10. Who Ya Gonna Call? – The folks in Irvine did a fabulous job hosting the Pan-Pac Championships all around. Between the post-race interviews piped over the loudspeaker, the “Aquazone”, and autograph sessions this was a first-class production all-around. You’ve even got to appreciate the small details, such as a great soundtrack of athlete walk-out songs. But they saved the best for last. As the men’s 400 medley relay walked out on to the deck, I nearly died laughing when the Ghostbusters theme song started blasting. Well played by the event staff.
9. B stands for Better – About 10 minutes after the last medals were handed out, Swimmer of the Meet awards were given, and the final team standings were announced, there were still 2 races to be swum: the “B” heats of the 400 medley relays. While these races weren’t for medals or points, they were still swum by world class athletes.
In a shocking development that demonstrates the relative depth of today’s National Teams, the Australian men’s “B” relay (3:34.78) actually swam a faster time than their “A” relay (3:35.55). It’s great to see those guys go out there and swim hard even in a race that doesn’t formally count in the standings, when they could have easily cashed it in. Kudos to them.
8. Championship record, no medal – Yolane Kukla finished Pan-Pacs without a single individual medal, scoring 3 fourth-place finishes and a Consolation Championship. In the 50 fly, however, she showed a glimpse of what is to come for the 14 year-old budding superstar. In this race, where she was left in the B-final as the 3rd fastest Australian in the prelims, she put up a 25.99. This time ties her with teammate Marieke Guehrer, the A-final Champ, for the Pan-Pacific record.
While it might seem disappointed that in 4 individual races Kukla came up just short despite being so close to medaling, I look at it as exciting. At the 2012 Olympics, in her third year of international competition, Kukla will only be 16 years-old. Look out.
7. Second Chances – Aaron Peirsol, the defending Olympic and World Champion in the 100 backstroke, was left in the B-final of that event thanks to being the third-fastest American in prelims. Peirsol, like many of the meet’s top athletes, isn’t used to having to put up ultra-fast times in morning prelims to qualify for medal-finals. In fact, Team USA swimmers often had to put up a top-2 time in the morning to have a chance at a medal in the evening.
Despite his misfortune, Peirsol got a helping hand from the man of the meet, Ryan Lochte. Lochte decided to scratch the final of the 100 backstroke to focus on the 200 free, which bumped Peirsol up into the A-final. Peirsol made the most of this second chance by coming back and winning the gold medal in 53.31.
In his post-race interview, Peirsol joked that he might have to buy Lochte a beer later for bailing him out. Classic Peirsol moment.
6. “Oh Say Can You Swim”? – When Team USA open water star Eva Fabian stepped up to the microphone following Michael Phelps receiving his gold medal in the men’s 200 fly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What followed was one of the coolest National Anthems I’ve seen at a swim meet. She knocked out a perfect rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner on her violin. It’s so cool to see someone who is so multi-talented and hasn’t let her athletic pursuits interfere with her other interests.
Oh yeah, then she rocked a silver medal in the women’s open water 10k.
5. Schmitt Drops the Hammer – In the women’s 800 free relay, Team USA’s anchor Allison Schmitt hit the water in second place, the closest an America relay came to being upset. Australia’s Meagen Nay Kept the race close through the 700 meter mark, but on the next 50, Schmitt really blew the race open. She outsplit Nay 29.76-30.69. The USA won the relay by a second-and-a-half, which lead to a clean-sweep of all three relays. Schmitt is on fire right now.
4. Hats off to Cochrane – In every meet he swims in, Ryan Cochrane stands out, and not just because he’s really fast. The Canadian distance swimmer doesn’t wear a cap. Cochrane might be ultimately unique at the elite level of swimming in this regard.
Ironically, Cochrane was one of the few world-class swimmers who were outwardly in favor of keeping the polyurethane suits; comparing it to taking a golfer’s clubs back 15 or 20 years. But a male swimmer not wearing a cap is also a technological throwback in an era where most men wear their caps even in practice. Cochrane rode his buzzed-hair to a gold medal in the 1500 and 800 meter freestyles, as well as a surprise silver in the 400 free.
3. Adrian Tops Cielo – When Nathan Adrian knocked off World Record holder Cesar Cielo in both the 50 and 100 freestyles, he garnered the most buzz and excitement about an American sprinter since maybe Matt Biondi and Tom Jager in the late 80’s. In the 50 free, he went a 21.55, which matches Cielo for the second best time in a textile suit ever, and in the 100 his 48.15 was the fastest in the world this year (until Phelps just edged it at 48.13 to lead of the 400 free relay).
Adrian matched his individual performances with twin 47.5’s to anchor both 400 relays. He is taking this anchor spot over from Jason Lezak, one of the most legendary relay anchors ever, and has thrived under the pressure. He is going to have a very exciting senior season at Cal.
2a & 2b. Lochte and Soni, Swimmers of the Meet – These two won the men’s and women’s swimmers of the meet awards, respectively, and so it is with no disrespect that they share the second spot on my list of the best moments from the meet. Ryan Lochte’s most dominant swim was the 400 IM, where he swam the best time in the world this year by over a second-and-a-half, despite appearing to put the brakes on at the end of the freestyle. This completed his comeback from a bizarre series of leg injuries that actually forced him to develop a more powerful and efficient—and less painful–breaststroke kick.
If Lochte dominated the 400 IM, then I don’t know what to call what Rebecca Soni did in the 200 breaststroke. In a race that featured 4 former World Record holders in this event, and 4 of the top 6-ranked swimmers in the World, Soni made the rest of the field look like they were swimming in syrup. She took the race in 2:20.69; over two-and-a-half seconds ahead of Leisel Jones, second fastest in the world. Here’s to hoping Soni can get some competition at Worlds or the Olympics so she can challenge the World Record.
1. The Return of Jessica Hardy – This was Jessica Hardy’s first major international meet as a member of the US National Team since her well-publicized suspension for a positive test for Clenbuterol. Four gold medals later, the conversation about Hardy has shifted from her suspension to her reinvention as one of the world’s best sprint freestylers.
Hardy has more world records than any other woman (in a tie with Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands), but all four of her all-time marks are as a breaststroker. At the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships, Hardy only swam 2 laps of her former primary stroke, which came in a gold-medal effort in the 50 breaststroke. She followed that event with gold medals in the 50 free, and as the fastest leg of the women’s 400 free relay.
She saved her best swim for last, however. As if to put a final exclamation point on her big international comeback meet, Hardy anchored the women’s 400 medley relay in a split of 53.12. With that one swim, a huge amount of weight seemed to have been lifted off of Hardy’s shoulders. There was no better place for her first meet back than in friendly territory in Irvine, where the pool is within walking distance of her home. Now, get ready for Hardy to attack the World in 2011 and 2012.