Yesterday, we took a look at the top swims through the various National Championship meets that we’ve already seen in 2011. From here on out, the schedule gets a little trickier to pick apart and locate the top meets, because most of them don’t have the words “National Championship” placed at the end of them (though there’s still a few of those left). We’ve prepared a calendar of the biggest meets to watch between now and the 2011 Shanghai World Championships.
Maria Lenk Trophy; May 2nd-8th; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil- Though not identified as such by name, these are the true national championships of Brazil. Besides playing host to near-full-taper swims from Brazil’s stars like Thiago Pereira and Cesar Cielo (who has made his goal all-time textile bests at this meet), the biggest clubs in Brazil have also brought in foreign mercenaries to bolster their ranks in the ever-important team battle. This year, those stars will include Jessica Hardy, Rebecca Soni, Mireia Belmonte, Kirsty Coventry, Ous Mellouli, and Ricky Berens.
Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix; May 12th-15th; Charlotte, USA- This is the USA Swimming Grand Prix meet with the biggest fanfare surrounding it, and with a $50,000 prize pool (as well as important USA Swimming Grand Prix points) on the line, this year should be no different. Most of the major players who train in the USA will be there, headlined by Lochte and Phelps. But this GP has an even bigger scheme: Hometown SwimMAC teammates Cullen Jones and Josh Schneider will face off in a mano-a-mano 50 free showdown for a spot on the USA Swimming World Championship team. If Schneider loses, he defaults to the World University Games squad. If Jones loses, he’ll stay home altogether.
Polish National Championships; May 19th-22nd; Ostrowiec SW, Poland- Not a National Championships that’s on everyone’s radars, but the Polish men have put together an outstanding butterfly group that includes Konrad Czerniak, Pawel Korzeniowski, Marcin Cieslak, and Marcin Tarczynski. The 100 and 200 fly alone are worth the price of admission for this meet.
Speedo Grand Challenge; May 27th-29th; Irvine, CA- This meet doesn’t usually reach too far outside of the state of California, but luckily that still leaves it well within the competition schedule of a huge portion of the world’s elite athletes. This meet will likely see a trip from the USC, FAST Center of Excellence, Cal, and Stanford elite and college teams, which makes it effectively a huge California Senior-Level state championship. With all of the great programs in Cali, I wish that they’d keep team-scores and bill it as a sort of “team” championship, but still a fun meet to watch.
German Nationals; May 31st-June 5th; Berlin, Germany- One of the last major National Championship meets, Germany will be finalizing their squad at the beginning of June (though, oddly, FINA doesn’t list this as an official Shanghai qualifying meet). Besides domestic stars like Paul Biedermann, Dorothea Brandt, and Britta Steffen (who will be making her first major-meet swims here), many swimmers from neighboring countries (like France, Italy, and the UK) might use this as a good test meet for their training not too far out from Shanghai.
Mare Nostrum; June; Barcelona, Spain/Canet en Roussillon, France/Monaco- This three-meet series that takes place between the 4th and 12th of June, including stops in Spain, France, and Monaco. Competitors travel together via bus from Barcelona to Canet-en-Roussillon, and then via plane across the Mediterranean to Monaco. This meet usually gets a ton of international competitors (especially the Russians) and last year was won by Rebecca Soni. The format has changed a little bit from past years, as there are now separate men’s and women’s competitions. Total prize money is over 40,000 Euros ($60,000), meaning another big payday on the European continent.
XLIV Santa Clara International Grand Prix; June 16th-19th, 2011, Santa Clara, USA- This is the final stop of the 2011 USA Swimming Grand Prix, and the scoring race is tight enough that it will have big significance towards who takes home the $20,000 purse. Besides that, in past years, a lot of international swimmers have used it as a final long-course tuneup before the World Championships. In 2009, for example, much of the Australian squad was in attendance, including Stephanie Rice, Brenton Rickard, and Leisel Jones. Expect several Canadians to make the trip down as well, including last year’s virtual 100 free champ Brent Hayden.
Sette Colli Trophy; June 17th-19th; Rome, Italy- This meet has some level of significance competitively, as Italian star Alessia Filippi will return to Rome, where she won gold in the 1500 and bronze in the 800 at the 2009 World Championships. She missed Italian Nationals while competing on their version of Dancing With the Stars, so the Italian Federation has declared this meet as her World Championship Trial. Besides that, there’s a prize pool of over 70,000 Euros ($100,000) available to competitors, and the meet provides flight and housing compensation for big stars to travel to the meet. There’s very few meets in swimming that hand out that sort of prize money, so some big European names should come out for this one.
Hungarian National Championships; June 22nd-25th; Debrecen, Hungary- Hungary is on the verge of breaking into the class of “can’t miss” National Championship meets, like some of the others we’ve highlighted recently (Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Italy). In 2009, they sat 7th in the overall medals table at the 2009 World Championships with 6, including golds from Daniel Gyurta (200 breast) and Katinka Hosszu (400 IM). The Hungarian women have even put together a better-than-solid 800 free relay that could challenge for a medal in Shanghai.
Paris Open; June 25th-26th; Paris, France- This is the meet that made headlines last year when they shelled out a 6-figure appearance fee to land Michael Phelps. I’d be surprised if they did the same this year, but he might show up anyways. This is another one of those “last test” sort of meets, and besides the powerful French team, there’s always a huge international contingent. This meet is a veritable World Champions preview. If you name an elite swimmer, odds are that they’ve been to the Paris Open in the past few years: Leisel Jones, Roland Schoeman, Phelps, Nathan Adrian, Lotte Friis, Evelyn Verraszto, and Leisel Jones have all competed in the last two years, and that’s just a small portion of the list.
Swimming Australia World Championship Relay Selections; June 29th-30th; Adelaide, Australia- This is a twist that Australian coach Leigh Nugent added to the Australian selection process this year, mostly as a way to allow recently un-retired Libby Trickett a chance to earn at least a relay spot (she wasn’t back in the drug testing pool long enough by Aussie Nationals). It’s not clear exactly what the protocol for this meet will be, but it will be Trickett’s official return to competition, which should generate plenty of buzz. It will be piggy-backed two days later by the Australian SC Nationals, though not many National Teamers are expected to taper for those.