Post-Olympic U.S. Open Prime Spot for Breakout Performances

By David Rieder

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, August 7. SWIMMING has wrapped up its events in the Olympic Games, and the world has already turned its attention to build-up to the next big events in swimming, including next year's World Championships in Barcelona and even the 2016 Olympics. For some, this week's U.S. Open marks the first stop on a long, four-year journey to Rio, while for others, the U.S. Open serves as one last hurrah, a swansong, after failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

None of the competitors have declared their intentions one way or the other, so we won't speculate, but all come to the famous IU Natatorium with their sights set on following up the blistering pace set across the pond at the Olympics. Several of the top names at the U.S. Open finished just tenths away from a spot in London, including mid-distance man Michael Klueh, and breaststrokers Mike Alexandrov and Elliott Keefer, both of whom swam on the World Championship team in Shanghai last summer.

For some perspective on what to expect, take a look at what happened at the U.S. Open back in 2008. Held before the Olympics back then, Hayley McGregory threw down the second-fastest time in history in the women's 100 back headed into Beijing, while Nick Thoman did the same with a 52.92 in the men's race, just three one-hundredths of a second off the current world record. McGregory went on to make the World Championships team a year later, while Thoman just swam in the Olympics and won two medals, including a silver in the 100 back.

In London, Americans Peter Vanderkaay and Conor Dwyer finished third and fifth in the 400 free, but Klueh almost caught those two with a furious last lap charge at Olympic Trials last month. Klueh then finished eighth in the 200 free, and as it would turn out, one spot better would have put him on his first Olympic team after Michael Phelps withdrew from the 200 free. Klueh leads the field in both events in Indy this week, but he will face a challenge from Australia's Robert Hurley, a veteran of two World Championship teams who, like Klueh, finished third in the 400 free at his Olympic Trials.

The men's breaststroke races should feature some of the most intriguing races of the week. Keefer has the top seed in the 200, while Alexandrov enters second in the 100 behind John Criste, the future of American breaststroke could put a challenge to these stalwarts. Matt Elliott, a rising sophomore at Florida, put up a 2:12.00 at Trials in the 200, and Kevin Cordes, another college sophomore, finished third at Trials in 1:00.58 after setting an American record in his win at the NCAA Championships for Arizona. With veterans like Brendan Hansen headed towards retirement, these two could provide some muscle for American breaststroke for years to come.

On the women's side, Megan Romano hopes to rebound from a disastrous performance at Olympic Trials. Romano had her sights set on relay berths, at the very least, in the 100 and 200 free, but she finished seventh in the 200 after fading on the last lap, and she didn't even make the final in the 100. Less than a month before Trials, Romano had swum a 54.16 in the 100 free, almost identical to the 54.15 Lia Neal swam to get herself onto the final team for the women's 400 free relay in London. Romano has her sights set on a faster time there, as well as a sub-1:00 performance in the women's 100 back, where she swam a 1:00.19 in June.