AUSTIN, Texas, November 28. TOMORROW marks the first day of the 2012 AT&T US Winter National Championships, at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center in Austin, Texas. As the United States' first large domestic swim meet since the summer's Olympic Trials in Omaha, one thing is for certain: the meet will house a very fine collection of athletes.
Just glancing at the psyche sheet, it's no secret that a number of athletes attending Nationals are representing their collegiate teams. Since times swum at USA Swimming meets qualify for the spring NCAA Championships, high-level athletes often use winter national or invitational meets as an opportunity to earn their NCAA “A” or “B” cuts. The philosophy is: taper down in the winter, get the cuts, then focus on a single taper for NCAA Championships in the spring. The University of Arizona, USC, UCLA and the University of Texas are attending with large contingents of student athletes. Even though it is considered mid-season for college swimming, the University of Arizona is reportedly shaving for the meet. The weekend's relay match-ups are a can't miss.
Swimming fans had a taste of elite competition at the Minneapolis Grand Prix earlier this month, but Winter Nationals truly marks the return to competition for many London Olympians. Breakout Performer of the Year Katie Ledecky is back in action, racing her signature distance events, along with open water silver medalist Haley Anderson. Nathan Adrian, Matt Grevers and Jimmy Feigen top the charts in the men's sprint events, like Jessica Hardy on the women's side. Hardy announced earlier this week — via Twitter — that she made a last-minute decision to attend Winter Nationals.
Surprise! Made a last min decision to attend Nationals this week. Hello Austin! jessicahardy.net/events/upcomin…
– Jessica Hardy (@swimhardy) November 27, 2012
On the topic of Olympians, Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte will probably dominate Winter Nationals, much as they did the Minneapolis Grand Prix. Franklin is even giving up the first high school dual meet of her senior year to race at Winter Nationals. Franklin has already shown that she can swim fast in-season (best times in the backstroke events at the Minneapolis Grand Prix, anyone?), and Lochte never backs down from a race. Not only do the duo garner media excitement for the event, they are genuinely fun to watch in the pool. Just read Lochte's most recent Tweet as he touched down in Austin:
Touchdown Austin TX. I'm looking forward to some good barbecue… And racing
— Ryan Lochte (@ryanlochte) November 28, 2012
However, many of the top athletes in attendance are also on the US roster for Short Course World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey Dec. 12-16. World Championships are coming up quickly, and it wouldn't be surprising if athletes attending both meets are opting to “swim through” Winter Nationals or rely on a short drop-taper for fast times. This leaves an opportunity for college or club-only swimmers tapering exclusively for Winter Nationals to upset the event favorites, and step into the top spots. Knowing the number of directions the meet could go, it'll be interesting to see how Winter Nationals pans out.