U.S. National Championships, Day Two: Stars and Youth Shine in Men’s 200 Back

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By David Rieder

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, June 26. THE second night of finals at U.S. Nationals featured some fireworks, particularly on the women's side, but the men teamed up for the evening's most exciting race. Young swimmers gave chase in a race with two of the three Olympic gold medalists from the London Olympics, but those two Olympians ended up coming out on top.

Bolles' Ryan Murphy didn't wait long to get moving in the men's 200 back, taking out the race strong and leading the way at the 50. However, as soon as defending world champion Ryan Lochte started his underwater dolphin kicks off the first turn, he took a lead he would never relinquish. Cal's Jacob Pebley made the first push, moving into second at the halfway mark, but Lochte already had a lead of eight tenths of a second. On the final lap though, Tyler Clary would respond, out-splitting Lochte by almost a half second before coming up just short.

Lochte won the race in 1:55.16, while Clary took second in 1:55.58. Both have swum nearly two seconds faster in textile suits. This year, only Japanese swimmers Ryosuke Irie (1:54.72) and Kosuke Hagino (1:55.12) have swum faster in 2013, but both Americans should have plenty more in the tank to challenge for the gold at the World Champs. Meanwhile, four teenagers – Murphy, Pebley, Jack Conger, and Andrew teDuits – all swam in the 1:56-range. The U.S. has won four straight Olympic gold medals in the event, and the top-end speed and major depth suggests that streak could continue.

The men's backstrokers put on the best show, but the ladies and the breaststrokers provided the individual highlights of the night. The NHL-style stars of the night include the following.

First Star: Kevin Cordes, first place, men's 200 breast, 2:08.34
This Arizona Wildcat did not exactly surprise pundits with his performance, but he left fans in awe. Swimming under world record-pace for the first 150 meters, Cordes put up the top time in the world with a 2:08.34 to establish himself as one of the favorites headed into Barcelona. Despite fading considerably on the final 50, Cordes had no peer in the race. How much faster can he go? How much faster will he need to go to beat the likes of world record-holder Akihiro Yamaguchi in Barcelona? And more immediately, what can he do in the 100 breast, arguably his better event. Cordes could be on the fast track to leaving Indianapolis a star.

Second Star: Elizabeth Pelton, second place, women's 200 back, 2:06.29
Four years ago in Indianapolis, Elizabeth Pelton emerged, making the World Championships team in three events at the age of 15. After several seasons of continued disappointment, she has returned and with a vengeance. After making the team in Tuesday's 400 free relay, Pelton put up a blazing swim in her signature event. Trailing Missy Franklin by more than a second at the 150 mark, Pelton closed the gap and finished with a lifetime best time of 2:06.29. That obliterated her best time of 2:07.48 from 2010; other than that one swim, she had never swum under 2:08. Her time stands second in the world behind Franklin, almost a full second ahead of anyone else. Pelton will be a factor in the 200 back in Barcelona and down the road.

Third Star: Missy Franklin, first place, women's 200 free, 1:55.56
Franklin wins her second star of the meet after two more wins and two awesome races on Wednesday night. Franklin put on a show in her signature 200 back along with the 200 free, but she wins this award even without that double. Her time of 1:55.56 falls just a half second shy of her lifetime best, stands second in the world, and would have won a silver medal at the Olympics. Without Allison Schmitt on the team, Franklin will carry the torch for the U.S. women in this event in Barcelona.

One more quick note about Franklin: after that impressive 200 free victory, Franklin seemed especially excited. Franklin raced across the lane line to lane two, where she embraced fourth-place Jordan Mattern. Mattern, a teammate of Franklin's with the Colorado Stars, had just qualified for her first major international competition. Very cool scene involving the best female swimmer in the world.

Honorable Mentions: Breeja Larson and Christine Magnuson
Larson and Magnuson both put up big swims to get onto the Worlds team. Larson dropped more than three seconds off her best time in the 200 breast today, posting a 2:23.44 for third in the world. Suddenly, a primarily-sprint breaststroker has vaulted into medal contention in the 200. Magnuson, meanwhile, grabbed the win in the 50 fly with a time of 26.08, good for sixth in the world. After missing the Olympic team last year, Magnuson had good reason to be excited to make it back on to the National team.