IRVINE, California, May 24. THE Speedo Grand Challenge kicked off today with its first day of competition. The Trojan Swim Club dominated the first night of finals, with Jessica Hardy collecting a double.
The interesting part of the Grand Challenge is that it limits its championship finals to four swimmers.
Stanford's Maya Dirado opened the evening with a sizzling time of 2:12.44 in the women's 200-meter IM, nearly clearing her lifetime best in the process. That's the third-fastest time she's ever produced in the event, behind only a 2:11.92 at the 2011 U.S. Summer Nationals and a 2:12.26 at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. It's definitely her best in-season time by far, blasting her 2:13.70 from the 2012 Santa Clara International event. USC-based Stina Gardell clocked in second in 2:13.64, while Trojan teammate Yuliya Efimova posted a third-place 2:15.14. Andrea Kropp, also of USC, rounded out the four-person championship finale with a 2:17.02.
Trojan's Jessica Hardy, who already ranks fourth in the world this year in the women's 100-meter breast with a smoking 1:07.03 from the Charlotte Grand Prix, and is the top American ahead of Breeja Larson's 1:07.32 from Mesa, collected another sterling in-season time. Hardy surged to a 1:07.31 to remain on course for a potentially special summer in the breaststroke now that she's returned her focus to the event after locking in on freestyle during the Olympic year in 2012. Sweden's Joline Hostman finished second in 1:08.70, while Stanford's Sarah Haase touched second in 1:08.70. Kropp made another championship heat with a fourth-place 1:10.25.
Following up on the Charlotte UltraSwim, where Hardy and Mike Alexandrov both had strong outings. Alexandrov followed Hardy in the men's 100-meter with a 1:00.98 for the win. Fellow Trojan Swim Club members Glenn Snyders (1:02.61) and Azad Al-barazi (1:03.11) finished second and third. UCSD's Nic Korth picked up fourth in 1:03.37.
Hardy captured her second victory of the evening with a surging 25.55 in the women's 50-meter free. She won by a half-a-second ahead of Stanford's Maddy Schaefer (26.01), and was just a half-a-second off the pace she posted with a 25.09 at the Charlotte Grand Prix. That is currently her season best so far this year. USC's Kasey Carlson (26.30) and OCW's Lindsey Engel (26.40) concluded the top four in the splash-and-dash.
Fresh off winning the 5K open water national title, USC's Haley Anderson posted a 4:16.55 to win the women's 400-meter free. Stanford's Julie Anderson took second in 4:17.31, while USC's Henriette Stenkvist (4:17.93) and The Fish's 13-year-old prodigy Isabella Rongione (4:19.94) also vied for the middle distance title in the finale.
Trojan's Nikita Lobintsev topped the men's 200-meter free with a 1:48.06 in what proved to be a USC-filled finale. Dimitri Colupaev finished second in 1:48.77, while Alex Sukhorukov (1:48.96) and Dominik Meichtry (1:50.58) rounded out the top four.
Aquazot's Corey Okubo crushed the field in the men's 200-meter IM with a 2:06.10, while CAST's Tommy Anderson took second in 2:07.60. GWSC's Ryan Nelson placed third in 2:08.60, while NCA's Andrew Brady touched fourth in 2:09.11.