With Olympic Trials fast approaching, we're taking a look at each of the eight days of competition, which will begin June 25 and conclude July 2. We break down who we see as the favorites entering the meet, preview each event, make our our picks for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, and give you a list of current and former local area competitors.
Promoters could not have drawn up the opening day of competition any better, with a likely heavyweight showdown between legends to kick things off and an all-out dogfight between some of America's best and brightest women to finish. Night one will feature the finals of both 400-meter individual medley events and the men's 400-meter freestyle, as well as the semifinals for the women's 100 butterfly and men's 100 breaststroke.
Day One — June 25
Men's 400 individual medley
Ryan Lochte ran away with the gold at FINA World Championships in Shanghai, posting a time more than four seconds faster than silver medalist and American teammate Tyler Clary. But event world record holder Michael Phelps, who had sworn never again to race the physically-demanding 400 IM in international competition following Beijing, was not in the mix at Shanghai. Fast forward to 2012, and it looks more and more like Phelps will break his promise to himself. An impressive time at the March Indianapolis Grand Prix was the fastest in the event by an American this year and has forced Phelps and Coach Bob Bowman to reconsider their schedule for London.
Because the 400 IM lends itself to versatile swimmers who have many Olympic Trials events from which to choose, it is somewhat difficult to determine who will show up to swim the medley in Omaha. Phelps remains a question mark. In addition, Peter Vanderkaay, who owns the second-fastest time for an American this year, may be better served to forego the IM to focus on his distance freestyle events later in the day. Likewise, neither Tyler Clary, who is better positioned to qualify for the team in the 200 backstroke and 200 butterfly, nor Conor Dwyer, who is considering the 400 freestyle event, are guaranteed to be behind the blocks in Omaha for the 400 IM despite entering so highly seeded.
2008 Olympic Champion: Michael Phelps (United States) 4:03.84
World Record: Michael Phelps (United States) 4:03.84, set in 2008.
American Record: Michael Phelps (Club Wolverine) 4:03.84, set in 2008.
Predicted Final heat:
*Times in parentheses reflect swimmer's meet entry time posted by USA Swimming
1. Ryan Lochte — 2011 FINA World Champion (4:07.13)
2. Tyler Clary — 2011 FINA Silver Medalist (4:09.20)
3. Michael Phelps — World Record Holder (4:12.51)
4. Tyler Harris — 2011 ACC Champion in 400-yard IM (4:15.40)
5. Robert Margalis — U.S. National Champion in 400 IM (4:15.62)
6. Conor Dwyer — U.S. National Champion in 200 IM (4:15.97)
7. Chase Kalisz — Phelps's 17-year-old NBAC teammate, top 18-and-under swimmer (4:18.43)
8. Austen Thompson — 2012 NCAA Champion in 400-yard IM (4:19.88)
The 400 IM will be Andrew Seliskar's (Curl-Burke/Jefferson HS) first race under the lights of CenturyLink Center. The 15-year-old is Potomac Valley's youngest male Trials qualifier and currently ranks 97th on the U.S. Olympic Trials list in the 400 IM He will also swim the 200 butterfly and 200 IM later in the week. Meanwhile, Bradley Phillips (Curl-Burke/UVa/Oakton HS) is Potomac Valley's highest-ranked qualifier, sitting 45th on the Trials list. Ian Decker (Curl-Burke/Alabama/O'Connell; 104th) and Preston Wolter (George Mason; 116th) round out the field of Potomac Valley qualifiers.
Picks for London: Phelps, Lochte. If Phelps has truly recommitted himself to this event, London should feature a final that will rival the Lochte-Phelps 200 IM duel in Shanghai last summer.
Men's 400-meter freestyle
Peter Vanderkaay placed fourth at 2011 Shanghai World Championships, behind world record holder Paul Biederman (Germany), who took bronze, and Olympic champion Park Tae-Hwan, who took gold [Correction: Vanderkaay was fourth at Worlds, not second as previously stated]. With his credentials in a race that often goes to those with the most experience, it's hard to imagine Vanderkaay not making his third straight Olympic Games, especially the way he has been training in Florida with the Gator Swim Club under U.S. Olympic swim coach Gregg Troy.
He'll face competition from a group of young pros, including Matt McLean (FAST/Virginia/SNOW/Potomac Falls), Michael Klueh (FAST), and Charlie Houchin.
McLean is the national champion in the event, winning last August in what was a brilliantly executed race from start to finish. So far in 2012, he holds the fastest time by an American (3:49.88), posted in March at the Danish Open.
Michael Klueh (FAST) finished second behind McLean at Nationals last summer and has been swimming really well this spring. He'll be joined in challenging McLean by another experienced mid-distance freestyler, Charlie Houchin, who represented the U.S. along with Vanderkaay at the World Championships in Shanghai and finished third at U.S. Nationals behind McLean and Klueh. Both swimmers have been consistently in the 3:50-3:51 range at Grand Prix events this year, so expect some great swims at Trials.
Tyler Clary (FAST), not known for his freestyle, threw down some impressive times at the Indianapolis and Austin Grand Prix events this year, going sub-3:50 three times in four swims. He could throw his hat in the ring if he wanted to, but I doubt it considering he's known for being an IMer. But if Michael Phelps decides to take another crack at the decathlon of swimming, it would all but lock up the top spots with Ryan Lochte already deadset on competing. Another IM-specialist, Conor Dwyer (Gator Swim Club), may also decide to forgo matching up against the sports juggernauts in the 400 IM and take a stab at the 400 freestyle instead. He posted a 3:51.59 in March at the Indianapolis Grand Prix, making him more than competitive once rested and tapered.
2008 Olympic Champion: Park Tae-Hwan (South Korean) 3:41.86.
World Record: Paul Biedermann (Germany) 3:40.07, set in 2009.
American Record: Larsen Jensen (Trojan Swim Club) 3:42.78, set in 2008.
Predicted Final Heat:
1. Peter Vanderkaay — 2009 & 2010 U.S. National Champion; 2011 U.S. National Champion, 200 free (3:44.83)
2. Matthew McLean — 2011 U.S. National Champion (3:47.33)
3. Charlie Houchin — 2011 Pan American Games Champion (3:47.98)
4. Michael Klueh — 2011 U.S. National Silver Medalist (3:48.24)
5. Chad La Tourette — 1,650-yard American record holder (3:48.76)
6. Matt Patton (3:49.24) — two-time Big Ten champion in 500-yard freestyle (3:49.24)
7. Michael McBroom — 2011 NCAA Champion in 1,650-yard freestyle (3:49.94)
8. Conor Dwyer — U.S. National Champion in 200 IM (3:51.40)
Local competitors: Along with Matt McLean, Bradley Phillips and Michael Flach (South Carolina/FISH/O'Connell) will compete in their first Olympic Trials. Phillips is hoping to rebound from a disappointing showing in the 500-yard freestyle at the ACC Championship meet. He currently sits in 87th position entering the meet.
Flach did not compete during the collegiate season this year. Instead, he chose to take an Olympic red shirt and spent the year training for Trials. It seems to have worked out well for the 20-year-old who has a shot at the semis, seeded 19th. He should enter with some confidence after traveling to London in March to compete in the British Swimming Championships at the brand new London Aquatic Centre built for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Picks for London: Vanderkaay, McLean. Vanderkaay is the easy pick in this race and should have no problem locking up the top spot. The second spot on the team is really a toss up. Houchin and Klueh have the experience to take this race, and Clary and Dwyer could make a run at it if they opt out of the IM event. Probably showing some local bias here, but McLean was really impressive in the big moment last year at Nationals. We expect to see that again, so we're going with McLean.
Women's 400-meter individual medley
This is one of the United States' youngest fields, but despite that, there is a wealth of experience. Florida freshman Elizabeth Beisel enters as the top American prospect and the reigning world champion in the event. Fours years ago, at just 14-years-old, she made the Olympics in the 400 IM, behind Katie Hoff. Beisel has just kept getting better ever since. She's a backstroker, so expect her to take the first half of the race out very fast and then try to hold on.
The person who will be running her down will most definitely be breaststroke specialist Caitlin Leverenz, who has a shot at making the team in the 200 breaststroke as well as both IM events. She's dominated all three events over the last year, particularly at the NCAA level.
On the heels of Beisel and Leverenz will be Ariana Kukors and Katie Hoff, showcasing just how stacked this event truly is for the Americans. Both swimmers are known for being great all-around swimmers. Kukors is the speedster, currently holding the world record for the 200-meter IM event, set in 2009. Hoff is the American record holder in the event and was the bronze medalist in Beijing four years ago.
2008 Olympic Champion: Stephanie Rice (Australia) 4:29.45.
World Record: Stephanie Rice (Australia) 4:29.45, set in 2008.
American Record: Katie Hoff (North Baltimore Aquatic Club) 4:31.12, set in 2008.
Predicted Final Heat:
1. Elizabeth Beisel — 2011 FINA World Champion (4:31.78)
2. Caitlin Leverenz — 2012 NCAA Champion in 200-yard IM and 200-yard breaststroke (4:35.60)
3. Ariana Kukors — World Record Holder, 200-meter IM (4:37.03)
4. Katie Hoff — 2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist (4:37.51)
5. Maya Dirado — 2011 U.S. Nationals Silver Medalist (4:37.88)
6. Cammile Adams — 2011 U.S. Nationals Bronze Medalist (4:38.80)
7. Julia Smit — World Record Holder (short course), 400-meter IM and 200-meter IM (4:38.83)
8. Jana Mangimelli — 4th at 2012 NCAA Championships in 400-yard misoprostol IM (4:41.23)
Local competitors: The 400 IM is just one of an astounding eight events Janet Hu (Curl-Burke/Oakton HS) qualified for in her first Olympic Trials. The 16-year-old and her coach will probably scale down her schedule before Trials, but Hu is so versatile, this could prove to be a great event for the rising high school junior. We do know she'll have a swim on every day of the competition, with a shot at night swim in several events. Her former Oakton teammate Kaitlin Pawlowicz (Texas/Curl-Burke) is coming off a great freshman year at the University of Texas. The 400 IM will most likely be a warm-up for the 400 freestyle on Day Two.
Picks for London: Leverenz, Beisel. This may be one of the toughest events to call at Trials this year. Leverenz has been on a tear during the 2011-2012 season, so she gets the nod for the first spot. Beisel is the hot pick after winning last year in Shanghai, and so we're going with her for the second position. That leaves the American record holder and 2008 bronze medalist Katie Hoff on the outside looking in, but don't fret, she will still have the 200, 400, and 800 freestyle events to make the team.