By David Rieder
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, June 29. THE end has arrived. After four days of action in Indianapolis, the meet has already begun its final session with early heats of the men's 800 and women's 1500, and it concludes tonight with ten more slots on the Barcelona team open. For those athletes competing that have yet to earn their spot on the roster, an entire season of training comes down tonight. It all comes down to one final race; miss out on the top two, and it's another year before an athlete can make it onto the next national team. Make it, or go home.
With just one chance left to qualify, Caitlin Leverenz remains a glaring omission from the Worlds roster. Leverenz won the 200 IM and took second in the 400 IM at Olympic Trials one year ago, but this year, she took third in the 400 IM behind Maya Dirado, one of the meet's breakout stars, and Olympic silver medalist Elizabeth Beisel. She couldn't manage higher than a seventh-place finish in the 200 breast. She has one final opportunity tonight, in the 200 IM, the event in which she won the Olympic bronze medal.
Leverenz will enter that final as the big favorite. She qualified first in prelims in 2:11.80, two and a half seconds ahead of anyone else in the field. She will benefit from the disqualification of Dirado (who would have been the second seed) and Elizabeth Pelton's decision to scratch. Sure, Beisel will be in the field, as will the Georgia duo of Shannon Vreeland and Melanie Margalis, but they should be battling it out for second. Leverenz will chase the top time in the world, a 2:08.63 from Alicia Coutts, and her own personal best, a 2:08.95 from the Olympics.
Like Leverenz, Cullen Jones has not yet qualified for the Worlds team after finishing well out of the final of the men's 100 free, and he has his last shot tonight in the 50 free. However, unlike Leverenz, he has an uphill battle to earn his spot. Jones qualified fifth for the final, with the already qualified trio of Anthony Ervin, Jimmy Feigen, and Nathan Adrian in his way. Jones has a knack for pulling out tight finishes with qualification for a major meet is on the line, but he will need an extremely impressive performance to pull it off. His Olympic silver-winning time of 21.54 would do the trick, but will he have enough in the tank tonight?
Margo Geer has one race to determine her summer plans tonight; after finishing 0.16 behind Pelton for sixth in the 100 free, she qualified tied for first in prelims of the 50. She needs a top-two finish here to earn her way onto her first Worlds team, whereas Simone Manuel, Jessica Hardy, Natalie Coughlin, and Christine Magnuson have already punched their tickets.
Austin Surhoff took a half second off his lifetime best in the prelims of the men's 200 IM with a 1:58.94. Ryan Lochte remains the big favorite here, but can he take down Chase Kalisz and Conor Dwyer to make his first Worlds team? Meanwhile, two Michigan trained men, Ryan Feeley and Michael Klueh, both hope to get onto the Worlds team in the men's 800, but they have to battle for just one spot with each other and with the two men who finished 1-2 in the 1500, Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom.
The Phillips 66 Nationals has seen some dramatic and exciting racing as a handful of Olympic veterans and even more young talent. Leverenz, Jones, Geer, Surhoff, Feeley, Klueh, and others hope to join those ranks, but they have run out of time. Their last chance comes tonight at 6pm eastern. Make it, or go home.
Check out David Rieder's Facebook page to see his updated race predictions prior to each finals session.