Taking Stock From the Finale of U.S. Nationals

Photo by Griffin Scott

Editorial coverage for U.S. Senior Nationals proudly sponsored by Master Spas!

By David Rieder

IRVINE, California, August 10. THAT’S it. The biggest domestic meet on U.S. soil outside of Olympic Trials ended after five crazy days, and the final night brought some twists. The biggest shockwaves came with the announcement that three fourth-place finishers, Jacob Pebley (200 back), Matt Ellis (100 fly), and David Plummer (100 back), had all made the team bound for Australia. But before we get too far ahead, here’s what came out of the last four selection races for Pan Pacs.

Not many people noticed when Melanie Margalis snuck onto the Pan Pacs team with third place-finishes in both the 200 breast and 400 IM earlier this week. She was hard to ignore, though, with her 2:10.20 in the 200 IM. Coming off playing a huge role on Georgia’s NCAA title team, Margalis looked strong all season, but even when she entered Nationals with the top time in the world in the 200 IM, few paid much attention. Needless to say, she will be on the radar now as a medal favorite for Pan Pacs.

With Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte qualifying fourth and fifth, respectively, for the final of the men’s 200 IM, I didn’t think we’d see a repeat of the classic showdowns the two have had in this event. But that’s exactly what happened. Lochte looked like he had the race wrapped up at the 150, but just like in the 200 back on Thursday, Lochte’s lack of conditioning showed on the last 50. He held on to win in 1:56.50, but Phelps’ last 50 closed the gap to five one-hundredths of a second. Impressive finish for someone who showed glimpses of his old self for the first time this meet in tonight’s finals.

The 50 free events wrapped things up in Irvine, and Simone Manuel (not surprisingly) and Anthony Ervin (more surprisingly) picked up the titles. For Manuel, the 24.56 culminated what has really been a breakout meet as she has elevated herself from contender at U.S. nationals to contender on the world level and a real leader of the young crop of American sprinters. For Ervin, the victory over teammate Nathan Adrian in 21.55 sets him up to battle Adrian and Brazil’s Bruno Fratus in what shapes up to be one of the tightest and most exciting races at Pan Pacs.

So where does that leave Team USA prior to their flight to Brisbane tomorrow? First of all, look for a major shake-up in the men’s relays; if Anthony Ervin can swim a 21-mid in the 50, and Michael Phelps can swim a 1:56.50 in the 200 IM, both will be much bigger relay presences than results from Nationals indicated. But in the larger picture, this meet has been about transition, especially on the women’s side.

Particularly, the fly events still look weak, and relay depth that had been taken for granted has come into question. Without veterans like Natalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer on the team, there are a lot of open slots to fill, even from last year’s relatively youthful Worlds team. Still, plenty of time remains before 2016 for this talent to mature – think first-timers like Katie McLaughlin Kendyl Stewart, Abbey Weitzeil, and more. As the coaches emphasized all week at Nationals, the Olympics always remain the ultimate goal, and as of now, we are halfway there.

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Author: David Rieder

David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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