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By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 28. ISN'T it funny how feelings can change in a flash? It wasn't long ago, as recent as the days leading up to the United States Olympic Trials, where there were concerns over the strength of the American 400 medley relay. Would this relay, after years of dominance in Olympic competition, finally succumb?
In the course of two days, doubt has been replaced by confidence, which is an example of how this sport is an in-the-moment phenomenon. The United States has never lost the 400 medley relay at the Olympic Games, the only year it didn't prevail being the 1980 Games in which the American team boycotted the festivities in Moscow.
Two nights ago, via his triumph in the 100 breaststroke, Brendan Hansen alleviated concerns over the second leg of the relay. His clocking of 59.68 was the fourth-fastest time in the world and transformed a weak component of the relay into a solid part. The way Hansen is performing, with a loose and hungry attitude, it wouldn't be surprising to see him go faster in London.
Twenty-four hours after Hansen celebrated his comeback with a third Olympic invitation, Matt Grevers blew the doors off the CenturyLink Center in the 100 backstroke. Dominating the field from the start, Grevers punched his second Olympic ticket with the second-fastest time in history, an effort 52.08. Grevers' mark is the fastest ever in textile, topping the 52.11 by France's Camille Lacourt in 2010.
The prospect of playing catchup was a real possibility for the United States in the 400 medley relay in London, hardly a desirable position for any relay. Now, the Americans look like they'll be out in front. Meanwhile, Grevers is confident he can be quicker, and potentially challenge the world record of Aaron Peirsol, which sits at 51.94.
“Just to see I'm in the realm of possibilities to get one of my idol's records is encouraging for me,” Grevers said. “That's why I was so excited to see that I'm getting close. Maybe with a couple of more weeks of preparation, I can hopefully break that 52 barrier.”
While the front half of the medley relay is looking better, the back end was never a concern. Michael Phelps, of course, will handle the butterfly leg with Nathan Adrian the favorite — as of now — to be the anchor. Because Australia has James Magnussen on the closing leg, it's important for the United States to have a cushion at the 300-meter mark. That shouldn't be a problem.
“That's an event I'm really hoping to be part of,” Hansen said before the Olympic Trials started. “It means a lot to be on that relay, and for the United States to keep the gold medal.”
**Question of the Morning: What event needs the most work in order for the United States to be competitive at the London Games?
**As was the case when the Olympic Trials debuted in Omaha in 2008, the city is doing a terrific job hosting the event. A crowd of 12,671 filed into the CenturyLink Center for the third night of action, not far off the venue's capacity of 13,500. There has been a buzz in the building, but also in the downtown area of restaurants and bars.
While Greensboro, N.C. and Jacksonville, Fla. have announced bids for the 2016 Olympic Trials, keeping the event in Omaha would be a terrific decision. The city has embraced the competition and the logistics have been first-rate, from the handling of races to the presentation aspects.
**Look for Allison Schmitt and Missy Franklin to send a message to Camille Muffat in tonight's championship final of the 200 freestyle. With one victory apiece under their belts, Schmitt and Franklin are going to be the stalwarts of the U.S. women's squad in London. When they clash in the 200 free, both should challenge Muffat's No. 1 world ranking of 1:54.66.
While Schmitt heads into the final with a two-plus second cushion after the semifinals, Franklin exerted minimal energy during her semifinal swim, opting to save her strength for the final of the 100 backstroke. In the final, Schmitt and Franklin should separate themselves from the field early, then battle to the wall for a finish that could rival what we saw from Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in the men's 200 free last night.
**Considering he's more of a pure sprinter, Josh Schneider has to be pleased with his first swim of the meet. Schneider advanced to the semifinals of the 100 freestyle after posting a time of 49.37. That outing is a good sign for the 50 free later in the week, where Schneider is among the top contenders to qualify for London.
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