USA Short Course National Championships: Interactive Commentary From The Deck

ATLANTA, Georgia, December 1. is bringing its readers wall-to-wall coverage of the USA Short Course National Championships held at Georgia Tech University this week. As part of our up-to-the-minute coverage of the actual racing, we offer you the opportunity to interact with our reporter on site, Dana Lawrence Lohn, via our story comment feature Reaction Time sponsored by Colorado Time Systems.

This article will be our home for interesting observations emerging from the meet that may not make our standard race coverage. Also, look here first for Breaking News items that we discover during our time talking with the best-of-the-best on deck and in the stands.

To interact with our staff, log in via Reaction Time at the bottom of this article.

December 1, 9:35 a.m. One luxury of this large facility is its ability to support two simultaneous, side-by-side preliminary sessions. The men’s 200 backstroke is currently underway in the west pool, while the women’s equivalent takes place in the east. The scoreboard is split down the middle, men on the left and women on the right, which leaves only enough space to display lane numbers, not names. What this means: when each prelim heat ends, the crowd flips through their psych sheets to match the lane numbers to names and determine winners. The commentator is doing a nice job balancing information from both pools.

Spoke with a couple of the relief officials, who report that the meet is a little undermanned this morning – a few officials are sick – so they expect to be extremely busy. On another note, the volunteers I spoke with share one common theme: they adore the volunteer tee-shirts for this meet. They’re blood-red and branded with industrial font, “Property of 2007 Short Course National Championships Atlanta.”

The facility entranceway is lined on one side by long, soft benches, and several members of New York-based college teams are catnapping, much to the amusement of some of the younger fans entering the building (“Mom! That guy is asleep!”). Meanwhile, the mood on deck is energized: last-day adrenaline has clearly kicked in.

9:52 a.m. Ryan Lochte is the top qualifier for tonight’s 200 back in 1:39.44. He’ll be joined by Matt Grevers, among others. Peter Marshall, last night’s national champion in the 100 back, will swim in the B-Final. The men’s 100 free preliminaries are underway, while the women’s 200 backstroke, 13 heats deep, continues in the east pool.

There’s a lot of buzz around tomorrow’s time trials – who might swim?

10:03 AM Peter Vanderkaay commands Heat 7 of the men’s 100 free in 43.17; Auburn standout Ryan Lundquist, swimming for Stingrays, takes Heat 8 in 42.75. Heat 9 saw Nathan Adrian touch in 42.89, and in a race characterized by the crowd’s camera flashes, Michael Phelps passed Cesar Cielo in the last 25 yards to post the fastest qualifying time of the morning. The two men swam 42.63 and 42.96, respectively.

This Georgia Tech pool “was the site of all swimming, diving and synchronized swimming competition as well as the swimming portion of the modern pentathlon during the Centennial Olympic Games in the summer of 1996,” per At the time, the facility featured an “open air design” that allowed the organizers to stretch crowd capacity to 15,000. Next year, the National Swimming Centre in Beijing – fondly nicknamed “the cube” – will seat 17,000, with extremely hot demand for tickets. There’s speculation that if space were not constrained, the Olympic swimming events could’ve attracted 60,000+ to each morning final; to give a sense of context, that’s a greater capacity than Yankee Stadium.

Tonight’s women’s 200 back final will include, among others, Leila Vaziri, Mary Beck, Maggie Hoelzer and Mary Descenza. In the west pool, Eric Shanteau and Vlad Polyakov pushed each other through the last heat of the men’s 200 breaststroke. Shanteau became tonight’s top A-Finalist, while Polyakov took the top B-Final slot. In the east pool, Kara Lynn Joyce, last night’s national champion in the 200 free, swam a 48.15 on her way to A-Final qualification in the women’s 100 free. Natalie Coughlin is the top qualifier in a wickedly fast 47.78. We suspect that may crack some top times lists; we’ll confirm that later today. Rachel Komisarz will also swim.

A nod to Pilot Aquatic Club; the Knoxville, TN team has a big crew on deck this morning. I’m off to weave through the crowd as we tour the facility. A full preliminaries recap is now posted.

6:09 p.m. Seven minutes into Heat 6 of the women’s 1650 free, Chloe Sutton and Ashley Evans are showing the crowd how it’s done. Sutton went out hard and Evans turned it on around the 500. It’s a remarkably calm and controlled scene on deck, with abundant space in the warm-up pool and officials modeling their light blue shirts – the sixth clothing change they’ve had in this meet. Sergio Lopez is moving around the deck with purpose, channeling his energy to the Bolles team, and The Race Club’s Mike Bottom is all smiles as he carries his absolutely gorgeous daughter around the hospitality section. Imagine a childhood in the Florida Keys – lucky girls!

6:25 p.m. Ashley Evans takes the heat in 16:01.28, Maggie Bird in second in 16:07.93, and Chloe Sutton third in 16:10.47. The 15:58.73 that Sierra Marlins’ Alyssa Anderson put up earlier has stood up for the overall win. In a culture where we feel increasing appreciation for those whose careers stretch into their 30s or even 40s, the top four finishers in the women’s 1650 free are 17, 15, 19 and 15, respectively. As the final men’s 1650 heat approaches the blocks, the youngest swimmer to start will be World University Games champion Chad LaTourette, age 19, who will dive in alongside two well-known veterans: Trojan’s Larsen Jensen and Club Wolverine’s Erik Vendt.

6:25 p.m. Another reminder that Olympic Trials will be here before we know it — USA Swimming has a mini-photo-studio set up on-deck in order to photograph swimmers with Trials cuts. They use the photos for media guides and Olympic Games credentials. I understand they’re having some difficulty rounding up qualifiers, so those of you on-deck who know you don’t have a photo on file with USA Swimming: follow the smell of the food! The mini-studio is next to Hospitality, behind the springboards.

6:25 p.m. Ever wake up and feel totally unmotivated to do anything with the day? Motivate yourself with thoughts of Erik Vendt and Bobby Margalis’ grinding training regimens. Vendt has a legendary reputation for his tough work ethic, and it has paid off. He’s put up a wire-to-wire win in the current 1650 heat in 14:34.85, tenth fastest performance all-time in this event and good for the overall win. The Olympic Rings tattooed on his shoulder are looking like both a testament to his past and a premonition of his future. Margalis is second in 14:49.85; one of his sponsors, TYR, reports that he trains over 20,000 meters per day. LaTourette took third in 14:50.62.

6:54 p.m. Personal best for Maggie Hoelzer as she wins the Natalie Coughlin-less 200 back in 1:51.68. Behind her, a pair of Marys: Descenza second in 1:53.70, and emerging Texan Beck third in 1:54.47.

7:04 p.m. BIG roar from the crowd as Ryan Lochte is introduced at the start of the men’s 200 backstroke A-Final. They know – and we know – that we might be looking at an AR. The record is his own, and his to beat: 1:37.68. Here we go …

7:10 p.m. Oh yea, AR, and Ryan made it look easy: 1:36.81. We paused a conversation with Erik Vendt so we could watch! Tremendous accomplishment for Lochte, who came in shaved and tapered and ready to rock this weekend. FYI, under the cap, Lochte’s hair is longer than we recall seeing it in past meets, and it’s got some charming curl to it.

As the women’s 100 free B-Final is underway, we take a minute to review the Long Course Invitational session report for tomorrow. The scratch deadline just passed (6:30 p.m.) and final lists are being generated, but the preliminary sheet shows 1452 – YES, that’s one thousand, four hundred and fifty two – entries over 26 events. The Invitational will run from 9 a.m. to Noon and again from 2 p.m. to 5:10 PM, with a 10-lane course and fly-over starts. The most popular events: women’s 100 free (118 entries), 100 fly and 50 free. Least popular: men’s 400 IM (just 19 entries) and 1500 free.

7:21 p.m. “Golden Girl” Natalie Coughlin is will literally be golden tonight with her new AR, much to the crowd’s delight!

“After winning the 50 free the other night, I was hoping to get a best time in this!”

Just five minutes later, the crowd lit up again when Georgia Tech undergrad Noah Copeland set a new school record – 43.87 – in the C-Final of the men’s 100 free.

7:26 p.m. A nice breakout swim for Washington State-raised Cal Bear Nathan Adrian, who took third in the men’s 100 free in 42.85. Michael Phelps wins in 42.14 and was engagingly humble in his on-deck interview.

“I just need to make sure I don’t get too far behind in the first 50. These guys all have better turns and better speed than I do …”

Peter Vanderkaay, sixth in 42.98, looks super-sleek in a black suit and black Club Wolverine cap; he and Phelps immediately head to Jon Urbanchek’s side to debrief about the race. Earlier we spotted Erik Vendt and Randall Bal chatting in that same warm-up poolside spot. If they hang out later tonight, I hereby suggest passing the restaurant check to Bal, who took home $100K this month by winning the 2007 FINA/ARENA Swimming World Cup on the back of exceptional performances in Durban, Singapore, Sydney, Stockholm and Belo Horizonte, among others.

Cullen Jones is sporting the beginnings of a goatee — thumbs-up, Cullen.

7:45 PM An announcement: the men’s 200 fly has been re-seeded; we’ll let you know what changes.

Meanwhile, there’s record-breaking news out of the Texas Invitational. Michael Klueh just broke the 13-year-old University of Texas school record in the men’s mile. His winning time of 14:41.83 tops the longstanding school record of 14:42.02, set by Matt Hooper at the 1994 NCAA Championship. Only one older record remains on the Texas books: Doug Gjertsen’s 200 free from 1990, which may be ripe for picking this year with the likes of David Walters and Matt McGinnis in the water. Travis, if you have Gjertsen’s record time top-of-mind, please post it. 🙂

8:01 PM We’re noticing that Michael Phelps is intermittently icing his wrist: we’re sure he’ll be asked about it in interviews later. * See clarification below, 8:12 PM *

Ryan Lochte is a last-minute scratch from the men’s 200 fly. Consequentially, Swim Atlanta’s Miller Douglas and Auburn University’s Robert Looney are surely two of the happiest 18-year-olds in this facility. Douglas will move into the A-Final; Looney came off the alternate list and will join the C-Final.

8:12 PM We spoke to Michael and learned that it’s not his wrist. Instead, he lightly jammed a finger on his touch in the 100 free. A little ice and he should be good as new. As a side note, he’s clearly thrilled about the impending birth of his first nephew, due to his sister Whitney in February.

There are no official entry sheets yet, but we expect that Michael may swim in the Long Course Invitational tomorrow.

8:23 PM There are ongoing complications in setting the final entry list for tomorrow’s Long Course Invitational, and all who have volunteered for office administration duties at swim meets will empathize. Here’s what’s gone down: the “final” came down from the copy room, and as is inevitable, the first coach who picked it up replied with “hey, my swimmers aren’t on here.” A particularly bright and savvy official called upstairs and stopped print on the lists, thereby saving about a forest’s worth of trees, but it will be a solid half-hour or more before the “final final” list of 1000+ entries is finished.

8:27 PM As she mounts the blocks for the women’s 200 fly, I am struck by Kathleen Hersey’s increasing facial resemblance to the traffic-stoppingly beautiful Amanda Beard. Anyone else noticing this?

8:46 PM The always-articulate Randall Bal clearly enjoyed the entire World Cup series, but he lights up like a firework when discussing Brazil specifically.

“Beautiful! Amazing crowd, and the pool was like a discotheque when we walked in.”

Bal recently relocated to Italy to train at a very plush club 20 miles from the Swiss border. He’ll be there until Olympic Trials, enjoying massages and relaxation in the midst of a rigorous training regimen. Randall Bal, citizen of the world. 🙂

8:52 PM High-schooler Alyssa Anderson is utterly charming in the midst of her win in the women’s 1650 free. She tells me she dropped 26 seconds off her PB as a result of Sierra Marlins’ “very hard practices,” and as she swam earlier today and did not appear in the night heat, she watched on deck with friends, waiting to see if her time would hold up for gold. It did, and perhaps no one seems more surprised than she! This is one of the most beautiful elements of swimming, in my opinion: hard work can deliver spectacular and unexpected results.

8:59 PM U.C. Irvine’s Eddie Erazo, fresh off the medal podium from his performance in the men’s 200 fly, is signing tee shirts for volunteers. This would not be remarkable, save that the volunteers are about 8 years old, and they are wearing the shirts. Eddie is wielding his Sharpie like a champion. I’m convinced he’s made a lot of fans among the kiddie volunteer set. Caitlin Leverenz just joined him with a Sharpie of her own, all smiles after her women’s 200 breast win.

9:11 PM He’s now a Louisianan by way of Stanford, and Jayme Cramer is psyched about LSU’s win over Tennessee in tonight’s college football action.

“I root for them now. My wife went to LSU,” said Cramer.

He will not appear in tomorrow’s Long Course Invitational; however, Davis Tarwater, winner of tonight’s 200 fly, will swim.

At this point we will wrap up the blog and move into interview coverage. We hope you’ve enjoyed this lighthearted “on-deck” look at U.S. Short Course National Championships, part of our effort to capture the social and interpersonal elements that make every swim meet unique.