Vanderkaay finished in 10th as the consolation-final champion in 1:49.97. Ryan Napoleon (1:48.71) and Dominik Meichtry (1:48.72) were locked in a great battle for 2nd-place, and Napoleon charged through in the final 50 to take the silver.
In the women’s 50 free, National Teamer Madison Kennedy won in 25.23. She was barely able to touch out Lara Jackson (25.27). Those are both season-best times and rank each right aroudn 30th in the world this year. Jackson has been laying low this year — this is her first meet of 2011 outside of the state of Arizona — but she is still very much in the hunt for an Olympic spot in the sprint freestyle.
Amanda Weir (25.50) and Kara Lynn Joyce (25.51), who are both swimming in Shanghai and thus have a little different time-table than the top two finishers, took 3rd and 4th. Joyce still hasn’t seen big returns from her training in Denver, especially considering the times that her training partner Franklin is putting up, but it was a mid-season switch so we’ll have to wait at least until the taper before we know what her real progress is.
The men’s 50 free failed to produce an impressive time, but Cal Aquatics postgrad William Copeland won in 22.69. Alex Coville from Stanford was 2nd in 22.81, and Universiade qualifier Josh Schneider was 3rd in 22.92.
In a special edition of the 50 breaststroke, which is not part of the normal Grand Prix schedule, Brendan Hansen took the first win of his comeback in 28.65. That includes finishes ahead of Mike Alexandrov (28.70), Marcus Titus (28.73), and Eric Shanteau (28.83). In the women’s battle, Jessica Hardy blew away Trojan Aquatics teammate Rebecca Soni with marks of 30.43 to 30.84. Those represent the 3rd and 8th fastest swims in the world this year. Perhaps this race served as a final plea and audition for Hardy to take the USA’s second spot in the women’s 50 breaststroke instead of Amanda Beard, who is entitled to that position but has little hope of even finaling in the race.