Irvine Ready for Big-Time Show at Nationals

Photo by Griffin Scott

Editorial coverage for U.S. Senior Nationals proudly sponsored by Master Spas!

By David Rieder

IRVINE, California, August 5. IT has been a long summer of anticipation and analysis as we followed altitude training camps and unpredictable Grand Prix meets. After all of that, though, everything related to American swimming over the next two years comes down to the next five days. The best swimmers in the country have all flown into Irvine, awaiting tomorrow’s prelims. The deck at Woollett Aquatic Center has gone quiet as most everyone got in their final tune-up this morning. But before everything gets going, let’s run through where we are pre-day one.

Seriously, can there be a better location for a swim meet? The Woollett Aquatic Center features two outdoor 50 meter pools side-by-side, both under the gorgeous Southern California sky. In six hours in town, I’m not sure I’ve seen a cloud. Sunglasses are a must for coaches, officials, and spectators. During the warm-ups today aerators pumped cold water back into the pool. Expect hot morning sessions and evening finals, but swimmers should have no trouble getting pumped up to swim fast here when crowds fill up the bleachers tomorrow.

So far, the buzz on deck has been centered on the most famous swimmer of our era, Michael Phelps. In press conferences today, Allison Schmitt was asked how Phelps’ return has impacted her training – a question she blurted out that she had expected – while a writer asked Ryan Lochte if Phelps’ return motivated him to heal quicker from his knee injury. Phelps’ days as the undisputed greatest in the world have long since passed, but his presence simply adds general interest, and his impact on changing races cannot be disputed.

In that vein, Phelps will swim the 100 free for the first time at Summer Nationals since, incredibly, 2003. He has consistently popped leadoff splits on 400 free relays that would be competitive in individual action, but he has never gotten on the blocks next to Nathan Adrian in a 100 free final at a taper meet. Adrian spoke of racing Phelps today, noting how Phelps’ presence in Adrian’s heat at the 2008 Olympic Trials psyched him out. Adrian said today he hopes to post a sub-48 performance, despite less than a full taper, but the real story will be seeing how Phelps stacks up to the likes of Adrian, Jimmy Feigen, and Anthony Ervin.

The 100 free doesn’t usually lead off a Nationals, but it may chance the dynamic since the top four in each event will secure spots at Pan Pacs right from the beginning, and the top six will likely book their tickets to next summer’s World Championships. Can new American citizen Darian Townsend get in the mix in the 100 free? Can Natalie Coughlin compete with youngsters like Simone Manuel and Lia Neal to fill out the Pan Pacific 400 free relay? Where does the 100 free fit into Allison Schmitt’s comeback.

The 200 fly events, among the weakest being contested this week, will provide opportunities for rising stars Katie McLaughlin and Andrew Seliskar to make their first major international teams. Both enter the races seeded third, and three will be named to the Pan Pacs team. Meanwhile, Tom Luchsinger and Cammile Adams will look to move up in the world ranking after establishing their presence with national titles last year.

Finally, the distance events could be among the most interesting of the night. The women’s 800 will feature Katie Ledecky making her first appearance among her peers on the national team following her two world record-performance at the Woodlands in June. Next, in one of the least-talked-about-events, Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom have a shot to take the next step after finishing fourth and fifth, respectively at the World Championships last summer. Of note, the top time in the world stands now at 14:44.03. Jaeger, in particular, looks to be on the verge after winning one bronze and finishing fourth twice in Barcelona.

After that, the meet gets going with a trio of 200s on Thursday. We’ll talk about Ryan Lochte and his oft-injured knee and the typical back and forth about his choice of events. For the record, tomorrow it’s just the 100 free since he told me today, “I can tell you I’m not gonna swim the mile.” I haven’t even mentioned Missy Franklin in this article, and few would dispute her status as the best all-around female swimmer in the world. Get ready, Irvine, because this week should be fun.

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Author: David Rieder

David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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