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By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, July 2. MOST people were fairly sure Jessica Hardy was going to win the 50 freestyle on the final night of the Olympic Trials, which is exactly the scenario which unfolded. The question was who would earn the second slot in London. No doubt about it, the sentimental pick was Dara Torres, the 45-year-old who has repeatedly defied age.
Still, there was another sentimental pick in the field, in the form of Kara Lynn Joyce. And that's exactly who grabbed the second bid to the Olympics. Claiming her third Olympic berth, Joyce touched the wall in second place, her time of 24.73 out of Lan Two enough to beat Christine Magnuson (24.78) and Torres (24.82).
There was a sizable delay after Joyce hit the wall and reacted to her placement, perhaps as long as five seconds. But when she realized what she had achieved, Joyce threw a fist pump into the air and slapped the water a few times. Shortly after, the tears of joy started to run.
“I was in Lane Two and I took my one breath to my left, so the only thing I could see was the person in Lane One,” Joyce said. “I had no idea what happened. I looked at the board and couldn't tell if it was a two or a seven. It's an amazing feeling.”
Joyce has a way of waiting until late in the Olympic Trials, or after, to punch her ticket to the Games. In 2008, after failing to make the Olympic Team during competition, Joyce found out she was added to the Beijing Games roster after Hardy tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol. She got the news when she landed in Chicago on a connecting flight home.
This time around, Joyce waited until the final day of action to earn her trip to London. Earlier in the meet, she had a disastrous performance in the 100 freestyle. Placing 18th in the preliminaries, Joyce didn't even advance to the semifinals. However, she rallied herself enough physically and emotionally to get the job done.
“The sprint events are always at the end of the meet, so there's a lot of sitting around,” she said. “The biggest thing was preparing myself physically to do it. I know I'll have the time in London to get ready, too.”
**With Jessica Hardy and Kara Lynn Joyce going one-two in the 50 free, the end of the Dara Torres era has hit the sport. Torres, who was the silver medalist in the 50 free at the Beijing Games, was trying to make her sixth Olympic Team. Despite missing out, Torres furthered her legacy, proving that age is just a number.
What Torres has accomplished as a forty-something swimmer has been not only great for the sport, but has been an inspiration for many middle-age women. She has proven that fitness is such an important part of life and setting lofty goals is a positive.
“I did everything I possibly could to prepare,” Torres said. “What was going to happen was going to happen. My goal was to make the team, but there is nothing I would change. I'm happy with how I did.”
**Distance swimming in the United States received a bit of a boost from Andrew Gemmell and Connor Jaeger in the final of the 1500 freestyle. Gemmell (14:52.19) and Jaeger (14:52.51) delivered the fourth and fifth-fastest times in the world this year, with Chad La Tourette taking third in 14:57.53, the eighth-fastest time this year.
Despite the solid showing from Gemmell and Jaeger, they're going to need significant improvements in order to contend for medals in London. While China's Sun Yang is untouchable in the pursuit of gold, the likes of Canada's Ryan Cochrane, Hungary's Gergo Kis and Tunisia's Ous Mellouli remain daunting challenges for silver and bronze medals.
**The decision by Michael Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, to dump the 200 freestyle from his Olympic program was somewhat surprising. After all, if an event was going to be dropped, the 400 individual medley seemed like the more likely option, given its grinding nature. Bowman, however, indicated that he wanted Phelps to have an opening-day event and dropping the 200 free would provide some rest in the middle of the program.
With Phelps dropping the 200 free, that event becomes less enticing. For many, it was going to be the marquee event of the London Games, thanks to a stacked field. With the likes of Lochte, Yannick Agnel, Tae Hwan Park, Paul Biedermann and Sun Yang, it will remain a spectacular clash. It just loses a little luster without the defending champion.
“I looked at all of the events and tried to think about what, and it really just came down to the program,” Bowman said. “It came down to the 400 I.M. or the 200 free had to go. I didn't particularly like the way everything was compressed (in 2008). I like having another morning off and eliminating some of the doubles in the middle of the program. I think he'll be good in the 400 I.M. He'll be good in either one. It just made sense to drop the 200 free.”
**Here's one vote for the Olympic Trials returning to Omaha and the CenturyLink Center when it's time to select the squad for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. Not only has the facility been the perfect venue for the second straight Trials, the city features plenty of restaurants and night life to entertain the thousands of fans.
**Questions of the Night: What are your expectations for the United States at the Olympic Games in London? How many medals is a realistic bet for Team USA? What do you expect from Michael Phelps an Ryan Lochte? What do you expect from Missy Franklin?
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn