By John Lohn
IRVINE, California, July 29. JUST days remain before the United States Nationals begin at the William Woollett Aquatic Center in California. With the meet determining the U.S. qualifiers for next month’s Pan Pacific Championships and influencing the selection of the American squad for next year’s World Championships in Melbourne, competition is expected to be hot. Here is the first part in a series that will analyze the individual events on the schedule.
Women’s 100 Butterfly
Enjoying a sterling summer, Natalie Coughlin is the heavy favorite to emerge victorious. The top seed at 58.22, Coughlin could take a crack at Dara Torres’ American record, which has stood at 57.58 since the 2000 Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. Coughlin already holds the American standard in the short-course version of the event.
Rachel Komisarz and Mary DeScenza are slotted second and third, but will have their hands full in the race for second place. Elaine Breeden and Dana Vollmer, are fourth and fifth in the seedings, but the individual who could make the most noise is 14-year-old Felicia Lee. Representing the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Lee has the ability to earn a Team USA berth. She has already clocked 59.72 and has positioned herself for a breakthrough competition.
Men’s 400 Freestyle
There doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room in this event, as the top-three ranked swimmers have distanced themselves from the competition over the past few years. The Club Wolverine tandem of Klete Keller and Peter Vanderkaay owns the top-two qualifying times and have spent training sessions grinding it out under coach Bob Bowman.
However, Larsen Jensen figures to be in the mix, though it’s no mystery that his strength certainly sits in the 1,500 free. Behind the Big Three, Justin Mortimer is the most likely to make a push. The University of Minnesota product, who trains at Mission Viejo, has excelled at Nationals before, but never against the caliber of opposition he’ll face in Irvine.
Women’s 200 Individual Medley
The question here is not whether Katie Hoff is going to win the race. That outcome is pretty much a done deal. What must be answered is whether Hoff will take down the world record of 2:09.72, set in 1997 by China’s Wu Yanyan. The record is recognized in the swimming community as drug-tainted and Hoff seems poised to erase it from the books.
Behind Hoff, a tremendous battle for second place should materialize. Whitney Myers is the second seed at 2:12.93 and is followed by Ariana Kukors at 2:13.20. But Kaitlin Sandeno is the fourth seed at 2:14.52 and has been known for delivering when it counts. Don’t be surprised if Sandeno, now with Club Wolverine, puts it together.
Kukors is one of a number of teenagers in the mix, along with Caitlin Leverenz (15), Coutney Kalisz (16), Julia Smit (18) and Alicia Aemisegger (18).
Men’s 100 Breaststroke
This event, in terms of the outcome, is one of the most predictable on the male side. Simply, Brendan Hansen has a stranglehold on the 100 breast, both in this country and on the global scene. The world-record holder and reigning world champ, Hansen could become the first man in history to dip under the 59-second barrier. His world record sits at 59.30.
Mark Gangloff is the leading candidate for the second position, but will receive challenges from Matt Lowe and Kevin Swander. Meanwhile, don’t discount Scott Usher. Although he’s better suited for the 200 breast, where he was a 2004 Olympian, Usher had a solid tuneup season and could have a chance to sneak up on the field.
Women’s 400 Freestyle
This race will showcase two of the United States’ elite youngsters in Katie Hoff and Kate Ziegler. Earlier this year, Hoff clocked in with a swim of 4:07.83 while Ziegler went 4:08.30. Now, they’ll tangle in an eight-lap showdown. The one scenario that may give Ziegler an edge is the fact that Hoff will have contested the 200 individual medley just a few events earlier.
Hayley Peirsol is probably the only swimmer capable of hanging with Hoff and Ziegler, as Peirsol has had a strong summer of preparation. Carly Piper and Kelsey Ditto are likely to advance to the finals, and Kirsten Groome (15) is the up-and-comer in the race.
Men’s 400 individual medley
All right, Michael Phelps is probably going to be the runaway winner of the event, in which he is the world-record holder and Olympic champion. With a 4:11.40 to his credit earlier this summer, Phelps will likely take aim at his world record of 4:08.26. But, the beauty of the race could be the faceoff between Ryan Lochte and Erik Vendt.
Lochte has proven himself as one of the more versatile members in the American arsenal and absolutely dazzled during the short-course season, particularly in March and April. As for Vendt, he decided to come out of retirement earlier this year and has steadily progressed, to the point where he could soon produce swims similar to the one that landed him silver at the Athens Olympics. Look for Robert Margalis and Eric Shanteau to also generate quality times.
Women’s 100 Backstroke
Seeded first, Natalie Coughlin is a lock for victory – if she swims the event. Coughlin has not officially committed to swimming the 100 back, where she holds the world record and is the only woman in history to break the one-minute barrier. Coughlin may bypass her specialty and focus her attention on the 200 freestyle later in the evening.
Outside of Coughlin, the race is a tossup, although a case can be made for Margaret Hoelzer as a strong bet to finish in the top two. Mary DeScenza has added this discipline to her repertoire and is seeded third and Indiana University’s Leila Vaziri is hoping for a breakthrough into international duty.
Men’s 200 Freestyle
Having recently clocked a 1:45-mid performance in tuneup action, Michael Phelps may have what it takes to knock off Ian Thorpe’s world record of 1:44.06, which has remained the standard in the four-lap freestyle since 2001. Phelps is the American-record holder and seems poised to enjoy the best meet of his career, hard to believe considering he won eight medals at the Athens Olympics.
Phelps could very well be followed by his Club Wolverine teammates, Klete Keller and Peter Vanderkaay. That threesome helped the U.S. to gold in Athens, along with Ryan Lochte, also expected to be a factor in this race. Look for noise from the Jayme Cramer and Matt McGinnis.
Men’s 100 Backstroke
He’s the world-record holder and basically untouchable for the past few years, so don’t look for Aaron Peirsol to drop this race. Peirsol owns the world record of 53.17, but how close he can come to that time is uncertain, considering he hasn’t embraced heavy competition for much of the year. Still, Peirsol is a special talent and is capable of putting on a show any time he enters the water.
Ryan Lochte is the short-course world-record holder, but there is a conflict on the second night of action with the 200 free and 100 back both scheduled. What Lochte decides to race remains to be seen. Randall Bal and Peter Marshall are among the best backstrokers in the world and will certainly be near the front of the field, along with Matt Grevers, an NCAA champ in the 100 back.
Women’s 200 Freestyle
There’s a ton of talent in this race, headlined by the presence of Katie Hoff and Natalie Coughlin. The stars of American swimming on the female side, Hoff and Coughlin could push one another to the American record of 1:57.41, held by Lindsay Benko. While Hoff is focused solely on this event on the second day, Coughlin could swim the 100 back earlier in the night.
Also looking to make an impact are Whitney Myers and Dana Vollmer, along with Kaitlin Sandeno. All three are seeded under the two-minute mark, as is Caroline Burckle. Kate Ziegler, the world champ in the 800 free and 1,500 free, went 2:00.02 recently and is in position to earn a relay berth for the Red, White and Blue. Keep an eye on Kara Lynn Joyce and Amanda Weir.
Men’s 200 Butterfly
After bypassing the 200 fly at last year’s World Champs, Michael Phelps returns to the event that put his name on the swimming map. Phelps is pretty much untouchable and holds the world record at 1:53.93. He has been pushed in practice sessions by Davis Tarwater, who is the second choice in the event.
Dan Madwed, who recently joined the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, is seeded third and the 17-year-old is capable of popping a personal-best outing. A pair of teenagers prepared to make their mark are David Mosko and Ricky Berens.