By John Lohn
ANN ARBOR, Michigan, May 14. TOO often, good people are taken from the earth prematurely. In January of last year, the swimming community sadly experienced that scenario when Eric Namesnik, a two-time Olympian, passed away days after being involved in an auto accident. Only 35 at the time of his death, Namesnik surely would have brought greater contributions to the world.
This coming weekend, the life of Eric Namesnik will be celebrated when a United States Grand Prix competition named in his honor is held at Canham Natatorium, on the University of Michigan campus. Considering the phenomenal collegiate career Namesnik enjoyed as a Wolverine, it's a fitting location to honor the silver medalist in the 400 individual medley from the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
This year marks the second time the Grand Prix meet has been named for Namesnik, who also served as an assistant at his alma mater from 1997-2004, working alongside his mentor, Jon Urbanchek. And, once again, a star-studded field will gather for the weekend, headlined by the world-record holding triumvirate of Michael Phelps, Katie Hoff and Ryan Lochte.
The last time we saw the aforementioned threesome under racing conditions, they were setting the water on fire at the World Championships in Melbourne. Of course, Phelps walked away with seven gold medals and five world records, global standards that were difficult to fathom. Meanwhile, Hoff and Lochte produced the first individual long-course world records of their careers, with Hoff setting a mark in the 400 I.M. and Lochte establishing his standard in the 200 backstroke.
Back in training with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as the next major international competition on the calendar, it's unlikely that any world records will be in danger from Thursday through Sunday. Still, there's an important component to the weekend, in addition to remembering the life of Namesnik. In Ann Arbor, the athletes will have the chance to familiarize themselves with a morning-finals format.
Since NBC Television convinced the International Olympic Committee to hold morning finals in Beijing, so the media giant could show the races in primetime in America, some competitions will adjust their setups to reflect what will be seen in China. It's a wise move, really, as taking this approach more than a year shy of Beijing will allow for plenty of acclimation time.
According to the psych sheets, Phelps is scheduled to contest seven events, a mixture of his familiar disciplines and some off-beat events for the greatest swimmer in history. If Phelps follows through with his agenda, he'll climb atop the blocks for the 200, 400 and 1500 freestyles, 100 backstroke, 100 butterfly, 200 breaststroke and 200 individual medley. The 100 back and 200 I.M. will feature matchups with Lochte.
In Melbourne, Phelps resembled a machine, demolishing the competition in seemingly easy fashion. What types of times he'll deliver this weekend remains to be seen. Though he won't push anything close to what he did in Melbourne, Phelps is such a talent that it wouldn't be surprising to see him uncork a handful of marks that induce head-shaking. The same can be said for next month, when Phelps takes part in Europe's Mare Nostrum Series.
For Hoff, her schedule at the Namesnik Grand Prix differs considerably from her norm. Rather than go after the 200 and 400 I.M. events and the 200 and 400 freestyles, regular disciplines for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club teenager, Hoff is slated to go in the 50 free, 100 and 200 breaststrokes, 100 and 200 backstrokes and 100 butterfly. As for Lochte, he's scheduled to swim the 200 and 400 medley events, 100 back and 100 breast.
Among the other top names expected to be in action include Kaitlin Sandeno, Erik Vendt, Peter Vanderkaay, Robert Margalis, Hayley Peirsol and Robert Margalis. Yes, for a mid-May competition, we're staring at a loaded field, one with Olympic firepower. But, it's most important to remember the man for which the meet is named. Remember Eric Namesnik. Remember him for his accomplishments in the water. But, also remember him as a good man, a good husband, a good father. An individual taken far too early from this world.
The opportunity to contribute to a trust fund established for Eric and Kirsten Namesnik's kids, Austin and Madison, exists. Individuals wishing to donate to the trust fund can send a check to the following address:
c/o United Bank and Trust
2723 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104