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By Emily Sampl
BOULDER, Colorado, May 12. THE second-to-last stop of the Arena Grand Prix Series kicks off Thursday in Charlotte, with several exciting races taking shape. Here are the top five races to watch at the meet.
1. Men’s 200 Freestyle
The men’s 200 freestyle lineup on day two reads like a championship final at a major international meet: Yannick Agnel, Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer, Michael Phelps. And then there’s Matt McLean, Charlie Houchin, Connor Jaeger and Michael Klueh. This star-studded field could produce the race of the meet. Agnel is the defending Olympic and world champion in the event, while Phelps won the event at the 2008 Olympics and holds the American and US Open record. Dwyer won silver behind Agnel at last summer’s FINA World Championships, and owns gold medals from the men’s 4×200 free relay in London and at Worlds. Lochte was the only one to swim the event at the Mesa Grand Prix, and he won the race in 1:49.48. Agnel has been much faster this year though, posting a 1:45.63 at the French Long Course Championships in early April. With all of these swimmers at different points in their training, it will be interesting to see how all of their times and places shake out.
2. Women’s 400 IM
The 400 IM is almost always an interesting race, as the lead can change hands so many times throughout the race based on each swimmer’s strengths and weaknesses. The women’s 400 IM in Charlotte should be particularly interesting with the likes of Katinka Hosszu, Elizabeth Beisel, Cammile Adams and Becca Mann scheduled to compete. Hosszu, Beisel and Adams have raced the event multiple times against one other at the collegiate level, with Hosszu at USC, Beisel at Florida and Adams at Texas A&M, but now, they’ll face off in long course. Hosszu won the event at last summer’s World Championships, while Beisel took the bronze. In London, Beisel finished second and Hosszu fourth. Hosszu, Mann and Adams are all strong 200 butterfliers, while Beisel is stronger in back and Mann in free.
3. Men’s 100 Butterfly
It’s only Michael Phelps’ second meet since coming out of retirement, but he’s probably already thinking about finishing second to Ryan Lochte in the 100 fly at the Mesa Grand Prix. Luckily, he’ll have a shot to redeem himself, as both he and Lochte are entered in the 100 fly once again. Lochte won’t be the only swimmer he’ll have to worry about, though, as Eugene Godsoe and Tim Phillips are definite title contenders. Godsoe finished just outside the championship final in this event at last summer’s FINA World Championships, while Phillips finished third at the recent NCAA Championships and second at the AT&T Winter Nationals in December. Lochte’s 51.93 from Mesa stands as the third-best time in the world this year, and when all is said and done, one of these four swimmers may rank first overall.
4. Women’s 400 Free
The women’s 400 free field is loaded with talent and should be a nail-biter from start to finish. Defending Olympic silver medalist Allison Schmitt enters the meet as the top seed, followed by Denmark’s Lotte Friis and Chloe Sutton. The contenders don’t stop there, though, as Virginia’s Leah Smith, North Baltimore’s Gillian Ryan and Becca Mann, Bluefish’s Elizabeth Beisel and Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu will also race. Ryan (4:08.51), Mann (4:08.70) and Smith (4:08.81) were neck and neck in Mesa, while Friis (4:10.91) and Schmitt (4:12.12) finished a few seconds back last time around. Gator Swim Club’s Andreina Pinto could also challenge for the win after taking fifth at Mesa in 4:10.79. It will take a very strong race for anyone to top Katie Ledecky’s 4:03.84 from three weeks ago, but it should be a fantastic race regardless of the winning time.
5. Men’s 100 Backstroke
The men’s 100 back has traditionally been one of the United States’ deepest events, and this year is no different. At least seven swimmers have a legitimate shot at winning the event this weekend, including five Americans – Nick Thoman, David Plummer, Eugene Godsoe, Shane Ryan and Ryan Lochte. Arkady Vyatchanin and Junya Koga are also in the mix; Vyatchanin swept the backstroke events in Mesa and currently sits third in the overall Grand Prix Series points standings. Vyatchanin is ranked the highest of the group in 2014 with a 53.88, followed by Thoman (54.09), Plummer (54.50), Koga (54.53) and Godsoe (54.66). All seven swimmers are seeded under 54, and it would not be a surprise to see that many 53s this weekend.