TUCSON – If there’s any indication that the next generation of athletes are ready to take the reins in USA Swimming, it was found in last week’s NCAA conference swimming and diving championships. Records were falling rapidly by veteran swimmers and those who are making major breakthroughs. Two of the most notable athletes from the multitude of competitions last week are already famous nationally and internationally, and stepped up their game in a rehearsal for the Big Show at the NCAA championships.
Typically, the women’s Pac 12 meet does not feature out-of-this-world times, as many of the top teams tend to get their athletes qualified for the NCAA championships during fall invitationals. But that changed dramatically last week in Federal Way, where Missy Franklin and Simone Manuel raced each other in the 200 freestyle final. Add to it the California-Stanford rivalry, and you have an epic showdown in the works.
Franklin led at the 100-yard mark by 47 hundredths of a second with a split of 49.72, and was a full second slower than her American record pace. With Manuel not letting up, Franklin had to dig deep to find her well-known finishing speed to give the Golden Bears bragging rights in the event. The fact that Franklin was faster in the last 100 yards last week than she was when she set the American record last March by .23 seconds bodes well for a potential sub-1:40 later this month in Greensboro. Her 1:41.05 at the Pac 12 championships is second only to that American record of 1:40.31. After last summer’s freak back injury, it’s clear that Franklin is at full strength and ready to close out her collegiate swimming career with a bang.
As for Manuel, her 1:41.15 was a drop of nearly two seconds on her lifetime best since she arrived on the campus at Stanford University, and is almost a second faster than she swam last November. She also managed to leapfrog some great names such as Dana Vollmer and Katie Ledecky to become the second-fastest performer in the event. Manuel is no stranger to the 200 freestyle at the elite national level, having placed seventh at last summer’s nationals. But last week’s swim marks a major step forward in making it one of her strongest events. If we look about 16 months into the future, Manuel could be vying for a coveted spot on the 800 free relay – or even a chance to swim the individual 200 free in Rio.
But the chance to stand at the top of the medal podium at the NCAA championships is the immediate priority. This could be the race that has swimming fans talking for weeks or months. No matter the outcome, it’s going to be so close that the naked eye won’t be able to decide the winner.
Congratulations, Missy and Simone, you’re sharing the Performance of the Week!