By Phillip Whitten
IRVINE, Calif., August 4. WITH a number of the U.S. National Team members taking a breather, a new generation of hungry, young American swimmers is being given an opportunity to final -– or even take a national title — at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships, now under way in sunny Irvine, California.
Here is how the prelims went this morning:
Women’s 100-meter Freestyle
In the absence of Natalie Coughlin and Kara Lynn Joyce, Olympian Amanda Weir breezed to the top prelim time, 54.94, with her Swim Atlanta teammate Andrea Hupman third in 55.79. Sandwiched between them was Tucson Ford’s Lacey Nymeyer at 55.79. All three top qualifiers are 19.
Katie Hoff, who appeared overjoyed at not having to swim the 400 I.M. here, showed she has some speed with her 56.03, good for the fourth fastest prelim time. She was followed by 18-year-old rookie Melanie Schlanger of Hawaii at 56.29.
Sixteen year-old Kate Dwelley, who was third in last night’s 800-meter freestyle final, was sixth, followed by Sophie Simard of Canada (56.44) and Emily Silver of Cal Aquatics (56.46).
Among the notables swimming in the B final will be Tanica Jamison (9th in 56.68) and Rhi Jeffrey (12th in 56.86). It took 57.03 to make the B final, 57.54 to make C.
Men’s 100-meter Freestyle
The prelims of the men’s 100 free were very fast, with 50.24 need to make the A final, 51.10 the cutoff for B and 51.47 for C.
South Africa’s Roland Schoeman, fresh off a superb performance at the World Championships in Montreal, stroked to a #1 qualifying time of 49.12, while Canadian Brent Hayden was second at 49.42.
Two rising young American stars with hyphenated names – Garrett Weber-Gale, the youngest finalist at 19, and Ben Wildman-Tobriner – took the next two spots at 49.58 and 49.71. Tied with Wildman-Tobriner was veteran Nate Dusing.
Nick Brunelli (49.91), Neil Walker (50.03) and Adam Ritter, who lowered his PR by 1.5 seconds to 50.24, rounded out the field.
Women’s 200-meter Breaststroke
The women’s 200 breast prelims highlighted the tremendous depth in this event, with 2:32.59 needed to make A finals, 2:34.31 needed for B cutoff, and 2:35.27 for C. Forty-eight women swam under 2:37.0.
Tonight’s final will see four U.S. Olympians battle for the gold: Caroline Bruce (2nd in 2:31.15), Tara Kirk (3rd in 2:31.48), Stacianna (Stitts) Winfield (4th in 2:31.89) and Megan (Quann) Jendrick (5th in 2:32.09).
The top qualifier, however, was 18 year-old Rebecca Soni of Scarlet Aquatic Club in New Jersey, who posted a strong 2:30.65.
Lindsey Errter (2:32.32), Elizabeth Smith, at 16 the youngest finalist (2:32.47) and Keri Hehn (2:32.59) round out the final field.
The B final may be the face of the future with two 14 year-olds – Jessica Schmitt and Alisa Finn — and two 15 year-olds -– Stephanie Gabert and Ashley Wanland.
Men’s 200-meter Breaststroke
In contrast with the women’s breaststroke field, the men’s event is almost devoid of big names. The leading qualifier this morning was France’s Fabien Horth at 2:15.65., Matt Lowe was next at 2:16.25.
Sixteen year-old rising star John Criste, of Canyons Aquatic Club, was third in 2:16.64. He may be the man to watch tonight. It took 2:18.95 to make the A final, 2:20.35 to make B and 2:21.61 to make C.
Women’s 200-meter Backstroke
Leah Retrum of Donner Swim Club (Indiana) took advantage of Margaret Hoelzer’s absence and also took almost two seconds off her previous best to post the fastest women’s 200-meter backstroke time of the morning, 2:12.03. Seventeen year-old Julia Smit of Three village Swim Club in New York had the second best prelim time, 2:13.51, a full second drop from her previous best.
Helen Silver (2:14.91), Andrea Axtell (2:15.24) and 15-year-old Teresa Crippen (2:16.06) followed. Jamie Reid, a former national champion, Margo McCawley and Canada’s Kelly Stefanyshyn rounded out the field. It took 2:16.61 to make the A finals, 2:17.87 to make B and 2:18.95 to make C.
Men’s 200-meter Backstroke
Take Aaron Peirsol out of the 200 backstroke and what’ve you got? Answer: A competitive race.
That’s what we anticipate tonight, as Christian DeJong (1:59.96) locks horns with Doug Van Wie (2:01.05). But six other finalists – all at 2:02.08 or better – see the race as wide open.
Hongzhe Sun, fifth this morning at 2:01.80, has a 1:59.67 to his credit while eighth qualifier, rookie Lucas Salatta, has gone 2:00.48.
David Plummer had the biggest drop from his previous best, coming from 2:05.44 to post a 2:01.66, third fastest this morning.
It took 2:03.98 to make B finals, 2:05.85 to make C.
Women’s 200-meter Butterfly
Sixteen year-old Elaine Breeden has been knocking on stardom’s door for two years. Tonight that door may open wide. In this morning’s prelims, Breeden came from behind to post the fastest 200 fly time, 2:11.10, just ahead of 2004 Olympian Dana Kirk (2:11.28). Two other women swam 2:11s: Canadian champion Audrey Lacroix, who was third in 2:11.41, and Emily Mason, fourth in 2:11.68
The next four finalists, including 15-year-olds Tanya Krisman and Kathleen Hershey, all swam 2:13s, with 2:13.97 needed to earn a spot in the Big Final.
The cutoff for the B final was 2:14.65, and it was 2:16.25 for the C.
Men’s 200-meter Butterfly
As expected, Michael Phelps qualified first in the 200 fly as he breezed to a 1:57.05, but the makeup of much of the rest of the 200 fly top-8 was a surprise, starting with unheralded Stefan Hirniak of Scarlet Aquatic, New Jersey. Hirniak had the #2 time, 1:58.86, a drop of 3.41 seconds in his PR.
Hungarian Tamas Kerekjarto was third in 1:59.50, followed by 16-year-old David Mosko, who broke two minutes for the first time with his 1:59.74.
Ricky Berens, 17, of Mecklenburg, took two-and-a-half seconds off his entry time to qualify fifth in 1:59.97 while 16-year-old Daniel Madwed was sixth in 2:00.10. Michael Raab (2:00.48) was seventh while Matt Bartlett (2:00.74) was eighth.
It took 2:02.27 to make the B final, 2:05.85 to make C.