SAO PAULO, Brazil, April 14. NEXT week’s Maria Lenk Trophy meet is typically the biggest meet of the year in Brazilian swimming, and this edition should be no different with athletes battling for spots on the Pan Pacific championships roster.
Though Brazil does not border the Pacific Ocean, the country is one of several that gets invited to the meet since Brazil does not qualify for the other major international competitions (Asian Games, European championships). Since it’s the only major meet for Brazilian swimmers this year, the federation puts a high priority on getting a strong team for the meet in August.
All the usual names will race in Sao Paulo next week, including Cesar Cielo as he looks to earn the ability to defend his 2010 Pan Pac title in the 50 fly and earn more hardware in the 50 free and 100 free. Cielo announced recently that he’s returning to the 100 free with the hopes of beefing up Brazil’s 400 free relay medal hopes not only this year at Pan Pacs, but in the future at world championships and the Olympics.
The men’s 100 free looks to be one of the more exciting races, with at least six people in the running for a spot on that 400 free relay. In Cielo’s two-year absence from the 100 free, Marcelo Chierighini and Fernando Dos Santos have stepped up, but next week will give Joao de Lucca the chance to show his worth in long course. Bruno Fratus and Nicolas Oliveira are also strong possibilities for relay duty, and could sneak into the top two and swim the individual event in Australia.
De Lucca had red tape issues at last year’s meet that made him eligible only for relay events, but that appears to not be an issue in 2014. He’ll be a strong contender in the 100 free and the 200 free, events that he recently won at the NCAA championships. De Lucca and Oliveira are the top two seeds in the 200 free, and those two could help build Brazil’s chances in the 800 free relay.
Equally exciting will be the men’s 50 free. Fratus and Cielo have swapped national titles before, with Cielo always on top on the international stage. Chierighini will be a factor as well, which makes the fact that Brazil can enter three swimmers per individual event good news for all three of the top contenders.
Thiago Pereira is looking to stand on the medal podium again on the international stage in the individual medleys, having won bronze in the 400 IM at the 2012 Olympics and at the world championships last year. Bronze medals appear to be a major part of Pereira’s collection, as he won bronze in both IMs behind Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary at the 2010 Pan Pacific championships.
The men’s breaststroke will be another knock-down fight, with Felipe Silva, Henrique Barbosa, Felipe Lima, Tales Cerdeira and Joao Gomes within tenths of each other in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. Also look for strong swims from Nicholas Santos in the sprint backstroke events and Kaio Almeida in butterfly.
Though the Brazilian women are not as talented globally as their male counterparts, several swimmers could perform well, going so far as to approach national records. Daynara Paula in the 100 fly and Graciele Herman in the 50 free are the top Brazilian women to watch. Poliana Okimoto, the reigning Swimming World Magazine Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year, will race Ana Da Cunha in the distance freestyles in an attempt to make an appearance in pool swimming and open water swimming at the Pan Pacific championships.
But the spotlight in the women’s meet will be the foreign athletes who were invited to race in the meet. Katinka Hosszu will not race her typical double-digit number of races, focusing on quality over quantity next week. In addition to the 200 and 400 IM, Hosszu will only race the 200 fly and 200 back.
Two Dutch sprinters will continue to prepare for the European championships after some strong performances last week in their home country at the Eindhoven Cup. Inge Dekker and Feke Heemskerk will race multiple times in freestyle events, though Heemskerk will expand her schedule to include the 200 IM and 50 backstroke. The two will have a challenge in the freestyles against Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen Gray, who used last year to rebuild her freestyle. Gray will also be a strong contender in the 50 and 100 butterfly, where she could try to approach the times posted last week by Sarah Sjostrom.
The Maria Lenk Trophy meet runs April 21 through 26.