INDIANAPOLIS, July 8—Towson’s Elizabeth Pelton, 15, did not get much sleep after she qualified for her first world championship team in the 200-meter individual medley Tuesday night. Part of the problem was pure excitement, the other was her 6 a.m. wakeup call; she had to compete again at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the 100 backstroke heats.
Despite the lack of rest and sore muscles, Pelton easily advanced to the Wednesday’s final, finishing fourth overall in an event that featured another local surprise, Reston’s Mei Christensen, 20, a University of Virginia senior who posted the third-best time of the morning.
Seeded third and fourth, the pair will contend for two available spots on the world championship roster in Wednesday night’s 100 back final at the U.S. swimming championships.
“If anything, it just kind of amps up your nerves a little bit,” said Christensen, who began swimming in summer meets with the Reston Swim Team Association at age eight. “I’ve been in the final eight in the NCAAs. All you can really do is just swim your best and believe in your training, and race.”
In other news, Michael Phelps swam the fastest time of the morning ( 1:46.31) in his heat of the 200 freestyle, his first race of these championships, but the fact that the top six qualifiers finished within 0.28 seconds suggests Wednesday’s final could be close. About an hour later, Phelps also topped the field in the 200 fly, finishing in 1:55.36, ahead of Mark Dylla (1:56.64) and Dan Madwed, a former North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmer, who came home in 1:57.55.
The 200 free produced a bit of drama. Phelps, wearing the Speedo LZR, was pushed in his heat by David Walters, who wore the new Jaked01 full-body suit and finished third overall in 1:46.46. Peter Vanderkaay was second overall in 1:46.42. Ryan Lochte, who won the 400 medley title Tuesday, finished fourth (1:46.51) and Davis Tarwater and Richard Berens tied for fifth (1:46.59).
“I’m here to swim, not to talk about suits,” said Phelps, who admitted he would wear a full Speedo LZR, instead of just the pants, in both finals. “That’s my main purpose here and that’s what I’m standing by.”
In the 100 back, Christensen, a long-time member of the Curl-Burke Swim Club, finished in 1 minute, 0.97
seconds, an improvement of more than one second on her personal best.
“I’m very happy with that,” Christensen said. “I expected to drop some time based on how I’ve been feeling and how I’ve been swimming.…I’m glad my hard work has paid off.”
Pelton touched the wall in her heat in 1:01.11.
“I just wanted to get in and make it back to the final,” Pelton said. “That was a pretty strong swim but I feel like I have room to improve.”
Only Hayley McGregory, who has been training this year under Bob Bowman at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and finished in 59.93, and Elizabeth Beisel, who posted a 1:00.69, swam faster.
Later in the morning, Katie Hoff rebounded—slightly—from her sixth place finish in the 400 freestyle Tuesday by advancing to Wednesday’s final of the 200 free.
Hoff, however, posted just the sixth-best qualifying time (1:59.40) in an event in which she holds the American record of 1:55.78.
After the swim, Hoff said an illness that forced her to withdraw from a mid-June meet in Santa Clara interfered with her training and caused her to consider not even competing at this meet.
“I thought about possibly not coming here, to be honest,” Hoff said. “I didn’t want to be a quitter this year after everything I’ve been through. Things didn’t pan out the way I wanted…. But I’m happy to have slipped into the final tonight.”
Dana Vollmer posted the top qualifying time (1:56.88), followed by 400 free U.S. champion Allison Schmitt (1:58.63). Ariana Kukors (1:59.11) finished third overall and Dagny Knutson (1:59.20) was fourth. As expected, Kate Ziegler, who remains at home in Great Falls recovering from the flu, did not compete.
Hoff said she will also swim the 100 free here, but will not compete in the 800 as planned.
Since the Beijing Olympics last summer, when Hoff earned a silver and two bronze medals, Hoff has endured major changes in her life and training. She switched coaches—going from Paul Yetter to Bob Bowman—began college, started lifting weights for the first time and shifted her focus from the individual medley to the freestyle.
“We have talked about this being a low-key year, but actually it’s been the hardest year of my life,” Hoff said. “It’s been different training, a different environment; it’s been anything but low-key.”
Hoff did not have the luxury of taking the season off like Olympic star Natalie Coughlin.
“It would have been nice” to do that,” Hoff said. “Natalie’s Speedo contract is done. She could do that. She’s 26. I’m 20. She’s a little farther away down the road.”
Said Phelps, who trains with Hoff: “It’s a little bump in the road. I think she’s going to get through it. It’s probably not easy, but I think she’s learned a lot about herself over the last year.”
In the men's 100 back heats, Aaron Peirsol finished in 53.28, topping Nick Thoman, who trains under Bowman at NBAC and finished in 53.51. Matt Grevers came in third in 53.76. Peirsol will be trying to get back the world record in the event, which he recently lost to Spain's Aschwin Wildeboer Faber (52.38).