By David Rieder
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, June 28. NIGHT four of the Phillips 66 National Championships in Indy featured the two new stars of American distance swimming successfully trying their hand at a relative sprint, two young breaststrokers sprinting their way into the top three in the world, and two displays of the incredible depth of U.S. backstroking. Among a list of special swims from talented young swimmers, the most impressive came from the consensus top female swimmer in the world.
First Star: Missy Franklin, women's 100 back, first place, 58.66
Franklin wins her second top honor of the meet after her fourth victory in five races. Franklin ran down Elizabeth Pelton and pulled away to take the win in 58.66. She beat out her own U.S. Open record of 58.85 that she set at Olympic Trials and fell just one third of a second short of her American record, a 58.33 she set on her way to Olympic gold. The 58.66 from today would have beaten anyone else in the Olympic final. Franklin will enter Barcelona as the favorite to win double gold in backstroke, as she did in the Olympics last year.
Second Star: Connor Jaeger, men's 400 free, first place, 3:45.89
Just as he did at the NCAA Championships in March, Jaeger has two victories in distance events, with a chance to make it three in tomorrow's 800. Jaeger cut more than a second off his lifetime best and jumped into the top five in world, giving himself a real chance to medal at the Worlds in Barcelona. Just a year ago, Jaeger got onto the Olympic team as an unknown after his runner-up finish in the 1500 at Trials; now, he's the face of American distance swimming.
Third Star: Elizabeth Pelton, women's 100 back, second place, 59.27
It would be no stretch to say that Pelton has had a great meet. After earning her way onto the team in the 400 free relay and then challenging Franklin in the 200 back, Pelton put on an outstanding performance today in her 100 back. She lobbed more than a half second off her best time with a 59.24 in prelims. In finals, she took a much more aggressive approach, leading Franklin and 50 back champ Rachel Bootsma at the 50, and she held on to nearly beat her morning time. Pelton now stands fourth in the world behind just the three Olympic medalists. Franklin and Pelton provide a real 1-2 punch for the U.S. backstrokers in Barcelona.
For Pelton, just finishing in the top two would have been a major accomplishment considering the U.S. depth in the event. Four women, including Sarah Denninghoff and Bootsma, all broke 1:00, while seven got under 1:01 – 6 in the A-final and Felicia Lee in the B-final. The men's side saw an even stronger field. David Plummer took the win, while Matt Grevers took second and Ryan Murphy third. All swam times that now rank in the top seven in the world. Murphy, especially, has felt the impact of American backstroke depth; his times in Indy rank him sixth (200 back) and seventh (100 back) in the world, but he won't go to the World Championships.
Pundits have hyped Murphy for years as the young star most likely to break out and make his way onto the national team, but Nic Fink has emerged as the young surprise of the meet. Kevin Cordes won the men's 100 breast in 59.99, his first ever performance under 1:00 and the third-fastest time in the world this year, and Fink edged veteran Mike Alexandrov for second. After finishing a surprise third in the 200 breast on Wednesday, Fink checked in with the tenth-fastest time in the world with a 1:00.24. He's a name to watch both in Barcelona and down the road.