Arena Grand Prix Series: The Halfway Point
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Three down, three to go.
We’re now officially halfway finished with the Arena Grand Prix Series. So far, swim fans have congregated in Minneapolis, Austin, and Orlando to see some of the world’s best swimming, including swimmers like Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Anthony Ervin, Dana Vollmer, and many others. On the horizon are warm-weather destinations including Mesa, Arizona (April 11-13), Charlotte, North Carolina (May 9-12), and Santa Clara, California (May 30-June 2).
As we pause and reflect on the Halfway Point of the Arena Grand Prix series, here are five of the major storylines. There have been phenomenal races so far in this post-Olympic year, but these are some of the bigger, underlying storylines we’ve seen…
5. A historic amount of cash money.
Matt Farrell, the CMO of USA Swimming, tweeted following the conclusion of the Arena Grand Prix at Orlando that there was still $80,000 worth of prize money to award swimmers. The Arena Grand Prix has already awarded $70,000 to professional swimmers. Take a second to digest that. Previously, only $20,000 was awarded for the entire Arena Grand Prix Series. Now, around $150,000 will be awarded to professionally qualifying swimmers. For the first time in the Arena Grand Prix circuit, these financial awards are actually some major piles of Scrooge McDuck-esque cash. A few professional swimmers have taken advantage, like Mike Alexandrov, Ryan Lochte, and Chloe Sutton. As the NCAA season winds down next month, we’ll see collegiate seniors hit the Arena Grand Prix circuit in hopes of a Top-3 finish and cash rewards.
4. Swimmers returning to the pool.
Most swimmers take time off following the Olympic Trials or the Olympics. They reflect, analyze the previous few years, and determine where they want to go. Some swimmers ultimately retire, like Olympians Peter Vanderkaay or Jason Lezak. Other veterans return to the pool, like Chloe Sutton, Anthony Ervin, and Nathan Adrian. In Minneapolis, to the delight of swim fans everywhere, David Plummer came back to the pool. In Orlando, Dana Vollmer hit the sprint events again. With each Arena Grand Prix, another big name throws his or her hat into the pool and says, “I’m back.” Who will we see in Mesa? Or Charlotte? Or Santa Clara? I’m hoping Natalie Coughlin swims again in Santa Clara. I’m also hoping to see Cullen Jones and Josh Schneider duke it out again in Charlotte. And maybe swimmers with some Arizona connections in Mesa (Amanda Beard?).
3. Live broadcasts of each Arena Grand Prix.
Some swim fans were worried that after the retirement of Michael Phelps the Arena Grand Prix meets wouldn’t be live-streamed. Well, not only are they streamed on the USA Swimming Network, but they’re also broadcast on Universal Sports. With each Arena Grand Prix, swim fans congregate to computers or TVs to watch and “live tweet” each race. Just because NBC doesn’t live-broadcast every swim meet doesn’t mean swim fans are denied the ability to watch Missy or Ryan.
2. Ryan Lochte admits to a less intense training schedule.
After the Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps took time off. It wasn’t until later in 2011 when Phelps began to show that Beijing spirit, a year out or so from the London Olympics. When your sport culminates every four years at the Olympics, you can afford to take time to pursue other passions. That’s what we’re seeing with Ryan Lochte. He’s still making four or five practices a week, but after the Arena Grand Prix at Orlando, Lochte admitted that his latest reality show “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” is taking energy (and time) away from training. Which is OK. This is normal. Imagine you sacrifice your life to train for the Olympics. Ryan Lochte wanted to be in a reality show? Let him pursue that. According to him, he’s only taking eight weeks with a less intense training regime. In the grand scheme, eight weeks isn’t that much. We’ll see Lochte be ready to go by this summer’s World Championships, and he has still been making the Arena Grand Prix stops. As long as he’s on the pool deck at these Grand Prix stops, signing autographs and taking pictures, I don’t think swim fans will complain if he’s relatively “off” his swim times.
1. The teenagers are taking over.
After London, there were some worries about the future of USA Swimming. What would it be like without Michael Phelps winning 22 Olympic medals? Would we be as competitive? Would the United States be hurting for top-level youth? Turns out, we have more top-level youth swimmers than we know what to do with. Ryan Murphy beat Ryan Lochte in the 100m backstroke. Missy Franklin continues to dominate. 15-year-old Becca Mann proved to the world that she’s going to be a formidable player come 2016. In high school swimming, Jack Conger and Katie Ledecky have broken historic high school records. Michael Andrew continues to swim incredibly well for a younger swimmer. There are names after names of teenage phenoms coming through the ranks, presumably kids who grew up rooting and cheering for the Baltimore Bullet. If Michael Phelps did anything for the sport of swimming, he may have inspired the next great generation of swimmers for decades to come. We’re already seeing that happen today. Who knows who will come around, not only the latter half of the Arena Grand Prix, but next year, then in 2015, and beyond…
Three down, three to go. It doesn’t seem like it, but we’re already halfway through the Arena Grand Prix series after the London Olympics.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer for USA Swimming and Splash Magazine.