New kids on the block

2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Full Results

Three days into the US Olympic team trials and they have not disappointed in their drama and quality. Matching the expansive light shows of the CenturyLink Center the swimming coming from the United States has also lit up the pool and turned the heads of the world of swimming.

The storyline for the meet so far is pencilled in as the ‘changing of the guard’. A script that shows how Olympic champions of yesteryear are missing out to a new wave of kids who want their own chance at Olympic glory. With a talent pool like the United States have always had, upsets and places missed are inevitable, but not many would have predicted as many reigning Olympic champions (Lochte, Grevers, Franklin, Coughlin, Vollmer) to be overshadowed by those who have treated them as idols.

Unsurprisingly the two anomalies determined to stray away from this plot are the two powerhouses of the American swimming. Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps. Ledecky blasted her way on to the 2016 Olympic team with a dominate performance in the 400m freestyle. She was a little eager on the first half of the race; going out in an astounding 1.56.2 to feet (suggesting that there is 1.53 high in the 200 final on Day 4), but her finishing time 3.58.98 is still the third fastest of all time to punch her ticket on the team. It is scary to think how fast she may go in Brazil when she gets the pacing right. Alongside Ledecky, swam Leah Smith who put together one of the swims of the meet to qualify in second and make the team. 4.00.65 ranks Smith second in the World this year by some margin and 5th on the all-time list.

The greatest and most experienced of all the past American Olympians is Michael Phelps. With a long wait through Days 1 and 2, he has yet to have his opportunity to qualify (that comes in the 200m butterfly later today) but in the centre lane for the final and a full second ahead of the field MP is overwhelming favourite to do just this. With many surprises coming already and we are yet to reach half way through the meet, it highlights what a significant feat Phelps is trying to achieve this week. Qualifying for a 5th Olympics Games, has quite understandably not been done by a male for swimming’s leading nation, where on five separate occasions and over 16 years he will have had to fend off swimmers who if they qualify are likely to have ample chance of picking up silverware at the major games. When you put it like that, and you consider the dominance over such a period, there’s no reason not to call the man the G.O.A.T.

Ryan Lochte has had a whirlwind couple of days. He only managed to muster a 3rd place finish on the 400IM on Day 1, after pulling his groin in the heats of the same event. Chase Kalisz and triplet Jay Litherland capitalised on Lochte’s struggles to book their place on the plane to Rio. Litherland, although a surprise to many, built on his recent form at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Indianapolis to tear up the freestyle leg and get his hand to the wall before a fading Lochte.

This disappointed Lochte, used all his class and experience to bounce back and gain a place on the 4×200 relay coming 4th in the individual event last night (1.46.62). It is difficult to assess how much the groin is going to affect the remainder of his week, but the superstar rated his injury on a pain scale of 7/10 when asked about it after the 200 final. You can add at least 2 points to that score, to a man who knows at this stage thinking the worst is not going to help him, so hiding how much discomfort it is giving him is an almost guarantee. He has the 100 freestyle and 200 backstroke next and depending on which part of the groin might be manageable, but the worry is the 200 IM (in which he holds the World Record – 1.54.00), where he will have to put his injury through a breaststroke leg against his long-time rival Phelps. If Lochte is able to overcome this, particularly in the medley, there’s an argument for one of the swims of the week.

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The Men’s 200m freestyle event did not disappoint, and only added to what will be a fascinating race come the Olympic Games. The three spots taken above Lochte, were split by only 11 one hundredths of a second, with Townley Haas (1.45.66) and Conor Dwyer (1.45.67) taking the individual births respectively and Jack Conger (1.45.77) taking third. Although Dwyer went faster at the Arena Pro Series in Santa Clara against Sun Yang last month (1.45.41), it is job well done with two Olympic individual tickets to Brazil. As the USA quite often do after their trials week, they have just moved into the favourite position for the 4×200 freestyle relay. Their combined time (Haas, Dwyer, Conger, Lochte) adds up to a sharp 7.03.72. To put that in perspective, if you add up the 2016 trials times from Australia and GBR you reach 7.04.74 and 7.06.85 respectively. GBR won the gold at the World Championships in Kazan in 7.04.33, so they have some work to do to be back at the top of the podium.

The Men’s 100 Backstroke lived up to expectation as three swimmers were vying for only two places, understandably there was always going to be one man finishing disappointed. It was reigning Olympic Champion Matt Grevers who wasn’t able to show the required speed in the final 20 metres, as Ryan Murphy touched the timing pad first in 52.26 just ahead of David Plummer in 52.28. The 30-year-old Plummer has famously missed out a number of times over the years, even though if he had made the team he would be a medal contender, so it is great to see him punch his ticket this time. It’s a tough ask for Grevers who will now be looking to qualify for the 4×100 freestyle to travel to brazil with the USA team.

Missy Franklin is another Olympic star that has struggled for form thus far. Whether it is nerves, tension or taper gone wrong, she was well off the speed expected of her in the 100 backstroke. Placing 7th and some 2 seconds off her best time it is hard to see her being at her best in the double distance later in the week. She is however likely to make the 4x200m relay this evening which will certainly relieve some of the pressures.

Dana Vollmer booked her place on the team touching 2nd in the 100 Butterfly, but the reigning Olympic Gold medallist was overshadowed by Kelsi Worrell (featured in title picture) swimming in Lane 5 who clocked a time of 56.45 putting her No.2 in the World and a medal contender in Rio. An impressive breakthrough from a lady who finished 37th in Omaha 4 years ago.

Lilly King joined the Olympic qualifiers with a dominant display in the Women’s 100 Breaststroke. Her time of 1.05.20 now ranks her the fastest female on the planet ahead of Efimova and Meilutyte. Conor Jaeger paced his 400m freestyle final to perfection, coming through the field in the last 100 metres and touching in an impressive best time of 3.43.79 and ranking him 3rd in the world. Maya Dirado also dominated the 400 Individual Medley and lead the field by 3 seconds to earn her ticket to Brazil with a time of 4.33.73.

Phelps, after scratching both 100 and 200 freestyle, will need to watch out for the in-form Jack Conger and Gunner Bentz in the 200 Butterfly. Both qualified for the team in the 4×200 relay by coming 3rd and 5th in the 200 freestyle final just before they qualified for that butterfly final. A double that the experienced Tyler Clary wasn’t able to do after missing out on both the freestyle relay and the butterfly final.

2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Full Results

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