The Early Stages of Nationals: An Analysis

By John Lohn

IRVINE, California, August 2. WELL, the first night of the United States Summer Nationals is in the books, and the second-day preliminaries are being conducted as this piece is being written. If the remainder of the meet resembles Day One, it will go down as one of the finest domestic competitions in history. Here are some early observations.

**The women’s 400 freestyle final was absolutely spectacular, with Kate Ziegler using a 29.54 split over the last 50 meters to prevail over Katie Hoff. The queen of American distance swimming, Ziegler checked in with a mark of 4:05.75, just ahead of the 4:05.83 turned in by Hoff. Soon, they might be able to challenge Janet Evans’ American record of 4:03.85.

But, there was a slightly sad element to the race – the fact that Hayley Peirsol’s effort was somewhat lost in the shuffle. Peirsol was phenomenal during the last half of the race and produced a sensational swim of 4:06.31, good for victory at most competitions. Here’s to Peirsol carrying her momentum into the 800 freestyle for a personal-best time.

**One world record went down on the first day of action, and it was a special performance from Brendan Hansen. Covering the 100 breaststroke in 59.13, Hansen obliterated his previous global standard of 59.30, established at the 2004 United States Olympic Trials. Hansen will now look for a double when he chases his 200 breast world record on Saturday.

Hansen has redefined the breaststroke in the last two years, to the point where no one in this country can give him any sort of challenge. Instead, Hansen races the clock. When the Pan Pacific Championships roll around later this month, Hansen could become the first man in history to crack the 59-second barrier, an accomplishment that not long ago was viewed as nearly impossible.

**Back to Katie Hoff, the North Baltimore Aquatic Club standout continued to dazzle in the 200 individual medley as she won the race in American-record time of 2:10.05. The swim was further proof that Hoff is creeping closer and closer to breaking 2:10 and, eventually, toppling the drug-tainted world record of 2:09.72, held by China’s Wu Yanyan since 1997.

**When Michael Phelps touched the wall for victory in the 400 individual medley, he turned to the scoreboard and reacted to his time with disappointment. He did not try to mask his feelings. He was far from satisfied with the 4:10.16 effort he produced, despite the fact that the time ranks as the fifth-fastest in history.

Phelps wanted to crack his world record in his first foray of these Nationals, and he was on pace for the first 200 meters. But Phelps fell off during the last half of the race, a scenario that is certain to motivate the eight-time Olympic medalist through the rest of the meet. Tonight, Phelps will swim finals of the 200 freestyle and 200 butterfly. Expect the Club Wolverine sensation to send a statement that he’s as good as ever.

**A two-time Olympian, Klete Keller has been mainly known for his strength over the last half of his races, sometimes even negative-splitting. But in the 400 free final on Tuesday night, Keller adopted a different strategy and pushed the pace to a time of 3:44.27, not far off his American record of 3:44.11. Although Keller tightened up slightly toward the finish, he deserves significant credit for changing his approach and going strong after his national record.

**The facility for the meet, the William Woollett Aquatic Center, is downright spectacular. Located on the campus of Irvine High School, the complex has an intimate feel for the spectators, as they’re right on the water. It also boasts ample deck space and plenty of room for the merchandising area. Let’s hope this stage becomes a regular host of major competitions.

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