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Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
By Emily Sampl
BOULDER, Colorado, June 18. THE last of the 2013-2014 Arena Grand Prix meets gets underway tomorrow afternoon in Santa Clara, with many of the United States' top swimmers in attendance. With U.S. Nationals just over a month away, this meet is one of the last major meets on U.S. soil before the Pan Pacific Championship and World Championship team is selected in Irvine. Here are five storylines to keep an eye on as the meet unfolds.
1. Who will win the 2013-2014 Arena Grand Prix Series?
Although five of the six Arena Grand Prix meets of the 2013-2014 season are already in the books, the race for the top prize and title of series champion is far from decided. As of right now, Hungary's Katinka Hosszu leads the women's standings with 57 points, comfortably ahead of Megan Romano's 34.5 and Caitlin Leverenz and Allison Schmitt's 29. However, after competing in several European meets recently, including the Mare Nostrum series and Sette Colli Trophy, Hosszu will not be in Santa Clara to add to her point total. That leaves the door open for several others to take over the lead, with Leverenz and Schmitt right on the doorstep. Both are entered in numerous individual events and with a few top three finishes could seriously close the gap. Katie Ledecky is currently fifth with 28 points, but won't be racing in California. On the men's side, Conor Dwyer sits in first with 46 points, only four ahead of Arkady Vyatchanin's 42. Michael McBroom (33), Yannick Agnel (31) and Tyler Clary (27) are all bunched together in third through fifth. All five swimmers will race this weekend, and they won't just be racing for fast times, but cash as well.
2. A preview of later this summer?
There's about a month and a half between the Arena Grand Prix at Santa Clara this weekend and the Phillips 66 National Championships in Irvine, the second of which will decide several major international teams, including next summer's world championship team. Most swimmers will probably compete in other meets between now and then, but this will likely be the last time so many of them race against each other until Irvine. Could the finishes this weekend be a foreshadowing of Nationals later this summer? Most of the top swimmers and Pan Pacific/World Championship team hopefuls are swimming their best events in Santa Clara, as it will give them a good idea of how they stack up against the competition just over a month away from the meet. It will be interesting to look back after Nationals and see how this meet compared; will the swimmers who are on their game in Santa Clara make those teams in a few weeks?
3. What events will the big guns swim in Irvine?
A lot of the top swimmers' event selections for Irvine will be pretty predictable, but others will not, and their performances this weekend may have a hand in deciding which events to go with for Nationals. Michael Phelps' event lineup is pretty intriguing, as he's entered in the 100 and 200 free, 100 fly and 200 IM this weekend. If he goes with those events in Irvine, he'll have a shot to qualify not only in those four events individually, but for all three relays -- the 4x100 free relay, 4x200 free relay and 4x100 medley relay. A lot of other top swimmers like Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt, Maya DiRado and Felicia Lee are entered in four, five or six individual events this weekend, and it will be interesting to see if they go with the same schedule for Nationals.
4. Who will throw their name in the hat as one to watch?
Any time there's a trials meet or major selection meet, at least a couple of less well-known swimmers come out of the woodwork to make the team. Could Santa Clara give us any hints about who it might be this time? We're halfway between London and Rio, a time when the next generation of Olympians and major contenders may start to really make a name for themselves. It's happened in the past, and this year should be no different. Santa Clara may be the launch pad for a lot of swimmers hoping to make those Pan Pacific and World Championship teams.
5. How fast will the times be?
The Arena Grand Prix at Santa Clara falls at an interesting time, as it's well into the long course season but still more than a month from the major taper meet of the summer -- how rested will most swimmers be, and what kind of times will people put up? Will this be a training meet for most, or an opportunity to see where they're at prior to Nationals? There have been a lot of big meets and fast times posted in Europe recently, so it will be interesting to see how the first major U.S. meet in several weeks stacks up against the competition.