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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, May 15. THE seventh heat of the men’s 200 freestyle at the Charlotte stop of the Arena Grand Prix tomorrow morning will feature the past two Olympic champions in the event racing in what could be an exciting race for fans all over the world.
Michael Phelps, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist, will race reigning Olympic champion Yannick Agnel in the 200 free in the final heat of the “A” flight of the event. Phelps will race in lane two while Agnel will be in the fourth lane. The two also train together at North Baltimore Aquatic Club, but this will be the first time the two have raced each other in a sanctioned meet since the 2011 world championships. At that meet, Phelps was second behind Ryan Lochte in the 200 free, while Agnel was fifth.
Between Phelps and Agnel in the prelim heat will be Charlie Houchin, who was on the 800 free relay in the prelims of the Olympics, securing a gold medal for his efforts. Houchin also participated in the 800 free relay at last year’s world championships.
In heat six, watch for Conor Dwyer. He could give the crowd the opportunity to see three of history’s best 200 freestylers in one race, should all three make the final. Of course, the race is missing Ryan Lochte, who withdrew from the meet with knee issues.
Phelps will also swim the 100 butterfly later in the session. His 52.13 from the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa puts him as the third seed behind Tim Phillips and 2013 national champion Eugene Godsoe. Phelps will swim in lane four in the fifth heat, which will notably feature 15-year-old record breaker Michael Andrew in lane one.
On the women’s side, look for Katinka Hosszu in two events. She’ll be in the 200 free and 400 IM, setting up for two great races in the championship final. In the 200 free, Allison Schmitt and Megan Romano could be the top challengers, while Elizabeth Beisel will be a favorite in the 400 IM. Beisel and Hosszu have won the past three world titles in the 400 IM, as Hosszu took gold in 2009 and 2013 while Beisel won gold in 2011. How fast will these two swim at this point in the season? The two will likely save their energy in prelims and let loose something under 4:40 in the final.
On paper, Jessica Hardy looks to be the class of the field in the 100 breast, but Molly Hannis could impress after a strong NCAA college season. Hannis has yet to break through in the long course pool, but a strong swim in Friday’s finals could signal a strong transition. Though Micah Lawrence is best at the 200 distance, the support of the home crowd could give the SwimMAC Carolina star a boost in the sprint event.
Mike Alexandrov is a staple on the Arena Grand Prix circuit, and might have no difficulty with the 100 breast in Charlotte. Look for a couple of foreigners to potentially break through in tomorrow’s prelims. Anton McKee of Iceland, who just completed an impressive freshman season at Alabama, is looking to impress on his journey to Rio, as is Great Britain’s Christopher Steeples.
With the 50 breast also being held on Friday, it’ll be a banner day for sprint breaststrokers, and a chance for Hardy to shine twice in one day. Alexandrov, a former American record holder in the 100-yard breast, will likely dominate in the 50 breast as well, though the fun of a 50-meter event is the unpredictability of such a short race.
The women’s 100 butterfly will feature Katerine Savard, who recently reset her own Canadian national record in the event, and is one to watch in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific championships. Claire Donahue, currently the top sprint butterflyer in the USA, will give Savard a strong race, with both likely to utilize strong opening halves to intimidate the other. This could be a preview of the fight for medals at this summer’s Pan Pacific championships!
The men’s 400 IM will give us the chance to see Chase Kalisz in his first long course race since breaking the American record in the 400-yard IM at the NCAA championships. Like the women’s event, we are not likely to see fast swims in the prelims, but Kalisz and Tyler Clary are bound to separate from the field after the backstroke. Keep an eye on Dan Wallace, the NCAA runner-up and world championship finalist, to present a challenge.
It should be noted that the world championship bronze medalist in the 400 IM, Thiago Pereira, is not entered in the event, electing to swim the 200 free and 100 fly instead.
The 50 backstroke will give us the chance to see David Plummer and Junya Koga go head to head. Plummer had the potential to make the world championship final in the 50 back last summer, but slipped badly on the start. Koga is the reigning Pan Pac champion in the 50 back and won this event last year in Charlotte with a 25.11. Plummer was second last year and will look for some redemption. Another key player in the race will likely be Albert Subirats, who stands as one of the fastest 50-yard backstrokers in history from his days racing for the University of Arizona.
The prelim session begins at 9 a.m. Eastern time. USA Swimming will host the live stream of prelims on USASwimming.org.