By John Lohn
NEW YORK, April 26. WE’RE a little more than a quarter into 2006 and already there have been some notable performances in our sport, primarily by Australia’s Leisel Jones and American Ryan Lochte, a tandem that has rewritten a handful of world records. Here are a few observations on a variety of topics as we head into the summer season.
**Fresh off short-course world records in the 100 and 200 backstrokes, along with the 200 individual medley, Ryan Lochte is scorching hot. He has signed a representation deal with Octagon and Peter Carlisle and recently capped off a sterling collegiate career at the University of Florida. Simply, Lochte’s star is as bright as ever.
Now, though, is the chance for Lochte to elevate his presence to another level, namely by sizzling in the long-course realm this summer. The reigning Olympic silver medalist in the 200 I.M., Lochte has already proven himself at the Big Show. But, the multi-event talent can really enhance is identity in the dorsal events by establishing himself as a threat to Aaron Peirsol in the 50-meter pool. He’ll get the chance in Irvine this summer during Nationals.
**Speaking of the backstroke, is there an event on the American male scene as deep as the 100 distance. Aside from Aaron Peirsol and Ryan Lochte, the event features the likes of Peter Marshall, Randall Bal and Matt Grevers. That’s good stuff, and should make for a dynamite Nationals in Irvine this summer, where the U.S. will select its team for the Pan Pacific Championships and 2007 World Champs in Melbourne.
**While the women’s side is stacked with talent, the male breaststroke in the United States is hurting in a big way. While the breast is dominated on a global level by Brendan Hansen, the American dropoff behind the world-record holder is astronomical. Sure, Mark Gangloff picked up a silver medal in the 50 breast and at last summer’s World Champs in Montreal. Otherwise, there isn’t much to get excited about for the Red, White and Blue.
**As for the women’s breaststroke, what Leisel Jones has done to the stroke is almost unbelievable. Once tagged as a swimmer unable to deliver in pressure situations, the Aussie star has separated herself from the competition to such a degree that it’s hard to fathom anyone keeping pace in the near future. Such is the strength of her world records of 1:05.09 and 2:20.54.
**The NCAA Championship season was full of spectacular swims, but for my money, I’ll take Simon Burnett’s 200 freestyle time of 1:31.20 as the premier swim of the collegiate season. The University of Arizona standout and British Olympian absolutely overwhelmed a top-flight field and is equally talented in the long-course ranks. At next year’s World Champs, expect Burnett to find a podium position in either the 100 or 200 free, perhaps both.
**Many times, early teenagers break onto the scene with lightning-quick times and find themselves deemed a future star. Sometimes, the forecast of greatness plays out. Sometimes, it doesn’t. In terms of North Baltimore Aquatic Club’s Felicia Lee, we’ll go with a future filled with stardom. Recently, the 13-year-old just missed breaking Mary T. Meagher’s National Age Group record in the 100-meter butterfly with a time of 59.72. Meagher’s record is 59.71.
Under the tutelage of Paul Yetter and training with Katie Hoff and Courtney Kalisz, Lee is in the perfect environment to continue her progression leading up to the 2008 Olympic Trials in Omaha. Heck, considering Lee’s talent and continuous improvement, a World Champs invitation is not out of the question. The same can be said for Kalisz, who recently popped a 2:09 effort in the 200 fly, a breakout performance.