Arena Grand Prix Mesa: Lather on the Sunscreen and Avoid the Cacti

PHOENIX, Arizona, April 10. TOMORROW the Arena USA Swimming Grand Prix Series hits the Sonoran Desert. Expect saguaros, sun, sunscreen, chlorine … and fast Olympians racing. Nineteen US Olympians are entered in the Mesa, Ariz., meet at the Skyline Aquatic Center, including Arizona natives Breeja Larson (Mesa) and Caitlin Leverenz (Tucson).

Along with a collection of international talent, like FINA World Cup queen Katinka Hosszu, highlighting the meet will be Olympic gold medalists Ryan Lochte, Nathan Adrian, Dana Vollmer and Missy Franklin.

Since swimming fans can tune into the live stream (via USA Swimming), it begs the question: what are the can't-miss races this weekend? Read on…

The women's IM events:
400 IM: Katinka Hosszu vs. Caitlin Leverenz. Both are multiple-time NCAA Champions. Both competed collegiately for universities in California. Both swam medley events in the 2012 London Olympics. Hosszu has the distance IM advantage: she's seeded first at a 4:32.83 to Leverenz's 4:34.48. It's looking like a two-woman race. Hosszu has slight advantage in the butterfly; she'll need a lead going into the breaststroke leg if she has any chance to hold off Leverenz.

The 200 IM throws a few other factors into the equation … namely Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Pelton. Leverenz is the woman to beat in the 200 IM (seeded first at a 2:08.95), but Pelton, Hosszu and Franklin are all in the mix for the title. By the time the 200 IM rolls around, Pelton and Franklin will have already gone head-to-head in the 200 backstroke (for the first time since Pelton broke the 200 backstroke American record with a 1:47.84) and 100 backstroke. The 200 IM is the last opportunity for the duo to duke it out in Mesa, so expect a dogfight for the title.

The men's breaststroke events:
Although Kevin Cordes won't be in attendance — he definitely deserves a break after his mind-blowing 49-plus 100 breaststroke split and 1:48 200 breaststroke at NCAAs — Mesa provides the chance for post-grads to show what they have in the tank. Up to bat: Scott Weltz and Clark Burckle in the 200 breaststroke and Mark Gangloff, Mike Alexandrov, Scott Weltz and Clark Burckle in the 100 breaststroke. Olympian Burckle may have the most to prove, considering he trains in Tucson with Cordes. Cross your fingers for something impressive, but it's a tall order to expect Cordes-esque swims every couple of weeks.

Matt Grevers swimming backstroke with a wedding band:
This past weekend marked the “Royal Wedding” between Matt Grevers and Annie Chandler, so (naturally) the groom decides to spend the following weekend racing a Grand Prix meet. How much does a wedding ring weigh? Think it'll affect his backstroke finishes? Only joking. Even so, Grevers is always a fun swimmer to watch race. He's entered first in the 100 backstroke (52.08) and third in the 200 (1:57.26) behind Lochte (1:52.96) and Tyler Clary (1:53.41). But the number one reason to watch Grevers swim? His fancy racing cap!

Aaron Peirsol vs. Janet Evans:
Alright, so the two Olympians won't exactly be going head-to-head at the Mesa Grand Prix. But the meet does mark the inaugural “Arena Grand PrixView Featuring Aaron Peirsol.” Just before the start of finals on the last night of competition, age group swimmers from host club Mesa Aquatic Club (MAC) will divide into relay teams competing for “Team Aaron” or “Team Janet” in an effort to grow youth involvement in swimming. Following the relay, the swimmers will have their own “Shark Tank” viewing area for finals with Peirsol and Evans. To add to the excitement, colorful commentator Rowdy Gaines is the event's master of ceremonies.

Although it looks like Gaines is having a bit of trouble making it to the desert:

Check out the Arena Grand Prix — Mesa psyche sheet.

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