SANTA Clara, California, June 26. ALWAYS one of the best summer competitions in the United States, the Santa Clara International Invitational is scheduled for this weekend. Once again, a star-studded field will take to the blocks, including several members of the Australian National Team. Meanwhile, many of the top American stars are in the tuneup stage for the United States Nationals in Indianapolis. Here are some of the top storylines to follow at the Santa Clara event.
**Just a few months ago, Michael Phelps collected seven gold medals and set five world records at the World Championships in Melbourne. This weekend, the Club Wolverine star is scheduled to tackle a schedule that includes the 100 and 400 freestyles, the 200 butterfly, the 100 and 200 backstrokes and the 200 individual medley.
The 400 freestyle should be intriguing, particularly in light of what Phelps accomplished at the World Champs in the 200 freestyle and 400 individual medley – global standards in both. Look for the eight-time Olympic medalist to put up an impressive time in an event in which he was once the American-record holder. As for the 200 I.M. and the 200 backstroke, Phelps will have the chance to battle with Ryan Lochte, who can make the argument for being the second-best swimmer in the world, behind Phelps.
**With Kate Ziegler making noise as a possible member of the United States' 800 freestyle in future international action, it wouldn't be surprising to see several American females deliver quality times in the discipline. While Natalie Coughlin and Katie Hoff are pretty much locked into slots on the 800 free relay, a major battle is likely to develop for the other positions.
Dana Vollmer and Lacey Nymeyer, who joined Coughlin and Hoff for a world record in Melbourne, are the top seeds in Santa Clara. Other names that could make a mark are Whitney Myers and Kaitlin Sandeno, hardly strangers to high-level success. Mary DeScenza is also slated to contest the 200 free at the George Haines Aquatic Center.
**The men's 100 freestyle might feature the most-loaded field of the meet, as it includes the likes of Roland Schoeman, Phelps and Eamon Sullivan. Schoeman is well-established as one of the world's elite sprinters while Phelps had the fastest 100 free time at the World Champs, as the leadoff leg of the American 400 freestyle relay. Then there's Sullivan, a rising star from Australia who will be a sprint-free medal contender in Beijing.
The two-lap freestyle is also expected to include South Africa's Ryk Neethling and Lyndon Ferns, who joined Schoeman on the gold-medal winning 400 free relay in Athens. The fourth member of that squad, Darian Townsend, will also be in action. Other big-time names in the race will be Great Britain's Simon Burnett and American Ben Wildman-Tobriner, the reigning world champ in the 50 free.
**Over the past year, Australia's Brenton Rickard has regularly discussed his goal of becoming the premier breaststroker in the world. This weekend, he'll get the chance to go head-to-head with the man who owns that distinction, world-record holder Brendan Hansen. The men will square off in the 100 and 200 breast events, where Hansen holds the global standards of 59.13 and 2:08.50.
At the World Championships, Hansen won gold in the 100 breaststroke by defeating his rival Kosuke Kitajima (Japan), the silver medalist, and Rickard, who took the bronze medal. However, Hansen was felled by illness and didn't get the chance to defend his world title in the 200 distance. That absence allowed Rickard to grab the silver medal, behind Kitajima.
**On the female side, the 100 breaststroke will have the feel of an Olympic final when Aussie Leisel Jones enters the water, along with Americans Megan Jendrick and Tara Kirk. Of course, Jones is the world-record holder and two-time defending world champ while Jendrick was the 2000 Olympic champ, under her maiden name of Quann, and recently picked up a silver medal in the 200 breast at the World Championships. As for Kirk, she's the second-fastest American in history in the 100 breast and has been swimming fast throughout the summer.