By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)
Tomorrow is the eve of the Phillips 66 National Championships and World Championship Trials in Indianapolis. There is no time left for preparation, other than the tiny details: shaving down, maybe doing a few pace 50's at the pool, and trying to relax in the face of new-found energy. Some swimmers may also be trying to forget the ghosts of U.S. trials past, and looking forward to a successful summer of redemption.
Yesterday we reviewed the women, especially those who came out swinging after disappointing seasons last year and are looking to earn a spot on this year's team headed to Barcelona. Today, I will review the men's events.
The men's 50-meter freestyle has to be one of the most exciting and anticipated races of the meet, for two reasons. First, the splash-and-dash is just exciting in its own right: a race a spectator cannot afford to blink during, because it really is any swimmer's race and it is over so fast. Secondly, there is a lot of star power amongst the men seeded in the top three: Olympic silver medalist Cullen Jones is seeded in first, followed by 32-year old Anthony Ervin, who is still improving after coming out of retirement for London. Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter freestyle, Nathan Adrian, is seeded third: there is a lot of talent and experience on that projected podium.
But let's not forget about some of the other athletes a bit further down in the psych sheets: Josh Schneider defeated highly favored Adrian in the 50-yard freestyle at the 2010 NCAA Championships. Granted, the 50 long course is basically an entirely different event, but Schneider has this as a confidence boost tucked in his back pocket. Texas Longhorn alums Jimmy Feigen and Garrett Weber-Gale are both Olympians and highly decorated NCAA swimmers. Weber-Gale swam in Beijing, but missed the Olympic team last year, and would no doubt like to regain control of the sprint freestyle events.
The men's 100-meter freestyle also features Nathan Adrian, who already posted a blazing time earlier in the season at the Santa Clara Grand Prix. As reigning Olympic Champion, I can't see anyone knocking him off the top spot on the podium. The 200-meter freestyle is saturated with veterans, and no one under the age of 20 managed to crack into the top 10. But, the top six slots are far from being predetermined, and all it takes is earning a spot in the final for an up-and-comer to break onto this prestigious relay team.
In the men's 400-meter freestyle, the top two seeds belong to Olympians Conor Dwyer and Connor Jaeger. Michael Klueh, who is seeded third, was third at US Olympic Trials last year in this event, fifth in 2008. Klueh has won numerous medals at short course World Championships and World University Games, but has never had the chance to compete at the summer World Championships. No doubt this 26-year old has continued to swim with one goal in mind: Barcelona.
Finally, the men's 1500-meter freestyle features a man who narrowly missed out on a chance to represent the USA in London last summer: Chad La Tourette. La Tourette was a silver medalist in both the 800 and 1500-meter freestyles at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships and fifth in the 1500-meter freestyle at World Championships in Shanghai in 2011. In Indianapolis this weekend, he is seeded behind the two men who got in the way of his Olympic berth last summer: Andrew Gemmell and Connor Jaeger. When Jaeger swam the 1500-meter freestyle and made the Olympic team last summer, it was only the 5th time he had ever raced the grueling event; that being said, he is probably only getting better.
Flipping over onto our backs, we might see two different types of redemption over the distances. In the 100-meter backstroke, the top seed is Olympic gold medalist Matt Grevers, followed by David Plummer. Last summer, Plummer came almost as close to making the Olympic team as you can, when he finished third by only twelve hundredths behind second place Nick Thoman. Thoman went on to win the silver medal behind Grevers at the London Olympics, and Plummer must have wondered what could have been had he gotten the chance to race at the Olympics. He returned to the pool to train, and now has another shot at standing on the podium not just in Indianapolis, but in Barcelona as well.
In the 200-meter backstroke, there are two obvious favorites to make the team: Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary. Although second place still gets to represent the USA this summer, I have no doubt that both men want to be first to the wall in this race. Clary shocked everyone last summer and won the gold medal in what many consider to be Lochte's go-to event, and both are fighting to be the “face” of the men's 200-backstroke. And I'm sure Lochte would prefer that face to include a grill.
Neither Brendan Hansen or Eric Shanteau, who swam the 100-meter breaststroke at the Olympic Games last year, will be swimming in Indianapolis this week. This opens the door for Mark Gangloff, who was a member of both the Athens and Beijing teams but was fifth last summer at Trials. Another potential candidate for the US team is Mike Alexandrov, a duel citizen who represented Bulgaria at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. He swam at US Trials last summer but was sixth behind Gangloff. In the 200-meter breaststroke, both Scott Weltz and Clark Burkle, 2012 Olympians, did return for another season.
Although you may have felt an inkling that something was missing in the freestyle events, it hits you in the head full force when you look at butterfly: the absence of Michael Phelps completely changes the game. How long has it been since someone at a US Trials has actually raced for first place in a butterfly event? It was just accepted that there was one available spot in butterfly: behind Phelps. This year there are two spots for American butterflyers. Olympian Tyler McGill is the top seed in the 100-meter, followed by the ever-versatile Ryan Lochte. This could be a great opportunity for Tom Shields, who was fourth last summer at Trials, to become more than a decorated NCAA swimmer, but a successful international swimmer as well.
In the 200-meter butterfly, Tyler Clary is the top seed and probably the pick to win. Bobby Bollier, another third-place Olympic trials finisher, is seeded second and has a great chance to pick up that new “second” spot.
The IMs are another place where Michael Phelps' absence leaves an obvious void, however, Ryan Lochte holds similar clout to Phelps in these events. Where there once seemed to be no spots available unless your name was Ryan Lochte or Michael Phelps, now there may be one, behind Ryan Lochte. Although he was criticized for being behind in training because of his infamous reality show, Lochte proved that he is still a force to be reckoned with when he broke Phelps' meet record in Santa Clara.
Although the 400-meter IM is probably sealed by Lochte and Tyler Clary, the 200-meter IM is a little more open. Lochte is the obvious favorite, but behind him the seeds are close enough that maybe a young rookie could step up and fill some big medley shoes, maybe someone like 19-year old NCAA Champion Chase Kalisz? He is from North Baltimore Aquatic Club after all, and I vaguely remember a pretty good swimmer who came from there.
Some of the men may be getting older, but they are not slowing down. With a few retirements, including one that really can be called “the end of an era”, the opportunity for new blood to earn a place on the US National team is ripe, but the ones who lost their crowns last summer will not fall easily in Indy.
Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M's first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.
Follow her on twitter @juliah2o