Photo by Griffin Scott
Editorial coverage for U.S. Senior Nationals proudly sponsored by Master Spas!
By David Rieder
IRVINE, California, August 8. WELL, that escalated quickly. In heat seven of the men’s 100 fly, Paul Davis clocked 52.81 for the day’s first sub-53 performance. In a rarity for early heat bombers at this meet, Davis ended up finishing 11th. Heat eight saw Matt Ellis set the pace with a blistering 51.77, at the time good for fifth in the world. Ellis obliterated his seed time of 53.01. In the next heat, Tim Phillips edged Tom Shields, 51.49 to 51.55. Heading into the final heat, the pre-race favorites – and two of the greatest swimmers in history – knew they had a challenge.
As he has so many times throughout his career, Michael Phelps answered. He smoked a 51.14 for the fastest time in the world this year, a tenth ahead of the 51.29 Chad Le Clos swam last month at the Commonwealth Games. The time surpassed the mark Phelps swam to win his third straight Olympic gold in London two years ago. Meanwhile, Lochte finished in a respectable 51.91, but he will be stuck in lane two in the final.
Few would have expected five men under 52 in prelims, with Giles Smith right there as well at 52.02. The 100 fly final will be the most hyped race of the night, and rightfully so. Phelps will be the favorite, but unlike so many other times when the two have raced, Lochte might not be his biggest threat. Watch, in particular, for Shields, who will have no shortage of confidence after his stunning 200 fly win on Wednesday.
The 400 IM prelims this morning featured a pair of statements by those who claimed the top seeds for tonight’s final. In the women’s event, everyone knew that Elizabeth Beisel would have some frustration to take out on the field after her slip off the blocks in the 200 back last night. Swimming in lane four of the final heat, Beisel took over the lead during the backstroke and pulled away, cruising to a final time of 4:36.46. She finished three seconds clear of second seed and defending national champion Maya Dirado (4:39.79).
When Beisel made her first Olympic team in the event in 2008, she finished second in the 400 IM behind Katie Hoff, who set a then-world record and still-standing American record of 4:31.12. Beisel touched first after backstroke, but knowing her weakness on breast, peaked over to see how far ahead she was of breaststroke specialist Caitlin Leverenz. This morning, though, Beisel actually out-split Leverenz in her heat. The breaststroke has become such a lethal weapon, and she will use that to beat Hoff’s American record in the final.
On the men’s side, Tyler Clary set up his showdown with NCAA Champion and World silver medalist Chase Kalisz. Clary looked strong and smooth on the free on his way to a top-seeded time of 4:12.51. After his impressive 200 back last night, Clary admitted that he expected to finish behind Kalisz in the 400 IM, but his morning swim suggests a reminder that he has been a force in the event for a long. The only one with a chance to challenge the top three will be Wisconsin’s Michael Weiss, already on the Pan Pacs team after finishing fourth in the 200 free last night.
The 50s of breast and back finished off the morning, and Brendan McHugh absolutely stole the show. Swimming from lane two in the second circle-seeded heat of the 50 breast, McHugh dropped a bomb in 27.10, three tenths ahead of pre-race favorite Kevin Cordes (27.39) and names like Marcus Titus and Mike Alexandrov. After the race, the University of Pennsylvania product said that he thinks he can go even faster in the final with a better start. McHugh finished 11th in the 100 breast at Olympic Trials in 2012, and he will be a force in that event tomorrow as well.
The other 50s tonight will feature swimmers trying to nab a spot on next year’s World Championship team. Jessica Hardy will try to earn the one spot available in the 50 breast, but she will have to fend off Breeja Larson to do so. Hardy’s 30.21 from prelims ranks her third in the world this year. Meanwhile, Rachel Bootsma (28.48) and Olivia Smoliga (28.50) will try to compete for just the one spot available at Worlds since both know the 100 back might be too deep for them to contend.
Also in the women’s 50 back, Elizabeth Pelton will enter seeded third as she tries to bounce back from a disappointing fifth-place finish on Thursday in her signature event, the 200 back. And on the men’s side, backstroke sprint specialists David Plummer and Nick Thoman would like to wrap up a World Championships berth before the 100 tomorrow, but they’ll have to face off with Matt Grevers, who has the pressure of making Worlds off his shoulders. Thoman, coming off injury and missing much of the season, looks like he may be rounding into form at just the right time.