MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, November 8. THE 2013 USA Swimming Grand Prix Series officially begins tomorrow at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in Minneapolis. This year's edition of the Grand Prix Series runs from November 2012 until June 2013, with stops in Austin, Texas, Orlando, Florida, Mesa, Arizona, Charlotte, North Carolina and Santa Clara, California.
Over the course of the series, swimmers are ranked based on their collective number of gold, silver and bronze medals. The athlete ranked first at the series' completion earns $20,000. Michael Phelps was the overall winner of the 2012 Grand Prix Series with Allison Schmitt a close second.
Anticipation is high going into this weekend, as the meet marks the return to racing for a number of elite athletes. Some have been out of competition for several months, others for nearly a year.
Missy Franklin tops the list of London Olympians donning her racing suit this weekend. She is entering the meet with a full freestyle and backstroke –centered schedule; reminiscent of the races she swam in London. Franklin previously won the Grand Prix circuit in 2011, but turned down the prize money to maintain her collegiate eligibility. Other female Olympians swimming in Minneapolis include Claire Donahue, who is expected to dominate the butterfly events, and Chloe Sutton, who is racing mostly mid- and distance freestyle events.
Other athletes to keep tabs on over the course of the meet include Rebecca Mann, Dagny Knutson and Canadian Olympian Jillian Tyler. Mann turned heads ranking amongst the top athletes as a 14-year-old at both the Olympic Trials and U.S. Open. Knutson, meanwhile, is making her first competitive appearance in nearly a year, after bowing out of the Austin Grand Prix in January 2012 to seek treatment for an eating disorder.
On the men's side, Ryan Lochte is making his first competitive appearance since the Olympics, and there doesn't seem to be much he isn't swimming in Minneapolis. He is entered in everything from the 50 freestyle to the 500, with IM, butterfly and backstroke thrown in for good measure. Fellow London Olympian Conor Dwyer is racing a similar schedule in Minneapolis, forcing the two to battle head-to-head in a number of events.
Several other Olympians racing this weekend are Scott Weltz, Jimmy Feigen, and Garrett Weber-Gale. Weltz is entered in his signature breaststroke events, while Feigen tackles the sprint freestyle races. Beijing 2008 double gold medalist Weber-Gale will compete against Feigen in the sprint events. Weber-Gale is back in action after taking a break from swimming, following disappointment after failing to qualify for the London Olympics this past summer.
However, the big question on everyone's mind is: what kind of times can we expect from the world-ranked swimmers at the Minneapolis Grand Prix? Of the Grand Prix meets, the first stop tends to be smaller and have a more relaxed setting. Will athletes treat Minneapolis as a tune-up for the rest of the season?
A number of U.S. National Team members competing this weekend are on the roster for the 2012 Short Course World Championships. The meet will be held in Istanbul, Turkey, on December 12-16, 2012.
Those on the roster who are also swimming this weekend in Minneapolis include: Rebecca Mann, Chloe Sutton and Claire Donahue on the women's side, and Mike Alexandrov, Conor Dwyer, Jimmy Feigen, Ryan Lochte, Garrett Weber-Gale and Scott Weltz for the men.