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Five Storylines to Watch: Arena Grand Prix at Orlando

2/12/2014

By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

While the world’s greatest winter Olympians take to the slopes, rinks, and half-pipes in Sochi, this weekend, someOrlando GP (small) of the world’s best “summer athletes” trek to the sunny, cloudless skies of Orlando, Florida. The Arena Grand Prix at Orlando kicks off this Thursday, featuring a deep international field and several London Olympic gold medalists. The big story of the meet?

The return of Ryan Lochte.

That’s right, swim fans. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

So while many will watch the Winter Olympics, check here for live streaming coverage of the Arena Grand Prix at Orlando. There will be close races, up-and-coming talent, and the return of swimming’s most electric racer after a “freak” injury kept him out of competition for several months.

As always, here are your 5 Storylines To Watch….

1. Ryan Lochte Returns to Competition; Florida.

After suffering a reported knee injury last fall that kept him out of competition for several months, Ryan Lochte returns to the pool. (Or at least, he’s scheduled to). Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Lochte headlines the first men’s events on Thursday with the 200m freestyle, where he’ll be challenged by Charlie Houchin. Lochte is scheduled in several other events including the 100 fly and the 100 back, which could be one of the weekend’s biggest races, taking on Olympic silver medalist Nick Thoman. Don’t miss Lochte’s match-ups against fellow Olympic teammate Tyler Clary, either. Though they won’t race in the 400 IM, Lochte is entered in both the 200 IM and the 200 backstroke, setting up electric showdowns in the Sunshine State.

The huge question here is, obviously, how is Lochte’s knee? Is he recovered after a swim fan unexpectedly jumped on him, resulting in a freak knee injury that cost training time? For an IMer, the breaststroke kick is largely dependent on strong knees. It’ll be interesting to analyze Lochte’s breaststroke splits to see how healed that knee is. Another X-Factor: For the first time in his career, Lochte will sport a swim cap not from the state of Florida. Lochte has trained in Florida his entire life. Now, Lochte has switched training locations to join David Marsh and SwimMAC Carolina in Charlotte. Certainly, Lochte will be the story of the meet, for several reasons on his Floridian homecoming.

2. Florida on display.

In addition to the nation’s best races, Arena Grand Prixs also serve as spotlights for local swim clubs. This Grand Prix is a spotlight for several outstanding Florida swim clubs, including Bolles Swim Club in Jacksonville. Coached by Sergio Lopez, the hottest name in coaching, Bolles brings one of its all-star swimmers, Joseph Schooling. If you want to see Schooling, check out the men’s 200m butterfly. Though he’s only 18-years-old, Schooling takes on Tyler Clary in one of swimming’s toughest events. Recently, Bolles has made headlines for producing some of high school swimming’s greatest all-time performances. With the nation’s spotlight shining on Florida, we’ll see some of Bolles’ best.

3. Katinka Hosszu looks to get on the Arena Grand Prix leaderboard.

Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu could dominate several events this weekend. The Hungarian Olympian is a top-seed in several events, though she’ll have plenty of competition before ascending the top podium. In the IMs, Hosszu battles Caitlin Leverenz, 2012 Olympian. In the 100 back, Hosszu battles Megan Romano. And in the 400 freestyle, Hosszu is seeded behind Chloe Sutton, another Olympic swimmer. Hosszu has a full slate of events, and it’ll be interesting to see how she responds and recovers in each race. With a great weekend, we’ll see her name on the overall leaderboard, as well as see her continue to become a presence in the Arena Grand Prix circuit.

4. The Most International Field of any Grand Prix?

Scan the heat sheets. This could be the most international field of any Arena Grand Prix. For instance, in the men’s 100 backstroke, 12 of the top 16 seeded swimmers are not Americans. This sets up an opportunistic weekend for the nation’s elite to compete against the world. Venezuela, Mexico, Germany, Columbia, Peru, and Ontario all have entered relays. Plenty of other swimmers from other countries will compete. One of the biggest international swim stars in the world, Cesar Cielo, takes on Cullen Jones in the 50 and Jimmy Feigen in the 100m freestyles, which could be two of the closest “World vs. USA” races of the weekend.

5. Olympic-level showdowns.

Olympic storylines start here, at mid-season meets like this one. Two athletes race each other. One wins. The other gains knowledge, insight, and motivation for the next match-up. This weekend features several key races of swimmers who could be competing for greater glory down the road, either this summer, next year’s World Championships, or at the Olympics in Rio. A few races that you don’t want to miss:

Nick Thoman vs. Ryan Lochte in the 100m backstroke is a race to watch, especially for medley relay ramifications. Cesar Cielo, mentioned earlier, versus an up-and-coming Jimmy Feigen is another race that could foreshadow things to come. Don’t miss Megan Romano’s races, either. Especially as she battles Madison Kennedy and Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace in the 50 freestyle. Romano is one of the most exciting swimmers in the nation.

All of these races should be stellar. All of them could be previews of things to come. And while some of the world’s best athletes heat up the snow and ice in Sochi, down in sunny Orlando, the water heats up.

Be sure to tune in to usaswimming.org this weekend to watch the Arena Grand Prix at Orlando LIVE. Universal Sports will also air live coverage on Thursday and Friday at 6 p.m. ET.