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By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 29. HEADING into the United States Olympic Trials, Natalie Coughlin seemed destined for a third Olympic Games. She was among the favorites to qualify for London in the 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly. Five days into the competition, however, Coughlin is in danger of staying home.
After placing seventh in the 100 butterfly and third in the 100 back, where she was the two-time defending champion, Coughlin is down to the 100 freestyle as her last opportunity to become a three-time Olympian. Yes, Coughlin is entered in the 50 freestyle, but she doesn't have a realistic chance of finishing first or second in that event.
Coughlin advanced to the semifinals of the 100 free with the ninth-fastest time, going 54.99. The good news in that event is six women qualify for London, two individually and an additional four in relay duty. Therefore, Coughlin has a little more flexibility than in her previous two events, and will likely need that cushion. With Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt and Dana Vollmer in the field, Coughlin will find it difficult to land one of the top two spots. Still, she's trying to stay upbeat.
“It's not exactly what I was hoping for coming into this,” she said. I'm a little bummed, but not nearly as much as everyone is expecting me to be. I walk around the deck, and people act like I'm dying.”
Having Coughlin on the Olympic Team would be a positive for the United States, primarily for what she brings to the table. Well-respected by her competition, Coughlin has been through every international experience possible and is respected for her leadership skills. At least one youngster is hoping Coughlin gets the job done.
“Natalie means the world to me,” Franklin said earlier in the week. “I have learned so much from her, and I plan to learn so much more. I am absolutely praying for her that she (makes the team)…She has made such an incredible name for herself, and to be part of it and watch her while she is doing incredible things is amazing. Hopefully, I can take all the things that she has taught me and continue on after she is retired, or whatever it is she plans to do.”
**One of the wisest decisions of the morning was the move by Matt Grevers to scratch the semifinals round of the 200 backstroke in order to focus on the championship final of the 100 free. The 200 back precedes the 100 free on tonight's schedule, and Grevers wants to be as strong as possible as he pursues a second event in London.
Already qualified for the 100 back, thanks to the second-fastest time in history, Grevers is the third seed in the final of the 100 free, positioning himself at worst for a relay bid. Meanwhile, Grevers was unlikely to qualify for the Olympics in the 200 back, due to the presence of Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary. More, teenager Ryan Murphy is going to be a handful as the event progresses.
**Question of the Morning: Who will prevail in tonight's final of the men's 200 breaststroke between Eric Shanteau, Brendan Hansen and Clark Burckle? And, what will take to qualify for the London Games?
**Since Day Five action is under way, it's a reasonable time to discuss the grueling double Ryan Lochte will try to pull off in London. For the second consecutive Olympiad, Lochte will contest the 200 backstroke and 200 individual medley, whose finals are separated by approximately 20 minutes on the Olympic program.
Four years ago, Lochte followed up a gold medal in the 200 backstroke with a bronze medal in the 200 I.M., placing behind Michael Phelps and Hungarian Laszlo Cseh. These days, Lochte is the world-record holder in the 200 medley and the reigning world champion, thanks to a narrow decision over Phelps last summer in Shanghai.
Because of the tight scheduling window with which Lochte is dealing, is that the edge Phelps needs to capture a third consecutive title in the 200 I.M.? Although Lochte is the heavy favorite to win the 200 back in London, he's going to have to exert a decent amount of energy to topple someone like Japan's Ryosuke Irie. Therefore, he'll step onto the blocks in the 200 medley less fresh than Phelps, whose second event that night — a semifinal of the 100 butterfly — will be after the 200 I.M.
**Through four-plus days of competition, we have not seen a world record set at the CenturyLink Center, a far cry from the nine global standards which went down in 2008. Don't worry, it could still happen. Look for Missy Franklin, who set an American record in the 100 backstroke earlier in the week, to make a run at the world record in the 200 back on Sunday night.
When Franklin won the world championship in the 200 back last summer in Shanghai behind a time of 2:05.10, she scared the world record of 2:04.81, set in 2009 by Kirsty Coventry. Maybe this will be the time for her first world mark.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn