By Emily Sampl
BOULDER, Colorado, June 16. THE sixth and final stop of the 2013-2014 Arena Grand Prix series rolls into Santa Clara, Calif. this Thursday for a star-studded meet that will decide the final Grand Prix series champions. The meet will also be one of the last major competitions on American soil before the Phillips 66 National Championships in August, which will serve as the selection meet for the 2014 Pan Pacific and Junior Pan Pacific Championship teams and the 2015 World Championships, World University Games and Pan American Games teams.
A couple of women have already punched their tickets to Australia for the Pan Pacific Championships via last weekend’s 10K open water national championships, including women’s 10K champ Becca Mann, who will make a quick turnaround and compete again later this week in Santa Clara. With her open water qualification out of the way, Mann can focus on training for her best pool events, where she could potentially add to her schedule in Australia. She’ll swim a number of events this week, including the 200 free, 400 free, 1500 free, 100 fly and 400 IM.
Missy Franklin, who stayed at Cal to train with California Aquatics this summer, should be a part of several exciting head-to-head matchups, as must-see races loom against Rachel Bootsma in the 100 back, Shannon Vreeland in the 100 free, Allison Schmitt in the 200 free and Elizabeth Beisel and Elizabeth Pelton in the 200 back. Franklin is not in the top five standings for Grand Prix points but could make a huge jump with a few top three finishes here.
Overall, the women’s meet is loaded with a lot of Pan Pacific/World Championship team hopefuls – Simone Manuel, Megan Romano, Natalie Coughlin, Micah Lawrence, Caitlin Leverenz, Felicia Lee, Maya DiRado and a ton of others. Canada will have a strong contingent in Santa Clara as well with Brittany MacLean, Tera Van Beilen, Hilary Caldwell and Dominique Bouchard, who will definitely challenge for top spots on the podium. It should be a great meet to see where everyone stacks up a month and a half out from Nationals in Irvine.
The biggest story of the men’s meet is probably Michael Phelps, who’s entered in four individual events: the 100 free, 100 fly, 200 free and 200 IM. It will be interesting to see if those are the four events he decides to go with for Nationals, as high enough finishes in the 100 fly, 200 free and 100 free would also put him in consideration for several relays at Pan Pacs. He’ll likely be the favorite in the 200 IM in Santa Clara, with a comfortable cushion over North Baltimore teammate Conor Dwyer, but he’ll have a bit more of a challenge in his other events. The 100 free will present a solid challenge for Phelps with the likes of Nathan Adrian, Yannick Agnel, Anthony Ervin, Matt Grevers and others seeded ahead of him.
Phelps and his North Baltimore teammates could be a major storyline of Santa Clara – Dwyer, Agnel, Matt McLean, Tom Luchsinger, Chase Kalisz and Ous Mellouli are all over the psych sheet and will take up a lot of spots in the A finals. A lot of other swimmers could get in their way, however, including Michael McBroom, Connor Jaeger, Charlie Houchin, Michael Klueh and Ryan Cochrane in the mid-distance and distance free events. The men’s backstroke events should be particularly interesting this weekend, with Tyler Clary, Jack Conger, Ryan Murphy, Jacob Pebley and Arkady Vyatchanin battling for the top spots in both the 100 and 200 back. Matt Grevers and Eugene Godsoe should be major factors in the shorter event.
Heading into the final Grand Prix meet, Conor Dwyer leads the men’s race by just four points, with 46. Arkady Vyatchanin sits second with 42 points, while Michael McBroom is third with 33. On the women’s side, Katinka Hosszu holds a comfortable lead over Megan Romano, 57 points to 34.5. Caitlin Leverenz and Allison Schmitt both have 29 points for third. Hosszu will not race in Santa Clara, but the rest of the top three swimmers on both the women’s and men’s sides will be at the meet vying for the top series prize.