Charlotte GP: 5 Storylines to Watch
By Mike gustafson//Correspondent
The Arena Grand Prix at Charlotte (in addition to the Charlotte UltraSwim, which happens simultaneously) is one of the storied traditions in swimming. For decades, the nation’s fastest swimmers converged in Charlotte in May to race. The past few years have been no exception. Huge financial prizes, media coverage, top-of-the-line athlete recreational areas, thoughtful hospitality, and even something known as “The Schwim-Off” have been huge storylines from Charlotte these past few years. (Though there will not be a huge $20,000 check given for the UltraSwim high-point winner this year, there will be prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places.)
This year, once again, the best swimmers in the country compete in Charlotte. If you’re an east-coaster, consider venturing to North Carolina to see this fan-friendly event. The stands are located right on the pool deck, making for a somewhat crowded atmosphere, but perfect for the aspiring age-group swimmers to rub shoulders (sometimes literally) with their Olympic heroes.
As always, here are your 5 Storylines.
1. Allison Schmitt Returns to Long Course.
No doubt about it: “Schmitty” made a name for herself last summer. The NBAC and University of Georgia swimmer conquered London’s 200 freestyle, solidifying her placement among Olympic freestyle greats. Recently, younger swimmers like Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin have swum lightning-fast 200m freestyle in-season times. We’ll see if Schmitt can counter the youngens. She’ll be pushed this weekend by Georgia teammates Megan Romano (who holds the American record in the 200-yard freestyle) and Shannon Vreeland (who scored 4th in the 200 freestyle at NCAAs). Sam Cheverton, Lia Neal and Leah Smith could also surprise some folks. But this is – and will continue to be – Schmitty’s event to lose. Though Franklin and Ledecky aren’t scheduled this weekend, this event is building to be one of this summer’s best.
2. Men’s 200 Freestyle Features 5 of 6 Olympic Relay Participants.
Here are the first 5 names on the 200m psyche sheet: Lochte. Berens. Dwyer. McLean. Houchin. That was also the order of finish at the 2012 Olympic Trials, save for one very important name. The only missing participant from the London 800 freestyle relay? A certain guy named “Michael Phelps.” Other than the Baltimore Bullet, you have your top-6 finishers at last summer’s Olympic Trials all competing this weekend in the 200m free. Charlotte has always featured fantastic 200 free match-ups. (Vanderkaay, Lochte, Phelps, Berens, etc.) Though Lochte, who may still be busy with his reality show, might not be at the top of the pack, expect some fast swimming from the rest of the field. Berens could make a statement by conquering this field, though Dwyer should challenge as well.
3. Dana Vollmer vs. Claire Donahue in the 100m fly.
Claire Donahue was one of last summer’s huge surprises. Coming out of Western Kentucky University – not exactly a Mecca of Olympic swimming tradition – Donahue claimed the second Olympic roster spot behind the mighty Vollmer at last summer’s Trials. She gained immeasurable international swimming experience, competing in the Olympic finals of the 100m fly. What’s in store for this summer? Donahue’s time drops have been consistent since her freshmen year of college. It’ll be interesting to see Donahue race the heavily favored Vollmer, both in Charlotte and later this summer at Nationals.
4. NCAA Swimmers Return to the Competition Pool.
Now that the NCAA season is over, many collegiate swimmers are back in the pool, having returned from spring breaks and ready to compete in the long course format. Many college swimmers have some difficulty adjusting to long course, as it’s an entirely different race compared to the collegiate short course format. So you almost have to think that post-graduate veterans who were able to train long course this past winter have the advantage in Charlotte, but you never know. Elizabeth Beisel is a long course veteran and returns to the Grand Prix circuit. Laura Sogar had a great NCAAs, winning the 200 breaststroke. Cody Miller, Katie Meili, Kelsey Floyd, Annie Zhu and Chase Kalisz are some other younger names to watch this long course season. Now their attention shifts from short course to the World Championship Trials later this summer. Expect some surprises from the collegiate swimmers who are returning to competition this weekend.
5. Schneider vs. Jones vs. Ervin in the 50 freestyle.
You won’t find a more interesting and fascinating field than this one. In Josh Schneider, you have a guy who played football in high school and didn’t start seriously swimming until college. In Cullen Jones, you have the face of the Make-A-Splash program and one of the most talented swimmers in recent years. In Anthony Ervin, you have a man who has re-found his love for the competition pool, a 31-year-old tattooed rock-n-roll enthusiast enjoying being back at the top of the swim world again. This could be the race of the weekend. The 50 freestyle is always that splash-and-dash event, but when you consider the histories and personalities involved in this men’s 50m freestyle, in a race decided by a flick of the wrist or rotation of the hand, this event has everything you could want. Don’t miss it.
You can catch all the action live on the USA Swimming Network starting this Thursday!