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Intrigue Surrounds Men's Freestyle Races at World Champs Trials -- March 30, 2005

By John Lohn

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., March 30. THE freestyle events at an international-selection competition are often the most drama-filled races. After all, in the 100 and 200 distances, relay invitations are also available, which consequently raises the price of poker.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the freestyle races in Indianapolis, where the United States squad for this summer’s World Championships in Montreal will be selected. The competition begins Friday and runs through Wednesday and will feature six freestyle events.

50 Freestyle

Since it’s not an Olympic year, it’s not surprising that Gary Hall Jr. won’t be in attendance. The absence of Hall means a little more flexibility for the field, which is headlined by Jason Lezak. Unless a startling event occurs, Lezak will certainly nail down a trip to Montreal.

Behind Lezak, a two-time Olympian, a high-level battle is expected to develop, with the likes of Nick Brunelli and Matt Grevers in the mix. Brunelli is on the cusp of a breakthrough at a major competition while Grevers is coming off a stellar showing at the NCAA Championships. Also in contention should be Neil Walker, a veteran of the international scene, and Ben Wildman-Tobriner, who sizzled for Stanford at the NCAA Champs.

100 Freestyle

Once again, Jason Lezak will be a major player. After all, he’s the American-record holder in the event. Lezak, though, should get major challenges from Michael Phelps and Ian Crocker. Phelps has indicated a desire to expand his program and showed quality speed earlier this month at the American Short Course Championships.

Crocker, meanwhile, was an Olympian in this event in Athens and holds a share of the short-course world record in the 100 free. The premier 100 butterfly specialist in the world, Crocker is quickly enhancing his status in the 100 free.

Like the 50 free, the likes of Neil Walker, Matt Grevers and Nick Brunelli will be contending. The same can be said for Ben Wildman-Tobriner, Nate Dusing and Garret Weber-Gale.

200 freestyle

This event could emerge as the finest of the World Championship Trials, as the four members of the American 800 free relay are likely to swim the race. That relay, featuring Michael Phelps, Peter Vanderkaay, Ryan Lochte and Klete Keller, won gold in Athens, ending Aussie dominance in the event.

Phelps holds the American record in the event and should continue to improve in the distance, long owned by Ian Thorpe and Pieter Van den Hoogenband. As for Keller, he’ll be right near the top if his training has returned to peak form after taking some time away from the pool.

Lochte and Vanderkaay each had stellar showings at last week’s NCAA Championships and will be right at the top of the field and pushing Phelps.

400 Freestyle

The bronze medalist in the 400 free in Athens, Klete Keller is not entered in the event, which opens up the gates. While Michael Phelps is considering the middle-distance event, it’s uncertain whether he’ll actually hop onto the blocks. If he does, consider Phelps a lock.

Larsen Jensen and Peter Vanderkaay will be top challengers and Justin Mortimer could make some noise, along with Fran Crippen.

800/1,500 Freestyle

The silver medalist from Athens in the 1,500 free and the American-record holder in the 800 and 1,500 events, Larsen Jensen should have no problem garnering trips to Montreal in the longest two races. His biggest competition should come from Justin Mortimer, Peter Vanderkaay and Chris Thompson.