Photo by Griffin Scott
Editorial coverage for U.S. Senior Nationals proudly sponsored by Master Spas!
By David Rieder
IRVINE, California, August 10. AFTER the crowd at the Woollett Aquatic Center last night witnessed a thrilling world record, just one day remains in what has been a thoroughly unpredictable meet. In a sign of the times, the three races following last night’s record featured two where heavy favorites finished third in very disappointing times and another with a tie for the win. Now, just four more finals remain in order to pick the team for Pan Pacs, a team that will be without some of swimming’s biggest names.
Allison Schmitt is already out for Pan Pacs/Worlds. Katie Hoff and Natalie Coughlin have last shots Sunday. That's 51 Olympic/Worlds medals.
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) August 9, 2014
Since that tweet from NBC Sports’ Nick Zaccardi on Saturday morning, Hoff has revealed that an intercostal strain ended her meet after just one swim, in the prelims of the 100 free, and delayed her promising comeback. That leaves Coughlin, who with her 12 Olympic medals is tied with Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson for the most ever among American women. Back on Wednesday, Coughlin swam in the final of the 100 free. Swimming from lane eight, she motored the first 50 and came off the wall strong with her patented underwater dolphin kicks.
At one point in that race, Coughlin looked like she could hang with the likes of Missy Franklin and Simone Manuel, but a tough finish left her seventh, one one-hundredth out of sixth-place finisher Margo Geer and a probable spot on next year’s World Championships team. Coughlin had entered only one other event this week, the 50 free, and today will be her last shot to earn any international swims prior to 2016. At the age of 31, who knows how many more races at the highest level this grizzled veteran has left.
And making the team in the 50 free should be an uphill battle. Two teenagers, whose combined age of 35 just exceeds Coughlin’s, will be the favorites here. Simone Manuel finished second in the 100 free earlier this week as she clobbered her best time with a 53.60. Abbey Weitzeil, meanwhile, swam a lifetime best by almost a second in the 100 as she came from nowhere to finish fourth and book a trip to Pan Pacs; in the 50, her specialty event, she clocked a 24.80 in a time trial on Wednesday, and she will have something even faster on the mind today.
Top seed Madison Kennedy, hometown favorite Jessica Hardy, NCAA Champion Olivia Smoliga, and Geer will be among those in the mix in an always tight field in the splash-and-dash. Coughlin, meanwhile, never really focused on the event before re-inventing herself as exclusively a sprint freestyler after the 2012 Olympics. She got the job done last year in Indianapolis, winning the national title in 24.97, but this field has become quicker, stronger, and younger in the year since.