Breaking Down Nationals: Part II

By John Lohn

IRVINE, California, July 30. THIS is the second part in a series that takes a look at the individual races at the United States Nationals, which begin Tuesday at the William Woollett Aquatic Center in Irvine, California. The meet will determine the U.S. squad that will compete at the Pan Pacific Championships in Victoria, British Columbia next month.

Women’s 100 Breaststroke

The American women are strong in this event, going four deep at the top of the list. But, there’s only room for two on the Pan Pac team, meaning some world-class talent will be left behind. The top gun in the event is Jessica Hardy, who won silver at last year’s World Champs and holds the American record with a clocking of 1:06.20.

Hardy will be targeted by Tara Kirk and Megan Jendrick, a pair of accomplished athletes on the international stage. Kirk was a 2004 Olympian and a medalist at last year’s World Champs while Jendrick was the 2000 Olympic champ in the 100 distance. Jendrick has been looking sharp in recent weeks and could be on the verge of dipping under 1:07 for the first time. Rebecca Soni is the other contender as the fourth seed.

Men’s 100 Butterfly

In terms of head-to-head rivalries, the 100 butterfly has the best in the clash between Ian Crocker and Michael Phelps. The men have gone at it intensely since 2003 with Crocker winning world championships in 2003 and 2005 and Phelps winning the Olympic crown in Athens. Crocker holds the world record of 50.40 and a new standard might be required for victory in Irvine.

Davis Tarwater is the third seed and is followed by Ricky Berens and Peter Verhoef. Berens is a University of Texas recruit with a major upside. Tarwater, meanwhile, is stronger in the 200 fly, but has been dueling with Phelps in practice and appears set to hit in the shorter race.

Women’s 50 Freestyle

Fire from the start or go home. That’s the scenario facing the competitors in the one-lap sprint. Natalie Coughlin tops the charts as the No. 1 seed, and with the only qualifying time under 25 seconds. Kara Lynn Joyce and Maritza Correia follow in the second and third positions and Amanda Weir occupies the fourth spot. Keep an eye on Lacey Nymeyer, the fifth seed.

Men’s 50 Freestyle

Like the women’s race, this event will be a free-for-all. The NCAA champion from North Carolina State, Cullen Jones is progressing rapidly and enters as the top seed and coming off a strong tuneup season. The second seed is shared by Ben Wildman-Tobriner and Nick Brunelli, both capable of getting to the wall before the rest of the field.

Jason Lezak and Neil Walker are veteran standouts and extremely accomplished at the national and international levels. The wildcard in the race is Gary Hall Jr., the multiple-time Olympic champion who is at his best when the pressure is on. If Hall’s training has gone smoothly, there’s reason to believe he’ll be in contention, if not at the head of the field.

Women’s 400 individual medley

Having won the world championship last year, Katie Hoff is the big favorite. She enters with a seed time of 4:36.07 and the world record standing at 4:33.59 and the American mark at 4:34.95. Slotted second is Kaitlin Sandeno, who owns that American record and was the silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics. Sandeno has been training with Club Wolverine.

Behind Hoff and Sandeno, a dynamite teenage crop will be pushing for spots at Pan Pacs. Ariana Kukors, Julia Smit and Alicia Aemisegger all have what it takes to grab a berth. Aemisegger is the latest medley standout produced by Dick Shoulberg at Germantown Academy in Pennsylvania. She could be on the brink of a personal-best time.

Men’s 100 Freestyle

Always one of the most intriguing events, due to relay opportunities, the 100 free is headed by Jason Lezak, who holds the American record at 48.17. Lezak is expected to be pushed by the likes of Nick Brunelli and Neil Walker, who are the second and third-seeded swimmers. Garrett Weber-Gale is seeded fourth and is geared up for a run at a top spot.

Among the other individuals in the mix are Ben Wildman-Tobriner, Matt Grevers and Cullen Jones. Although seeded well down the list, primarily due to limited racing in the event, Ian Crocker is highly capable of delivering a stellar time.

Women’s 200 Butterfly

In recent years, Mary DeScenza has held a pretty tight grip on this event in the United States. The University of Georgia product won the 200-yard fly at each of her four NCAA Championships and should nail down an invitation to the Pan Pacific Champs. DeScenza owns the fastest seed time with a mark of 2:08.27.

The second and third seeds are held by Courtney Kalisz and Elaine Breeden, teenage stars who should figure into Team USA mix at some point during their careers. Kim Vandenberg and Kathleen Hersey are also among the top seeds and Kaitlin Sandeno is entered in the eighth position, from where she certainly can rise.

Men’s 200 Individual Medley

He’s the best in the event by a long shot and no one is going to sniff Michael Phelps, who possesses the world record of 1:55.94. Phelps is the reigning Olympic champion and won the world title in the 200 I.M. last summer in Montreal. Phelps’ only challenger is likely to be Ryan Lochte, who earned medals in the discipline in Athens and Montreal.

Eric Shanteau is the third seed and is followed by Tim Liebhold and Doug Van Wie. Better known for his prowess in the 400 I.M., Erik Vendt is the ninth seed, but is a gamer every time he hits the water and should be a force in the shorter medley.

Women’s 200 Backstroke

The four-lap dorsal isn’t one of the strengths of the American women – with the exception of Margaret Hoelzer as the top seed. The Auburn product is among the world’s best in the event and should run away with the title. Hoelzer will receive challenges from Julia Smit and Teresa Crippen, both teenagers. Crippen is the youngest standout from a swimming-rich family that includes Maddy Crippen, a 2000 Olympian.

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