Courtesy: Charles Hartley
Everything in our American lives is changing – and for the better.
We’re moving ahead, away from that dirty four-number thing, 2020, into the Spring azalea-sprouting, and right after that the June 4th splashdown of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in the centerpiece of our nation, Omaha, Nebraska.
What’s changing there is big and seismic, the rise of the women as the best and most compelling athletes who’ll be there.
Sure, Caeleb’s interesting and Michael Andrew will show up big, and Ryan Held may move us to tears and Rowdy Gaines will be there all lathered up. But there’s so much more going on in with the women at this event – as is the case in all other aspects of our lives.
It all starts with guts. We all should right now take 30 seconds and close our eyes and think about the awesomeness of Melanie Margalis. She’s favored to win the 200 individual medley (IM) (2:08.94) and 400 IM (4:32.53).
Read that one more time. In the most brutal swimming events ever created – the ones that put the most grand pianos on the backs of swimmers for the longest stretches of time as they feel abject agony – she’s the toughest and fastest and most versatile American swimmer.
Think of her as our nation’s swimming decathlete, the three-sport athlete, the natural who can do it all like Bo Jackson.
She comes into the meet as the favorite in both events. Only people with the last name of, I don’t know, Phelps, brings these wicked cool credentials to big-time, world-class, for-everything swimming meets.
Margalis, you’ll be our American hero this June. Watch her flick off those pianos and act like they’re as light as a couple of swimming caps.
Speaking of pianos, you’ll want to turn on some aquatic music, maybe “Snoop John B” by the Beach Boys, and start grooving about another American female swimmer who struts toughness.
Not a quick, get in and get out type, Ashley Twichell takes the long view of life and goes for the long-haul. She’ll be in swimming for long periods of time in four different races:
- The 400 meter freestyle (4:07.77) – seeded eighth
- The 800 meter freestyle (8:27.36) – seeded seventh
- The 1500 meter freestyle (15:54.19) – seeded second and
- The Open Water event (no time; it’ll go on for a few hours or so) – no seeding for this endless swimathon)
It’s time – right now – for all of us to fall deeply in love with Ashley Twichell for the courage to swim a lengthy laundry list of long events. Can you imagine how many miles she swims a week? Four hundred? What weeks she must have.
And not just in the pool.
At Duke University she obviously swam through a lot of textbooks and classes because she was named to the ACC All Academic team. Tough school, tough swimming events, tough woman.
Ashley’s got a swimming soulmate you’ll want to watch in Nebraska. Like the super swimmer/athlete from Virginia, Leah Smith relishes the long freestyle races and figures to be in the hunt for a spot on the Olympic team.
She’s ranked fifth in the 200 free (1:57.40), second in the 400 free (4:01:29) and second in the 800 free (8:16.33). She’s got a shot at finishing first in the 400 free because the first place qualifier is only about two second faster. You read that right.
Shifting lanes, let’s now drill down into the best rivalries you’re likely to see. Of course when the word rivalry surfaces you immediately think of Lilly King because she’s one competitive woman and as Americans we celebrate and revere that.
Winner of Olympic Gold in the 2016 Olympics, she’s splashing her way again towards more Olympic glory. Heading into the trials, she’s got the fastest time in the 100 meters (1:04.93). Annie Lazor enters the race as the second fastest (1:06.03).
Here’s what should get your juices flowing. Their seedings are flipped in the 200 meter breaststroke with Lazor coming in with the past time (2:20.77) and King second (2:21.39). Cool pool stuff.
Wouldn’t it be something to see Lazor touch the wall before King in at least one of these races or maybe both? We all know what a competitor King is. She’s compelling theatre.
If Lazor beats her in either race, it’ll be big kitchen breakfast coffee talk around America because she’ll have proven she can take down a ferocious foe.
Now let’s flipturn onto our backs. Float for a few seconds. Then gaze up at the natatorium ceiling in Omaha and imagine you’re either Regan Smith or Kathleen Baker (or both at the same time if that’s your thing). This will work for you either way.
In the 100 meter backstroke, Smith is expected to win (58.18) by out-reaching Baker by a smidge (58.56). With these times exceptionally tight – closer in fact than almost every other set of first place/second place qualifying times at this colossal meet– it’s definitely plausible that Baker will win this race.
But the story gets richer. In the 200 backstroke Smith also enters as the favorite (2:03.35) and Baker second (2:06.46).
Whatever happens, it’s clear that as we sit here pondering what will happen that Smith and Baker are aware of each other and know that to make it to Tokyo they’ll have to take on each other in the trials.
Ok, enough about long-distance swimming and one-two rivalries. Let’s move on to the house on fire races, the 50 meter and 100 meter freestyle water blasts.
Two words you should know: Simone Manuel. She’s America’s Speed Queen in the 50 meters (24.05) and 100 meters (52.04).
Odd stuff can happen in these millisecond races but given her track record she’ll probably make the Olympic team in at least one of these events.
But that’s not all and here’s where it gets more intriguing. As the fourth-fastest seed in the 200 freestyle, she’s got a shot at winning this race. Here’s how: average a 28 second split for four laps and that’s a 1:52 – faster that the fastest qualifying time in the race (1:54.28). It’s arithmetic.
Then there’s one other woman you might want to check out. Her name is Katie Ledecky. She’s favored to win the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle events. She’ll probably win all of them, including the 1500 by about ten minutes.
About Charles Hartley
Charles Hartley is a freelance writer based in Bernardsville, New Jersey. He has a masters degree in journalism and a masters degree in business administration.