By Phillip Whitten
IRVINE, Calif., August 6. MICHAEL Phelps is taking a well-earned day off today, the fourth day of the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships in Irvine, California. Otherwise there were few surprises coming out of this morning’s prelims.
What did come out of the prelims, however, was the promise of some very competitive races – and even a few very fast races – in tonight’s finals. In particular, the women’s 400 free and 100 breast and the men’s 100 back and 100 fly look as though they will supply most of the highlights tonight.
Here’s how things went this morning:
Women's 100 Backstroke
Canada’s Erin Gammel had the fastest prelim time, 1:03.23, but the field is tightly bunched with all eight finalists swimming 1:03s. It took 1:03.92 to make the championship final, 1:04.62 to make the B final and 1:05.10 to make C.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this event was the failure of Leah Retrum to make the big final after her brilliant 2:11.00 in the 200 back. Retrum qualified 12th in 1:04.24, right behind Megan Romano, a 14-year-old phenom from Florida.
Men's 100 Backstroke
The men’s 100 back may be missing world record-holder Aaron Peirsol, the 2004 Olympic and ’05 world champion. But it’s still loaded with talent. Peter Marshall, the short course WR-holder qualified first in 55.06, followed by Jayme Cramer, 55.25. Among the qualifiers, 2001 world champion in the 50 back, Randall Bal.
It took 56.09 to make the A final, so just over one second separates all eight finals. The B cutoff was 57.14 while the C was 57.60.
Women's 400 Freestyle
The women’s 400 free should be a great race, with top qualifier Brittany Reimer (4:13.77) of Canada, US Olympian Kalyn Keller (4:13.93), 16-year-old hotshot Kelsey Ditto (4:14.30), double world champion Kate Ziegler (4:14.96) and two-time Olympic medalist Diana Munz locking horns.
Though she qualified fourth, Ziegler’s got the hot hand now and we look for her to take this race, probably with a 4:08 – 4:09 effort.
Men's 400 Freestyle
The men’s 400 figures to be a much more mundane affair, with top qualifier Klete Keller (3:52.87) the overwhelming favorite. Klete has already won the 800 in a PR 7:56.60 and came close to upsetting Michael Phelps in the 200. The American record-holder in this event, Klete should swim in the 3:47 – 3:48 range.
Matt McGinnis qualified second (3:54.09) and he hopes to secure that same position tonight. It took 3:55.87 to make the A final and 3:57.49 to make B, as 20 men bettered four minutes.
Women's 100 Breaststroke
Shades of 2000! That’s Megan Quann – now Megan Jendrick – who will be swimming in lane 4 tonight in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:08.08. But the double Olympic gold medalist, now in the midst of her taper for the World University Games, will find the going rough tonight.
Jessica Hardy, who blazed a new world record of 1:06.20 in Montreal and has followed it up with three more 1:06s qualified second in 1:08.52, while Tara Kirk, Jendrick’s Washington state rival and the short course WR-holder was third in 1:08.90.
The fourth qualifier is hometown fave Stacianna (Stitts) Winfield, while Rebecca Soni, who won the 200 breast in impressive fashion, holds down the #7 spot. This should be a great race tonight!
Men's 100 Breaststroke
Unheralded Ivan Barnes clocked the #1 time in the men’s 100 breast this morning, an outstanding 1:02.28. Only two other men could break 1:03: Canada’s Mike Brown, silver medalist in the 200 breast in Montreal, at 1:02.59; and Dan Velez, fresh from a gold medal performance in this event at the Maccabiah games, at 1:02.97.
Though the names are not as big as those in the women’s final, this should be a hard-fought, competitive race with the winner probably going under 1:02. It took 1:03.84 to make the A final, 1:04.66 to make B and 1:05.21 to make C.
Women's 100 Butterfly
She won the 200 fly with a PR 2:09.85. Now 16 year-old Elaine Breeden has qualified first in the 100 fly with a 59.84. Winning the 200 was tough. If anything, the shorter race will be even tougher.
Qualifying second in her first shot at the 100 fly at Nationals, is Katie Hoff at 1:00.02. Olympian Dana Kirk is third at 1:00.20. This event should go down to the wire tonight.
1:01.04 was needed to make tonight’s A final, 1:01.73 made the B and 1:02.04 made C
Men's 100 Butterfly
With WR-holder Ian Crocker and former WR-holder Michael Phelps giving this baby a bye, Ben Michaelson emerged on top in the prelims with his 53.23, but he will be feeling the heat tonight from the #2 qualifier, Roland Schoeman of South Africa and Tucson Ford Aquatics. Schoeman set a WR of 22.96 in the 50 fly in Montreal.
All eight qualifiers, including 17 year-old Ricky Berens, swam in the 53s, so only 7-tenths of a second will separate the field tonight. It took 53.95 to make the A final, 54.91 to make B and 55.47 to make C.