Photo by David Farr
Editorial coverage for U.S. Senior Nationals proudly sponsored by Master Spas!
By David Rieder
IRVINE, California, August 7. THE crowds in the grandstands at the Woollett Aquatic Center love the PA announcer call out big names like Phelps, Lochte, and Franklin, but few words can energize the pool like “world record pace.” So when Kevin Cordes swam under the pace through 150 meters of his 200 breast prelim, the entire crowd of fans, swimmers, and coaches turned in anticipation. In the end, Akihiro Yamaguchi’s final 50 split proved too much, but Cordes ended up with an impressive U.S. Open record-time of 2:07.86.
After the race, Cordes spoke of his improving race strategy in the longest of the three breaststroke events. Specifically, he spoke of a focus on the third 50, where he split under 33. Cordes has shown inconsistency holding on the last 50 in the long course 200, and he will have to remain strong on that leg if he wants a shot at Yamaguchi’s 2:07.01. This year, only Britons Ross Murdoch (2:07.30) and Michael Jamieson (2:07.79) rank ahead of Cordes. He finished prelims almost three seconds ahead of anyone else, with Nic Fink having the best shot at a sub-2:10 swim behind him.
Cordes threatening the world record made people forget about what HAD been the best race of the morning, when Katie Ledecky dropped a 1:55.75 to lead the prelims of the women’s 200 free. The time ranks just fourth in the world behind Sarah Sjostrom, Emma McKeon, and Federica Pellegrini, but she beat out second-place finisher Missy Franklin by more than two seconds. Still, one can never count out Franklin in a national final, and tonight’s first final will be one of the meet’s most anticipated.
Aside from Ledecky and Franklin, the other six in the event will compete for relay spots in the 800 free. The biggest surprise among potential relay swimmers came before the seeded heats when Elizabeth Beisel took a second and a half off her best time and clocked 1:58.89, which held up for seventh place. Despite needing to beat only two to put herself on the 800 free relay for the first time in her career, Beisel scratched from the final to focus on the 200 back, where she enters seeded first. Sarah Henry will replace Beisel among the top eight. No one will be a shoo-in, but the consistent Shannon Vreeland should be a favorite for third. She already nailed down her Pan Pacs spot with a fourth-place finish in the 100 free last night.
The second day of prelims saw a trio of swimmers drop huge chunks to put themselves into contention for a spot on the Pan Pacs team. In the men’s 200 free, USC sophomore Reed Malone dropped the hammer with a 1:47.78, a time that held up in first place until Matt McLean dropped an impressive 1:46.90 in the first circle-seeded heat. Malone ended up fourth overall behind McLean, Conor Dwyer, and Ryan Lochte, and he now has a legitimate chance to get on the World Championships team bound for Kazan next summer. Also vying to be national team rookies on the 800 free relay will be Michael Weiss and Clay Youngquist, both in the 1:47-range in prelims.
In the ensuing event, Louisville sophomore Andee Cottrell clobbered her previous best time by five seconds, and her 2:28.78 earned her lane one for the final. Not to be outdone, Alabama’s Kaylin Burchell took off four seconds to clock 2:26.22. As the third seed, Burchell has a very legitimate shot of heading to Australia next week for Pan Pacs. Afterwards, both spoke of being extremely excited about their swims but refused to be intimidated by the company they will face in the final tonight.
The morning featured a few close calls among event favorites and even some painful misses. After toying with his heats in both the 200 free and 200 back, Lochte kicked 15 meters underwater off the final wall and exploded on the breakout. He rode that to the third seed in the 200 free, but he finished just fourth in his 200 back heat, and the two-time World Champion will draw lane one for the final. In the women’s event, Elizabeth Pelton came in at 2:12.07 in her heat, and her spot in the final looked shaky after Beisel led a fast first seeded heat in 2:09.65. But a weaker final heat helped Pelton finish sixth.
The biggest shock came with Allison Schmitt’s stunning 11th-place finish in the 200 free. Schmitt swam an aggressive first 100, but that early speed caught up to her, and she missed the final. Now, barring a huge surprise in the 400 free, Schmitt will end up off the Pan Pacs team and also the World Championship teams that she likewise missed last year. This meet could go down as another setback for Schmitt after a similarly disastrous showing at Nationals last year.