By Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, January 18. TONIGHT'S final of the men's 100 freestyle at the Arena Grand Prix - Austin was a reunion of epic proportions, featuring four of the six Americans who comprised the lineup for the 400 free relay at the 2012 Olympics.
This was the first time the four stepped up in the same race since the Olympic Trials, and just hearing their names announced before the final gave me goosebumps. Nathan Adrian. Ricky Berens. Jimmy Feigen. Matt Grevers. And let's not forget Anthony Ervin, who swam the 50 free in London. Sadly, Ryan Lochte just missed out on the final, keeping the field from shooting into the stratosphere in star power.
With all due respect to the other seven swimmers, the 100 free final became the Nathan Adrian Show once their feet left the blocks. Adrian was able to break out ahead of Matt Grevers and never relinquished control, proving his Olympic win was simply prelude to another year of dominance domestically, and likely internationally.
What made the race more exciting was not seeing Adrian put these guys to shame with a powerful final 50 meters, but rather his time of 48.32, which sent a statement across the Pacific Ocean to rival James Magnussen, who had posted a 48.38 at the Aquatic Super Series earlier in the day. One wonders if Adrian knew of Magnussen's swim Down Under in Perth, which had taken place almost 16 hours earlier, and if that pushed him through those windmill strokes in the final 10 meters.
And let's not forget the historic takedown of Matt Biondi's 24-year-old pool record of 48.42, which had stood since the 1988 Olympic Trials. It had also been the American record in the 100 free from 1988 to 2001, when Anthony Ervin (yes, Anthony Ervin) broke it. Any record that can survive the techsuit era deserves respect.
If you've never seen it, or just want to remember what it is like to swim a 100 free in 48.42 seconds in a brief without high-tech caps, goggles and starting blocks, here it is:
On the domestic side of things, seeing the four Olympic relay teammates -- Adrian, Jimmy Feigen, Matt Grevers and Ricky Berens -- as well as 50 free Olympian Anthony Ervin, putting on a racing clinic for the few swimmers and spectators in attendance only made things exciting for the future. In addition to Adrian's quick time, the top five times were what would be expected from them after a tough holiday training season. Adrian and Ervin spent two weeks in Colorado Springs getting in some altitude training, and coming down to sea level in Austin likely gave them a great boost. The United States will need four solid swimmers for this summer's world championships, especially since Mr. Reliable, Michael Phelps, is no longer in the picture. It looks like the USA is headed in that direction, based on times posted tonight.
We'll see these guys racing more often through the next five months in preparation for what will be a great 100 free final at the world championship trials, and tonight's race set high expectations for what is yet to come.