5 Races Not to Miss at Arena Pro Swim Series Austin

Photo Courtesy: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

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By David Rieder.

Christmas training is over—quiet down, everyone, we know you’re excited—and it’s time for some swim meets. In the U.S., the first big one of the year gets started Friday in Austin, Texas, with the first stop of the Arena Pro Swim Series.

With plenty of familiar faces entered, one figures to expect some good racing and fast times—by January standards, anyway. No, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will break a world record like Katie Ledecky did last year. But that hardly ever happens at this time of year.

The psych sheet is available here, and the our picks for the top five races of the weekend are below.

1. Men’s 400 IM

This will be familiar territory for Sean Grieshop, racing his signature event in a pool that he is intimately familiar with while sleeping in his own bed at night. The 18-year-old was an Olympic Trials finalist and the Short Course National Champion in the event.

Coming from slightly further away is Japan’s Daiya Seto, who has won the last five World titles (long course plus short course) and was the Olympic bronze medalist this summer in Rio. Seto is entered at 4:13.52, but his best time is 4:08.50, set at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan. Grieshop’s best, in comparison, is 4:14.00.

So, yes, probably a mismatch but still an excellent chance for Grieshop to get in some experience against one of the best in the world in the event in which both have thrived.

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Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

2. Women’s 200 Free

The top two seeds in this event were born nine years apart, and both focus on events other than the 200 free. 25-year-old Melanie Margalis is the top seed in the event, and although she’s better known as a 200 IMer, Margalis did finish sixth in the 200 free at Olympic Trials and then swam in the prelims of the 800 free relay in Rio, earning a gold medal.

The next two seeds are both 16, and both hail from Canada. Seeded second is Penny Oleksiak, the Olympic gold medalist in the 100 free who split 1:54.94 in anchoring Canada to bronze in the 800 free relay at the Olympics in Rio. Just behind her is Taylor Ruck, who actually specializes in the 200 free, having won a bronze medal in the event at the Short Course World Championships last month.

Oleksiak definitely has the most speed of the trio, and both Margalis and Ruck can bring it home strong. Ruck, in particular, bears watching after illness derailed her Olympic Trials last spring. She could be a consistent force internationally in the 200 for a years down the road.

Some of the potential party-crashers in this field include Hali Flickinger, an Olympic finalist in the 200 fly who was a semifinalist in the 200 free at U.S. Olympic Trials, along with another 16-year-old Canadian in Rebecca Smith. Further down the list is 17-year-old Morgan Tankersley, one of the top performers from the U.S. Junior Nationals last month.

taylor-ruck-canada-2016-sc-worlds

Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Kevin Jarrold

3. Men’s 100 Breast

Even with the two men who represented the U.S. in Rio (Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes) absent, this field still has four sub-1:00 100 breaststrokers, all from the U.S. The list includes 2015 National Champion Andrew Wilson, 2013 World Championships finalist Nic Fink, 200 breast Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot and versatile 17-year-old Michael Andrew.

That said, it’s January, and expecting any of these men to get under the once-sacred minute mark might be a little unrealistic. But the quartet needs to get used to racing each other. Even though Miller and Cordes, the only two Americans to break 59 in a textile suit, are still training and competing, it’s not a big gap back to the pack. The top five at Olympic Trials in the event were separated by less than eight tenths of a second.

After years of struggling to replace Brendan Hansen’s production in the 100 breast after 2008 and again after 2012, the United States now has a strong contingent of sprint breaststrokers from which to pull.

andrew-wilson-

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

4. Women’s 200 Back

Olympic bronze medalist Hillary Caldwell has the top credentials of anyone in this field, and seeded just behind her is Texas A&M junior Lisa Bratton, who finished a close third in the event at the Olympic Trials and won’t have to come very far from her training base in College Station for the meet.

We know pretty well what Caldwell and Bratton can do in the 200 back, but it’s the teenagers further down the psych sheet that make this one intriguing. In addition to her freestyle talents, Ruck is a good backstroker, having previously swum under 2:10 in the race, and she is one of three 16-year-olds seeded in the 2:09-range, along with Lucie Nordmann and Eva Merrell.

Both Nordmann and Merrell had impressive performances while wearing USA caps this fall. Nordmann made the final in all three backstroke events at the World Cup stop in Tokyo—the 100 might be her better of the two Olympic-distance backstroke races, but she is solid at both—while Merrell, after finishing ninth in the event at Olympic Trials, won the 200-yard back at the USA College Challenge in 1:52.20.

Talented 15-year-old Alex Walsh is also in this race. Although her 200 IM and the breaststroke events have flashed the most potential recently, she did post a 1:52.07 in the 200-yard back at Junior Nationals in 2015 before finishing 11th in the long course version of the event at Olympic Trials.

hilary-caldwell-canada-2016-sc-worlds

Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Kevin Jarrold

5. Men’s 100 Back

When Matt Grevers pulled out of the semifinals of the 200 back at Olympic Trials and left town, his future in the sport appeared uncertain. The defending gold medalist in the 100 back had missed making the team in his best event, finishing third behind Ryan Murphy and David Plummer—the duo who went on to win gold and bronze, respectively, in Rio.

But Grevers is back. Less than two months after becoming a father for the first time, Grevers will compete in Austin in the 50 free and 100 back—an event where he remains the third-fastest performer of all-time. Grevers appeared on Off Deck this week to discuss his return to racing and explain how it felt finishing third this summer at Trials.

He’ll get a good race in his first meet since then. The 100 back field features Jacob Pebley, who placed one spot behind Grevers at Olympic Trials, as well as Arkady Vyatchanin, who tied for bronze in the event at the 2008 Olympics while Grevers earned silver. Sean Lehane, another finalist from Omaha, will also compete.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

2 Comments

2 comments

  1. avatar
    YY

    For long period already each year W200 free remains one of the most intriguing and pretty much open race. As women 100 free this distance became the most dynamic. We see many swimmers already confidently swim under 1:56. To be under 1:55 became not a point of admiration but a kind of prerequisite to be consider a contender for the place on the podium. With the Sarah Sjostrom’s withdrawal from competition Katie Ledecky has unexpectedly found herself in dominant position. Where the next challenge will come from? Therefore it will be interesting to follow Canadian youngsters: Oleksiak, Ruck, Smith if they are a real deal.
    With losing Missy Franklin’s contribution to 4×200 relay and some uncertainty about Allison Schmitt will American find another 1:56 low swimmers to still feel comfortably in this relay.

Author: David Rieder

avatar
David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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