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By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 25. WHAT do Ryan Lochte, Peter Vanderkaay, Conor Dwyer and Elizabeth Beisel have in common? The obvious answer is they all punched tickets to the Olympic Games during the first night of the Olympic Trials. The other answer is this: They all train at the University of Florida and under the watch of Gregg Troy.
There probably wasn't a happier person in the CenturyLink Center Monday night than Troy, the head Olympic coach for the United States Men's Squad next month in London. Any coach would love to place a single athlete on an Olympic Team, and here was Troy celebrating four bids, with seven days of competition to come.
It all started with Lochte pulling away from Michael Phelps to take top honors in the 400 individual medley. It was a victory that further cemented Lochte's status as the No. 1 swimmer in the world and set the stage for what is expected to be a monstrous week for the carefree Lochte. While Lochte and Phelps were expected to battle to the wire, as was the case four years ago, Lochte turned on the jets during the breaststroke leg and easily prevailed.
“The first race is always the hardest, so now I can relax and whatever happens, happens,” Lochte said. “When I got on the block, I knew what I was capable of. But that race is over and I have so many more to come. I have to get ready.”
After Lochte's decision, Vanderkaay and Dwyer nailed down their trips to England in the 400 freestyle. Vanderkaay sat in second place for the majority of the race, until he inched ahead in the late stages. Dwyer, though, had to come from behind to get the job done. Still, both men have work to do in London, as times of 3:47 will unlikely qualify them for the championship final. Then there was Beisel, who wowed the boisterous crowd by taking command of the 400 IM during the backstroke leg and popping the fastest time in the world this year with a mark of 4:31.74.
During the year, it's easy to overlook Troy's athletes. Because of the intense training program they endure, swimmers under Troy rarely produce fast times during the middle of the season. In many cases, such as at Grand Prix meets, Florida swimmers are found in B and C Finals. Still, when the big meets arrive, the Gators take a big chomp out of the competition.
By no means is Florida done, either. First, the aforementioned swimmers are all capable of adding additional events to their programs, with Lochte and Beisel best positioned. Meanwhile, look for Teresa Crippen (200 butterfly) and Ben Hesen (100 backstroke) to contend for bids as well.
“We have a great group training at the University of Florida, probably one of the best in the world,” Lochte said. “And, we have a great coach in Gregg Troy. As I said before, this is our time. We put in the work. It started with me tonight, and then we fed off each other.”
**The lightning-quick season of Dana Vollmer continued during the evening session, as Vollmer locked up an American record in the 100 butterfly. Under world-record pace at the midway point of the race, Vollmer settled for a clocking of 56.42, which sliced five hundredths of a second off her American standard.
The effort produced by Vollmer is the fastest ever in a textile suit and is not far off the world record of 56.06, established by Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom at the height of the tech-suit era in 2009. While Vollmer still has to successfully negotiate the championship final of her prime event, her hot start bodes well for the 100 and 200 freestyles.
**After a sluggish preliminary swim, Brendan Hansen popped a big performance during the semifinals, going 59.71. That time ranks fourth in the world and positioned Hansen, 18 months into his comeback, as the top seed for the championship final. Hansen is carrying a lot of confidence, so look for the four-time Olympic medalist to be even quicker in the final.
**Question of the Night:With the field so tightly backed behind Dana Vollmer in the 100 butterfly, who will take the second berth?
**The highlight event of tomorrow morning's session will be the women's 100 backstroke, where a loaded field will gather. One of the storylines of the event will be the battle between Missy Franklin, the sport's young gun, and Natalie Coughlin, who has 11 Olympic medals to her credit and is the two-time defending champion in the 100 back.
Franklin and Coughlin will have company, however, as the likes of Rachel Bootsma and Elizabeth Pelton have posted sub-minute times during their careers. Additionally, keep an eye on Megan Romano, who had a strong tuneup season.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn