Today the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials begin in Omaha, Nebraska. Over the next eight days (26th June – 3rd July) approximately 2000 swimmers will race across 26 individual events, hoping to make the possible team of 52 (maximum places available) travelling to Rio De Janeiro later this summer to represent their country. This will be the third consecutive Olympic swimming trials that have been hosted in Omaha, an event that has become notorious for its atmosphere, excitement and fierce competition.
The purpose built temporary pool is once again been constructed in the CenturyLink Center, but for the first time this qualification competition has been sold out with an estimated 200,000 fans attending throughout the week. No doubt this is due to not only the level of the competition, where only two Olympic places are available per event, but also the excitement Omaha has added to the spectacle with the introduction of lights, music, fire and fireworks which only intensifies audience engagement and increases athlete adrenaline. It is refreshing to see the USA recognising the need to move the sport on and make the event more of a showcase to develop new intrigue and interest in what is still a less mainstream sport.
It is a stance that many other countries should take note on, particularly in the UK who seem to adopt quite an opposite approach. Whilst U.S. trials actively push the idea of the pressure cooker that the Olympic trials inevitably is, through social media with #swimtrials16 or their spotlights and fire shows, Britain’s decision makers won’t even allow the word ‘Trials’ to be used or qualification times to be discussed. Instead the competition is called the British Championships and swimmers aren’t fully certain whether they are on the team until they are selected a week after the competition. The result – the atmosphere at the British qualification competition in Glasgow was a subdued one with many empty seats throughout the week and a competition where many of the stars underperformed.
With so much depth in USA swimming, where third place finishers at the US Trials could on some events be medal contenders in Rio if they were selected (only two places available per event), there is no doubt that this 8-day competition is going to be a very fast one. All the top senior swimmers will be rested and tapered for the first time in 2016 and will really show the rest of the world how competitive the US will be, come Brazil in August. With this being the last of the national selection qualification meets, the updated world rankings after Omaha will for the first time this year really highlight the medal favourites for the Olympic Games.
Nestled within these highly competitive races, as always, comes a number of great and interesting storylines that the American audience will watch unfold during the week. Headline act, Michael Phelps, competes for the last time on U.S. soil and will be attempting to make his 5th Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, becoming the first U.S. male swimmer to do so. With a new son, a new perspective on life and swimming, and the happiest and fittest he has looked since 2008, Phelps is exciting many with the prospect of how fast he will swim both in Omaha and later in Brazil. Phelps is still keeping his cards close to his chest when discussing his programme for the meet, and whether he will attempt either of the freestyle events.
Ryan Lochte has also stayed coy about which events he will stand behind the block for at the CenturyLink Center later in the week, but he has confirmed that he will be taking on the 400IM on the first day. With the longer individual medley event being one of the hardest in the programme, it was slightly surprising that at Lochte’s age (turns 32 just before the Olympics) is going for this one. Will he be fit enough to take on the younger guys? How well will he recover for the remainder of his races? Races you feel he will have to be at the top of his game for, particularly the 200IM where he goes one more time against Phelps.
Katie Ledecky has been in scintillating form already this year, breaking the 800 metre freestyle world record (8.06.68) in the process. Her dominance is something to behold in the distance events, and barring illness the female star is a shoe in for the 400m and 800m freestyle. More interestingly is how she fairs in the shorter 100m and 200m distances, against the likes of Missy Franklin and Simone Manuel, as arguably she doesn’t need to be fully tapered to qualify this week in the longer events due to her dominance.
The Men’s 100 metre backstroke is one of the most intriguing races in the programme. There are three men, Matt Grevers, Ryan Murphy and David Plummer, who are all at the top of the world rankings but there are only two places available and one must miss out. Whoever is able to get the touch on the day is likely to be very close to Aaron Peirsol’s World Record of 51.94. Unfortunately one of these men won’t be on the plane to South America.
There has been a lot of talk about the U.S. relay teams and how competitive they will be for the Gold medals in Rio. This is particularly apparent when referring to the Women’s freestyle relays, because the Australians (Campbell sisters) and the Dutch (Kromowidjojo and Heemskerk) have been very fast this year. Thus far the Americans are some way behind on world rankings and combined time, but unlike the other nations, they have not had their rested qualification meet yet. A statement is required in Omaha this week.
Conor Dwyer, who has been quiet on an individual basis in recent years, has been showing signs of his absolute best in 2016. He claimed he is as prepared as he has ever been leading into this week, having completed much of his training at altitude this year, and posting mid-season times just off his lifetime bests. Expect a big swim from him in the 200 metres freestyle on Day 2.
SwimWords will be updating throughout the week on the major stories and drama of the #swimtrials16
U.S. Olympic Team Trials Full Results