By David Rieder
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, June 26. WITH three of the sessions of the U.S. National Championships in the books, this meet has already brought plenty of newsworthy action, with both big swims and shocking developments. The day two prelims brought just that, but first, let's take a look back at night one at the IUPUI Natatorium.
After each game in the National Hockey League, three different players receive the NHL's Three Stars, referring to the best performers of the particular game. In a similar concept, we will give our own three stars after each finals session to recognize the best single performances. The stars will be based on time, place, and a comparison to previous performances. With that said, here goes:
First Star: Missy Franklin, women's 100 free, first place, 53.43
The young superstar continued her winning ways on Tuesday, using an unmatched final 15 meters to get to the wall first. The time would have won her an Olympic bronze medal in London. Moreover, that time surpassed her previous lifetime best, a 53.52 from the Olympics. Beating a best time from her stunning Olympic performance qualifies as an impressive swim.
Second Star: Jimmy Feigen, men's 100 free, second place, 48.24
After so many years of his status of “exciting young prospect to watch,” Jimmy Feigen finally made his first Olympic team last year. On Tuesday, however, he stepped up his game to a level never before seen in the long course pool. He cut six tenths of a second off his lifetime best time in the final to earn his first individual swim at a major international meet.
Third Star: Chloe Sutton, women's 800 free, second place, 8:23.24
Sutton put together one of her best swims in the 800, cutting more than two and a half seconds off of her lifetime best and pushing Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky to the brink. A swim like that requires some bravery, guts, emotion, and certainly hard training, and Sutton put it together. She could be ready to finally step up from “finalist” to “medalist” on the world stage.
In both of the latter two races, where the runners-up shined, the winners finished shy of their times from their Olympic gold medal swims in London a year ago. That fact really does not mean they won't approach those times at the Worlds in Barcelona. In Nathan Adrian's case, he swam a 48.10 at Olympic Trials last year and again in Indianapolis last night on his way to a 47.52 triumph in the Olympic final. Ledecky dropped more than five seconds off her Olympic Trials time before the Olympics. Expect much more to come from these two champions.
In looking at each race from the first night of finals, the women's 100 free exceeded expectations as a whole more than any other. Jessica Hardy won the event at Olympic Trials last year in 53.96, a time which would have placed her fifth on Tuesday. Meanwhile, both Shannon Vreeland and Simone Manuel took a second off their respective lifetime bests entering the meet to finish in the 53.8-range. Other than grizzled veteran Natalie Coughlin, none of the top six for the 400 free relay are over the age of 22. That means the U.S. has exciting prospects in the women's sprint freestyle events.
The immediate prospects look far more bleak in the other relay event on the women's side, the 200 free. The swimming community stopped and gasped this morning when Olympic champion Allison Schmitt finished tenth in the women's 200 free, just three one-hundredths of a second outside of the top eight. Meanwhile, the names in the field outside of the top three – Franklin, Vreeland, and Ledecky – have no major experience, and they will all need to make major improvements on their best times if the U.S. hopes to field a contending, let alone gold medal-winning, 800 free relay in Barcelona.
The new schedule for these Nationals put the 200 free and 200 back on the same day, leaving several big names in position for a double. For Franklin, that shouldn't be a problem. She pulled off countless doubles last summer at the Olympic Trials and the Olympics. Even if she swims a fast 200 free to begin her night, she should be able to cruise onto the team in the 200 back with the time she swam in prelims, a 2:06.33 – a time more than two seconds slower than her world record time of 2:06.33.
Ryan Lochte, meanwhile, might face more of a challenge to make it to Worlds to defend his titles in the both events. He faces a tough field including Conor Dwyer, Charlie Houchin, Matt McLean, and Ricky Berens in the 200 free and then the likes of Tyler Clary, Jack Conger, and Ryan Murphy in the 200 back. He will have to be sharp in both races because a 1:55-high in the 200 back might not be enough to make the team.
If I were giving stars for performances in this morning's prelims, I would give the first star without a doubt to Kevin Cordes. Cordes entered the men's 200 breast with a lifetime best time of 2:10.92. He swam a 2:09.16, and based on his performances at NCAAs this year, he has more in the tank. Both 200 breast events could be haven for big swims in finals after Breeja Larson took more than two seconds off her best time as well. These races are not to miss.
Check out David Rieder's Facebook page to see his updated race predictions prior to each finals session.