By John Lohn
IRVINE, California, August 3. AFTER two days of competition at the National Championships, the team the United States will send to the Pan Pacific Championships is taking shape. For now, only the winners of each event are guaranteed a slot, along with the top-four finishers in the 200 freestyles. Here is a look at the individuals who have wrapped up invitations to Victoria, British Columbia.
Natalie Coughlin: A five-time medalist at the Athens Olympics, Coughlin qualified in the 100 butterfly on the first night of action with a time of 57.78 and came back to win the 200 free Wednesday night in 1:58.11. Coughlin, though, will not swim the 200 free at the Pan Pacific Champs. With her 800 free relay spot assured, she will focus on the 100 back, an event in which she is the only woman in history to break the one-minute barrier.
Brendan Hansen: The triple-event medalist from the Athens Games, Hansen boasts the finest swim of the meet to this point, thanks to his world-record performance in the 100 breaststroke. The Longhorn Aquatics star went 59.13 and is on the brink of becoming the first man in history to crack through the 59-second mark. He was out at the 50-meter mark in 27.66 and prevailed by nearly two seconds, an unheard of margin in a 100-meter race.
Katie Hoff: One of the busiest women this week, Hoff nailed down her trip to Canada when she broke her American record in the 200 individual medley with a clocking of 2:10.05. The time is the second-fastest in history and it appears the North Baltimore Aquatic Club teenager is set to go 2:09 in the near future. Hoff also finished second in the 200 freestyle, leading to a relay berth, and was second in the 400 freestyle.
Klete Keller: An Olympic medalist in 2000 and 2004, Keller powered to victory in the 400 freestyle on Tuesday night, using a strategy that differed from his past. Usually a closer, Keller took the race out hard and held on to win in 3:44.27, not far off his American record of 3:44.11. Keller also secured a relay spot on the 800 free relay when he placed second to Michael Phelps in 1:46.62.
Ryan Lochte: The University of Florida product guaranteed his position on the Pan Pacific squad with a fourth-place showing in the 200 freestyle, good for relay duty. Lochte, though, will be added to the team on an individual basis before the week is out, as he already has a second-place effort in the 400 individual medley.
Aaron Peirsol: Recognized as the greatest backstroker in history, Peirsol won the 100 dorsal on Wednesday night with a come-from-behind victory. He was narrowly behind Randall Bal at the turn and continually expanded his lead during the last 50 meters. Peirsol’s winning time of 53.38 is the second-fastest in history, behind only his world record of 53.17.
Michael Phelps: The eight-time Olympic medalist is 3-for-3, having landed Pan Pac bids in the 400 individual medley, 200 freestyle and 200 butterfly. Phelps was displeased with his medley performance from the opening night, but indicated that he felt better in his second-day forays. Phelps posted the fifth-fastest 400 I.M. in history and the fourth-fastest 200 fly. He is the world-record holder in both events.
Peter Vanderkaay: Currently on the Pan Pac team as an 800 free relay member, thanks to a third-place swim in the 200 free, Vanderkaay will certainly be added as an individual before the meet concludes on Saturday. Vanderkaay was second in the 400 freestyle and continues to prove his worth as one of the best middle-distance freestyles in the American arsenal.
Leila Vaziri: While the other names in this story are of the household variety, Vaziri is a newcomer to the United States National Team. The Indiana University standout took advantage of Natalie Coughlin’s absence to win the 100 backstroke in 1:01.69. The swim wasn’t entirely surprising, however, as Vaziri has enjoyed a sterling tuneup season.
Dana Vollmer: An Olympian in Athens, Vollmer put herself into Pan Pacific action when she finished third in the 200 freestyle. That swim selected the University of Florida standout for duty on the 800 free relay. Vollmer was a member of the American squad that won gold in the 800 free relay at the Athens Olympics.
Amanda Weir: Enjoying a strong meet, Weir notched her trip to British Columbia as the fourth-place finisher in the 200 freestyle. Weir clocked 1:59.11 in the final after going 1:58.56 in the morning. One of the United States’ top guns in the 50 and 100 freestyles, Weir should give the 800 free relay a major boost.
Kate Ziegler: The reigning world champion in the 800 free and 1,500 free, Ziegler blazed through her final 50 meters to collect victory in the 400 freestyle with a swim of 4:05.75. Pegged as the future of American distance swimming a few years ago, Ziegler is certainly living up to the hype. Her time was the seventh-fastest in history and there’s reason to believe she’ll soon challenge Janet Evans’ American record of 4:03.85, on the books since the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.