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5 Storylines to Watch at the AT&T Winter National Championships

11/28/2012

By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

The past three-and-a-half months have felt like an eternity. It’s almost unfair to go from the whirlwind excitement of the Olympics to a void in major competition after the season is over. Part of me wishes there was some aquatic version of Ice Capades that our Olympics must take part of, just so swim fans have something to fill the competition void.

Finally, this weekend, our favorite Olympians are back. The AT&T Winter National Championships kick off the 2012-2013 season this weekend in Austin, Texas. And, as a fun measure, it’s in short course yards. There are some very big names slated to attend – Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Matt Grevers, Nathan Adrian, Katie Ledecky, Jessica Hardy – in addition to some very promising up-and-comers.

Here are some of the big storylines to watch this weekend:

5. Katie Ledecky battles fellow ’12 Olympian Haley Anderson in the 500/1650.
Two of the biggest, most thrilling surprises this summer at the London Olympics were Ledecky and Anderson. Ledecky, as I’m sure you’re well aware by now, swam lights-out in the 800m freestyle. Her performance earned her two Golden Goggles for “Performance of the Year” and “Breakout Swimmer of the Year.” Anderson had an equally stellar Olympics, scoring a silver medal in the mega-distance event, the women’s 10k open water swim. This weekend, the two will go head-to-head in both the 500 and the 1650. Only one second separates them in both races. While it’s doubtful either will approach Katie Hoff’s American records this early in the swim season, you just never know – especially with a very young swimmer in Ledecky. Also, be on the watch for Minnesota’s Ashley Steenvoorden to challenge in both races. All three women could challenge for the 500 and 1650 titles, which will make for some exciting racing in the distance events.

4. Nathan Adrian displays his short-course sprinting superpowers.
Man, I’m excited for Nathan Adrian’s races this weekend. The Cal-Berkeley swimmer scored what was the race of the year, earning gold by .01 over James “The Missile” Magnusson (wait, I thought Missy Franklin was “The Missile”?). But swim fans will be able to see our own Missile Detonator compete in the short-course version of both the 50 and the 100 distances, both of which he holds the American record. Folks, you’re witnessing the world’s greatest sprinter right now. He’ll have his hands full with Garrett Weber-Gale and Jimmy Feigen, among others, but seriously, Nathan Adrian could rip out some very fast swims this weekend. I’d love for him to approach Cesar Cielo’s U.S. Open records in both events.

3. Can Jessica Hardy chase down Breeja’s Larson’s new American Record?
Jessica Hardy defines perseverance. In 2008, she tested positive for an illegal substance and was dismissed from the Olympic team after already qualifying. In 2009, she came back one year later, broke several world records, and reclaimed her world dominance. In 2012, she qualified for the Olympics in both the 50 and 100 freestyles. But the biggest surprise was that she did NOT qualify in the 100 breaststroke, an event she holds the world record in. That honor went to Rebecca Soni and newcomer Breeja Larson. Recently, as in just a few weeks ago, Larson broke the short course 100 breaststroke American record at an NCAA invitational meet in Houston. Now, can Hardy catch Larson? It’s too bad that Larson, a swimmer at Texas A&M, cannot drive over to Austin and compete against Hardy this weekend. But Larson’s record stands there in the record books, and you know that Hardy is eyeing it…

2. How low will Missy Franklin go?
It’s official. Missy Franklin WILL compete in high school for one last final swimming season, the Denver Post reported this morning. Which means a few things: 1.) Sorry, any female high school swimmer living in Colorado, you will not win a state title in the 200 freestyle or 100 backstroke (or whatever Franklin decides to swim.) 2.) Missy Franklin will absolutely destroy the high school national records this coming high school swimming season. 3.) On top of that, I’m predicting Missy Franklin will destroy some American records, as well. Franklin swam very close to a few of them in the 100 back, 200 back, and 200 freestyles back at the Minneapolis Grand Prix. Expect Missy Franklin to better those times this weekend. Could she break 50-point in the 100 back? Could she go under 1:50-point in the 200 back? This season, yes. This weekend? Possibly. However, with today’s announcement that Franklin will be swimming high school this year, get ready, swim fans. You could see one of the most incredible short course seasons turned in by a high schooler in swimming history.

1. The men’s 100 backstroke is shaping up to be the Race of the Season.
2012 Olympic gold medalist Matt Grevers has to be the favorite in every single 100 backstroke he swims in for the rest of his life, right? Then why does this event look so competitive? You’ve got Ryan Lochte, who holds the American record in this event in yards. You’ve got Tom Shields, NCAA Champion in this event. You’ve got Ryan Murphy, who could be the next Aaron Peirsol. Just between the four of these swimmers alone, you’ve got a stellar match-up against the nation’s best backstrokers. In this race, I’m still picking the 6’8” Grevers, but in short course yards, in the middle of the season, anything can happen. How huge would it be if the 17-year-old Murphy out-touched the defending Olympic champion in this event? Interestingly: Both Murphy and Grevers are/were coached by the same man, Sergio Lopez (Murphy at Bolles, where he still trains, and Grevers at Northwestern, where Lopez was once associate head coach during Grevers’ NCAA career). This race is shaping up to be the Can’t Miss Race of the meet…

As always, tune in here to USASwimming.org/nationals for LIVE coverage of the AT&T Winter National Championships. Check back for more coverage as the meet goes on.