For full Swimming World coverage of the entire 2011 USA Swimming Long Course Nationals, including all videos and recaps, visit our Event Landing Page.
Column by Jeff Commings, SwimmingWorld.TV associate producer
PALO ALTO, California, August 7. THOUGH overshadowed slightly by the tremendous performances we saw at the FINA world championships, the USA Swimming nationals gave us plenty to gossip, pontificate and rumor about as we officially begin the countdown to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Below are my thoughts on what I saw at the meet:
I will officially not be surprised by anything Missy Franklin does from this point on in her swimming career. While her world championship teammates were suffering from the effects of eight days of competition and a trans-oceanic flight, Franklin has largely been unaffected. If she has been hit hard by it, she and coach Todd Schmitz have done an amazing job of keeping her on her game. I had some concerns when Franklin only placed fourth in the 200 IM on the meet's opening day and only swam a 1:01 in the 100 back prelims. But those concerns went away when I saw her 59.18 in the 100 backstroke final, which was a lifetime best and put her squarely in the mix not just for a spot on the Olympic team in that event, but a place on the podium in London. She capped off an amazing two weeks of competition with a 53.63 to win the 100 freestyle, which would have won her a bronze medal at the world championships. In her interview after her 100 back win, Franklin said she's not going to let the pressure and expectations heaped on her get too overwhelming. Based on that ever-present smile, I believe it.
Ryan Lochte is superhuman … with the emphasis on "human." The five-time world championship gold medalist announced after his 100 backstroke race that he was withdrawing from the rest of the meet. The fans might not have liked that announcement, as I imagine some of those who bought tickets were Reezy fans. Lochte swam 17 races in Shanghai, more than anyone else on the USA team except for Michael Phelps, so it's to be expected that the meet would take its toll. He was one of many world teamers that decided to cut short their stay in Palo Alto: Tyler Clary, Eric Shanteau and Peter Vanderkaay were just a few of the notable absences as the week progressed. But none of these swimmers are jetting off to a secluded island or cavorting around the streets of Las Vegas. The day after his announcement, Lochte got into the pool for a light workout, the first official step towards Omaha and London. This week, he and others from the University of Florida and its postgrad team will be in Colorado for an extensive altitude training camp. Lochte is not likely to taper for another meet until Olympic Trials, so don't expect to see him doing anything amazing in the water until then. The swimmers at Florida never rest for any meet until the end of the season, which in this case is not until the end of June (at least for the postgrads).
Watch out for Matt Grevers. Most had written off the gentle giant after not performing up to expectations at the 2010 nationals. He's had a year to stew on that, and he showed on Wednesday that he's back in the game. His winning time of 53.18 won't make the French tandem of Camille Lacourt and Jeremy Stravius and Japan's Ryosuke Irie very nervous, but the rest of the American lineup in the field has reason to worry. He is the reigning Olympic silver medalist in the event, and he wants the chance to defend that spot – or go one step higher on the Olympic podium. He ended his week with a win in the 200 back, which surprised me, given that he hasn't put much focus on it. He could be a threat to Tyler Clary for the number two spot in that event at Trials, now that he said he's going to train for the event.
Watch out for David Nolan as well. After witnessing a few days of the Pennsylvania phenom's subpar swims at nationals, people were whispering that his stock was on the decline. Then, Nolan stopped those rumors by admitting he hadn't been training very hard this summer, which is understandable. If there was a time for backing off and clearing his head, it was this summer. Nolan will be back in heavy training when he walks onto the campus of Stanford University again in a few weeks, and will still be one to watch next June at Trials in the 200 IM and other events.
Do you think Brendan Hansen has photos of Kosuke Kitajima, Alexander Dale Oen and Daniel Gyurta on his walls at home in Austin, Texas? There has to be some explanation for his amazing swims at nationals, other than the fact that he's so darn talented. The breaststroke legend has so far been the only comeback story to produce anything significant this year, and something had to motivate him to post the fastest 100 breaststroke by an American this year, and the second-fastest 200 breast. I believe him when he says his only goal is to win an individual Olympic gold medal. All the other comeback stories include the line "We'll see what happens." That was in Hansen's script three months ago, but no more. He will be dangerous when the finals of the 100 breast arrive at Trials on June 26, and even more fearsome when he arrives in London. Notice that I said "when he arrives in London," not "if he arrives in London." I bet Mike Alexandrov, Marcus Titus, Clark Burckle and others are probably tacking photos of Hansen on their walls.
The nationals qualifying times are too slow. Why are there 1,800 swimmers at nationals? I would understand the need to give more swimmers the chance to swim at a championship meet, if it weren't for the numerous sectional competitions around the country. USA Swimming should seed nationals like the NCAA championships. Create a cap for the meet (say, 400 swimmers per gender), then set an "A" standard. Those who make that time are automatically in. A "B" standard could be used to help fill the meet up to the cap, as long as there are at least 40 people per event. Release the list of qualifiers before the first sectional meet, and all those who don't make it can make sectionals their big meet of the season.
While we're on the subject of overcrowded meets, why haven't the Olympic Trials cuts changed in 20 years? For example, the cut for the men's 100 breast for 2012 Trials is 1:04.69. What was the standard in 1992? 1:04.69. Back then, only 26 people made that cut, and as one of those 26, I felt like I was in a very elite and exclusive group. In 2012, I will be one of at least 70 participants in the event. While it is still a very big deal to participate in the Olympic Trials, the exclusivity of the meet has gone away, turning the meet into a summer nationals disguised as the Olympic Trials. Make the Trials cut equivalent to the 20th-place time at the previous long course nationals, and the meet becomes the exclusive and elite competition it was 20 years ago.