How Will Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps Fare In Santa Clara?

Photo Courtesy: JD Lasica

Editorial content for the 2015 Arena Pro Swim Series Santa Clara is sponsored by Arena. For full Swimming World coverage, check out our coverage page.

Commentary by Jeff Commings, Swimming World Senior Writer

This weekend is the final stop on the Arena Pro Swim Series circuit, and also likely to be the last major racing opportunity for many of the world’s best swimmers before the Pan American Games, World University Games and world championships. One of the top names to watch is Missy Franklin, who will race for the first time since her electrifying performances at March’s NCAA championships.

Franklin will have some of the best competition possible in Santa Clara, her first meet as a professional swimmer. She’ll race the world’s top 200 freestyler, Femke Heemskerk of the Netherlands, in what could be an exciting preview of the world championship final. Though Franklin rarely puts in much rest for in-season competitions, she’ll still give Heemskerk a good battle. Also in the final could be Katinka Hosszu, who never backs down when big prize money is on the line, and American record holder Allison Schmitt. As the first championship final of the meet, this will set the tone for the entire competition. If Franklin can put up a time that lands her in the global top 10, it will speak volumes about her potential for gold at the world championships in Kazan. Last year, Franklin was 1:56.96 in the 200 free in Santa Clara, which would be just outside the top 10 in the world so far this year. Heemskerk (1:54.68) and Hosszu (1:55.89) have the potential to bring Franklin along for a very fast top three.

Franklin and Hosszu will also line up for the 100 and 200 backstrokes, but it’s the 200 back that carries the most weight. Hosszu broke Franklin’s 200 back short course meters world record last December, and that has likely given the Hungarian Iron Lady the confidence to pursue a podium finish at worlds in the 200 back. It’s a relatively new event for Hosszu, who has become a more well-rounded athlete as she pursues the elusive 400 IM Olympic gold medal.

This will likely be Michael Phelps’ last racing opportunity before the USA Swimming nationals, where he’s going to be in several virtual races with the best of the best at world championships. Phelps is entered in five events, but surprisingly the 100 butterfly is not one of them. Seeing Phelps race Tom Shields and several others would be one of the highlights of the men’s meet. Shields stands as the man at the top of the mountain among American butterflyers, thanks to his 100 and 200 fly national titles last summer. Phelps will not want to end 2015 as anything other than the best in the 100 fly, and racing Shields would have been a way to fire a crucial warning shot. Seeing him in the 200 fly – for the first time since the Olympics – would be, well, interesting. Is it a sign that he’s thinking about returning to the event, or will it just be a training swim to test his endurance? Phelps will have a lot of domestic and international competition on his hands in Santa Clara, and it would not be a surprise if he leaves the meet winless. I was one of the people who wondered if Phelps was in trouble after he failed to win anything at the Charlotte meet last month, but the challengers in Santa Clara will only raise the bar on the final six weeks of preparation before nationals.

Looking at the psych sheet, plenty of exciting races are on tap. The women’s 100 breast will feature three ladies who will join Ruta Meilutyte and Rikke Moller Pedersen in the race for medals at the world championships. Trojan Swim Club’s Yuliya Efimova and Jessica Hardy will try to hold off Alia Atkinson with two very different racing styles. Hardy likes to take the race out hard and hold on, while Efimova is the closer. Atkinson’s race plan lines up more with Hardy’s strategy, but Atkinson has shown more endurance in the past year and could make it a great scramble at the finish.

Vlad Morozov and Nathan Adrian haven’t raced each other since the 2013 world championships, and the 100 free final will be epic. Morozov is the top medal contender for the 100 free world championship title, while Adrian is seeking the world championship gold that eluded him in 2011 and 2013. We’re likely to see one of the fastest 100 freestyle races ever contested in the United States. With Marcelo Chierighini, Phelps, Anthony Ervin, Alex Sukhorukov, Nikita Lobintsev and Bruno Fratus likely to be in the final, the waves will rough and the energy high.

And don’t miss the women’s 400 IM. Hosszu and Elizabeth Beisel won gold and bronze, respectively, at the 2013 world championships. Hosszu has put up several 400 IMs this year that are faster than Beisel has ever swum outside of a championship meet. Beisel hasn’t raced the 400 IM very much in 2015, and I am certain she’s itching to show that she should not be counted out in Kazan this August. Hosszu might try to break Beisel’s spirits with a powerful opening 200 meters, but Beisel always rallies with a great second half.

Beisel will need to get many top-three finishes if she is to unseat Caitlin Leverenz as the top American in the overall Pro Swim Series rankings. Leverenz is just half a point ahead of Beisel as the two fight for that awesome one-year lease of a BMW. Because Hosszu is not American, she’s not eligible for the lease, though the stacks of money she’s earned in 2015 could pay for a fleet of luxury cars. As for the men’s race, Conor Dwyer has pretty much sealed up another BMW lease after winning the series in 2014, with a 21-point lead over Tyler Clary. Dwyer has a chance to earn a few gold medals, if he can overtake Phelps in the 200 IM and outswim a talented field in the 200 freestyle.

 

3 Comments

3 comments

  1. avatar
    liquidassets

    I’m not that concerned about Phelps yet given where he is in his training relative to everyone else; even Nationals will be pushing it in terms of judging him given how far behind he got over the last year. Next year will be a much better yardstick. But I agree he could go winless at SC. I hope he swims the fly, if only as a training event. It can only help at this point.
    I’m not sure about Franklin as I’m not sure where she’s at in her training, I assume heavy, but given her stellar NC2As and quick decision to return home, given the year she’s been having, I suspect she may improve upon her times from last year, but it will likely not be enough to beat Hozzsu or Heemskerk since they both seem to swim fast throughout the season rather than big taper.

    • avatar
      liquidassets

      Sorry I meant to say I hope he swims the 200 fly.

    • avatar
      Jeff Commings

      I don’t get the sense that Phelps got “far behind” everyone else last year. Besides some time in rehab, Phelps has been training consistently. His times in Mesa, as well as those unofficial short course yards swims in Austin in March, show that he’s doing OK. We’ll see if Charlotte was just a bad weekend depending on results in Santa Clara.

Author: Jeff Commings

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Jeff Commings is the Senior Writer for SwimmingWorld.com and Swimming World Magazine. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

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