By John Lohn
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., April 1. NOTHING overwhelming marked the opening-day preliminaries of the World Championship Trials at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis. Still, there were enough solid swims and developing storylines to suggest tonight’s championship finals will be high caliber.
Here’s a recap of the Day 1 prelims, which featured a pair of qualifying swims from Kaitlin Sandeno (200 I.M./400 free), an eye-opening program move by Michael Phelps and a strong start by Katie Hoff, seemingly prepared for a big-time showing in Indy.
100 Butterfly (Women)
Only three competitors cracked the one-minute barrier, led by Natalie Coughlin. The former Cal star and five-time Olympic medalist clocked in at 58.97, ahead of the second-place time registered by Rachel Komisarz, an Olympian in the event.
Coughlin should have no problem securing an invitation to Montreal in tonight’s finals. As for the second slot, it appears as if it will come down to a clash between Komisarz and Mary DeScenza, who qualified third in 59.62. Komisarz advanced to the semifinals in Athens last summer while DeScenza, coming off an NCAA Championship sweep in the butterfly events, is looking for a chance to make some international noise.
Amanda Sims (1:00.15), Margaret Hoelzer (1:00.25) and Demerae Christianson (1:00.29) qualified fourth through sixth, respectively, while Dana Kirk (1:00.35) and Whitney Myers (1:00.52) held down the seventh and eighth slots.
Expected to contend for a bid to Montreal, Dana Vollmer originally failed to qualify for the championship final, as she managed the ninth-fastest time (1:00.85), just ahead of Tanica Jamison (1:01.00). But Myers opted out of the evening final, likely to save energy for the 200 I.M. final, allowing Vollmer the eighth spot in the final.
400 Freestyle (Men)
The field that will step on the blocks tonight is loaded and features the presence of Michael Phelps, the eight-time Olympic medalist. Coy about his schedule heading into the competition, it’s now obvious that Phelps was serious about his intentions to alter his program. By choosing to swim the 400 free, an event in which he once held the American record, Phelps opted to bypass the 400 I.M., where he’s the world-record holder and reigning Olympic champ.
Swimming in an unseeded heat, Phelps qualified sixth for the evening finals of the 400 free, as he touched the wall in 3:55.70. Expect a large chunk of time to be hacked off that effort in a few hours, particularly with Phelps having several individuals to push him.
A pair of Olympians topped the qualifying, as Peter Vanderkaay and Larsen Jensen settled into the top-two positions. Coming off an NCAA crown in the 500-yard free, Vanderkaay produced the top mark of the morning with a swim of 3:53.06. Jensen, the Olympic silver medalist in the 1,500 free, wasn’t far behind in 3:54.91, narrowly ahead of Justin Mortimer (3:54.94).
Tyler DeBerry checked in at fourth (3:55.18) and was followed in fifth by 2000 Olympian Chris Thompson (3:55.63). Shaun Phillips picked up the seventh spot (3:55.80) and Michael Klueh, a high-school standout bound for Texas, was eighth in 3:55.90.
200 Individual Medley (Women)
Originally expected to be a three-woman show, the finals of the 200 I.M. have been reduced to a two-person battle. And, even with Amanda Beard not in the mix, a Katie Hoff vs. Kaitlin Sandeno showdown is pretty darn appetizing.
The Olympic silver medalist in the event from Athens, Beard decided not to contest the event, but Hoff and Sandeno could produce the finest race of the night. In qualifying first in 2:13.52, Hoff was under American-record pace at the 100-meter mark and just off record pace heading into the final lap. Sandeno, meanwhile, cruised to the second-fastest time, going 2:14.70.
With the American record sitting at 2:11.70, there’s a chance the record goes down tonight, as Hoff appears ready to pop some sizzling times. And, don’t count out Sandeno, one of the best racers in the world and well-versed in the experience department.
Kristen Caverly, an Olympian in the 200 backstroke, grabbed the third slot for the final, as her 2:15.06 was just ahead of the fourth-place time of Ariana Kukors (2:15.59). Whitney Myers (2:15.82) and Alicia Aemisegger (2:15.89) also dipped under 2:16.00. The seventh and eighth positions went to Caroline Bruce (2:17.51) and Julia Smit (2:17.87).
100 Breaststroke (Men)
The world-record holder in the event, Brendan Hansen had no problem earning the top seed for the final, as he qualified nearly a second ahead of the field with a performance of 1:01.08. That time suggests Hansen is capable of breaking the one-minute barrier during tonight’s finals.
While Hansen clearly has a hold on one of the berths to Montreal, a pair of Olympians are the leading contenders for the second spot. Ed Moses, the silver medalist in the 100 in Sydney, posted the second-fastest time with a mark of 1:01.91. As for Mark Gangloff, who was fourth in the event in Athens, he checked in at 1:01.98.
Moses could emerge as one of the better stories in Indianapolis, a city in which he has performed spectacularly through the years. Having missed the Olympic Team during last summer’s Trials in Long Beach, Moses is nearing a return to the international stage.
Kevin Swander recorded the fourth qualifying time, as his 1:02.08 was slightly quicker than the 1:02.13 turned in by Scott Usher for fifth. Gary Marshall, who won the NCAA championship in the 100 breast last week, was sixth (1:02.72), followed by Caleb Rowe (1:02.91) and Giordan Pogioli (1:03.64).
400 Freestyle (Women)
For the past few months, Kate Ziegler has cranked out impressive time after impressive time. Tonight, she might pop one of the fastest 400 free times in history. The 16-year-old qualified in third position for the finals, as she eased through the preliminaries in 4:12.97. Carly Piper had the top qualifying mark (4:12.59) and was followed by Kelsey Ditto (4:12.77).
During the final, it’s more than likely that Ziegler and Kaitlin Sandeno will battle for the trips to Montreal. Sandeno, who will swim the 200 I.M. earlier in the night, qualified fifth for the 400 free in 4:15.48. She was just behind Alyssa Kiel, who claimed fourth in 4:14.47.
Ziegler has been tabbed as America’s next elite distance star, perhaps the most talented since Janet Evans ruled the world scene in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. Tonight, she’ll have the opportunity to fulfill those lofty expectations.
Emily Mason qualified sixth for the final in 4:15.70 and was followed in seventh and eighth place by Laura Conway (4:15.95) and Ashley Chandler (4:15.97).
400 Individual Medley (Men)
With Michael Phelps opting out of the event, where he’s the world-record holder and competes at another stratosphere, the 400 I.M. is one of the more wide-open events on the men’s side. With the door open, it’s a matter of who walks through.
Robert Margalis led all qualifiers in the morning session with a time of 4:22.22, but will find himself in a tight race during the evening session. Patrick Mellors, who just completed a sterling freshman season at Virginia, sits second in 4:22.54.
In the third and fourth slots, Ryan Lochte (4:23.72) and Eric Shanteau (4:24.73) might be the top challengers to advance to Montreal. Lochte is one of the world’s most versatile swimmers and should drop considerable time tonight. As for Shanteau, he was third in this event at last summer’s Olympic Trials. Not to be overlooked is Justin Mortimer, who qualified fifth in 4:24.91.
The sixth through eighth spots were taken by Tim Liebhold (4:25.74), C.J. Nuess (4:28.36) and Andrew Callahan (4:30.65).