Sprint Blasts from Simone Manuel, Nathan Adrian Highlight First Day of Prelims at U.S. Nationals

Photo Courtesy: David Farr

Editorial coverage for U.S. Senior Nationals proudly sponsored by Master Spas!

By David Rieder

IRVINE, California, August 6. THE first morning of prelims at Nationals began under cloudy skies, but the sun quickly came out to warm up the Woollett Aquatic Center. The first prelims session featured just four events, but each had major ramifications with so many international teams coming down to this meet. In each of the 100 free events, six of the top eight in prelims will be going to the World Championships next year. Each event had its own share of drama.

The women’s 200 fly led things off, and in one of the weakest events of the meet, youth needed to make a statement. In the first seeded heat, Katie McLaughlin put up a 2:09.49, though that time surprised few after clocking a 2:08.72 last summer. In the next heat, though, Courtney Weaver chopped a second and a half off her best time and shot herself into contention for the Pan Pacs team with a 2:09.51. She went out in 1:01.04, and although she faded the last 50, she won the heat fairly comfortably. Let’s see if the competition she’ll face in the final pushes her further down.

Pre-race favorite Cammile Adams won the final heat in 2:08.06, but her race strategy suggests she has plenty left in the tank. As her SwimMAC teammates Kathleen Baker and Maija Roses suggested from behind me, Adams put on a show the second 100, including a 32.97 third 50. Expect a 2:06 or better tonight. Hali Flickinger picked up the second seed from the lane next to Adams, while World Championships semi-finalist needed a scratch from a busy Elizabeth Beisel to even claim lane eight in the final. Even from out there, though, she’s dangerous.

Like with many of this morning’s events, the men’s 200 fly featured one seeded heat much faster than the others. The second-to-last heat featured a Michigan flavor – including coaches and swimmers standing behind me screaming “Go Blue!” – as Tyler Clary and Kyle Whitaker finished first and third, respectively. Clary earned the top seed, and he probably enters as a slight favorite as he did swim this event at the Olympics. Leading into the meet his 200 fly had mostly been overlooked, but he consistently touches the wall among the top two when it counts.

Andrew Seliskar swam by himself on his way to a 1:56.95, so expect a faster performance out of him in the final, while Tom Shields will try to prove the long course 200 fly isn’t too long for him. Defending national champion Tom Luchsinger looms from lane one, while Chase Kalisz will have a surprisingly early chance to make the national team, as he will be the second seed.

Anyone unimpressed with the times thus far in prelims definitely woke up when Simone Manuel blasted a 53.60 in the first of the three 100 free seeded heats. That time moved her up to sixth in the world. Manuel clocked a 25.60 50 meter split, so look for her to set the pace in the final. Manuel swam in the prelims of the 400 free relay at Worlds last year but has now reached the next level. However, the problem for Manuel will be fending off the finishing speed of Missy Franklin, who didn’t have much competition on her way to a 53.76 in claiming lane five.

Four of the top seven seeds came from Manuel’s heat, including Margo Geer, Lia Neal, and Amanda Weir. Geer should be a favorite to get onto her first major international team tonight, as she will swim from lane three after clocking 54.17. Natalie Coughlin, meanwhile, snuck into the final in eighth place with a 54.65 – knocking out Allison Schmitt in the process – but her experience makes her hard to count out, especially since she must just beat two to book a ticket to the World Championships next year.

With a swimmer named Michael Phelps swimming in heat nine of the men’s 100 free, no one left early to beat the rush. Before he had a chance to swim, though, Anthony Ervin (48.71) and Matt Grevers (48.95) set the pace in heat eight. For Grevers, the swim helped lift his confidence after a disastrous showing in his last appearance at the Woollett Aquatic Center when, in 2010, he failed to make the Pan Pacs team. “I don’t love this pool,” Grevers admitted. “There’s some relief after the first one.”

In the next heat, Nathan Adrian lit the burners and blasted a 22.63 split to take a huge lead on the field before completely letting up with two long, lanky strokes into the wall. He touched in 48.24, almost a half second ahead of anyone else. Swimming next to him in five, Phelps flipped seventh in 23.98 before, in vintage-Phelps fashion, blowing by five guys with a 24.79 split, more than seven tenths faster than any other swimmer on that lap. Phelps complained that his stroke felt “terrible” the first 50, suggesting more warm-up would help. He commented afterwards, “I asked Nathan for a ride this morning [on the first 50], but he said no.”

World Championships silver medalist Jimmy Feigen won the final heat of the event in 49.06, but he should show some more early speed tonight that he’ll need to keep up with Adrian. Adrian remains the big favorite, and he should swim under the 48-second mark for the first time at a domestic meet in the final. Second place should be wide open between three or four competitors.

Each 100 free featured a surprising finalist that’s now just one sixth-place finish from a trip to Russia next summer. In the women’s event, Abbey Weitzeil chopped almost a second off her best time with a 54.46, while rising Cal senior Seth Stubblefield took more than two tenths off his entry time. No one looked at either Weitzeil or Stubblefield as legitimate contenders at this meet on the basis of their lack of big race experience, but they’ve both vaulted their names into the conversation, certainly for tonight and also for the remainder of the week.