A New Chapter Begins
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
As soon as you walk into the Indiana University Natatorium on the campus of IUPUI, you're blinded by white hot lights. Then a calming ocean of blue. "The Nat" has morphed into a veritable "swim stage" complete with dramatic blue curtains, an oversized video scoreboard, TV cameras, championship banners, and a patriotic aqua-colored pool deck. It makes for a sensational "under the lights" scene straight out of Friday Night Lights, as though these swimmers were put on a stage to perform. It's beautiful, slightly intimidating, and the perfect venue to showcase our nation's greatest athletes.
Day One of the Phillips 66 National Championships is in the books. It's the first chapter of a new Olympiad. Later this summer, our best swimmers will head to Barcelona and the World Championships. But first, they must conquer Indianapolis. Here are some tidbits I noticed wandering the pool deck last night:
1. Missy Franklin continues to prove the theory that smileyness = fastness.
Is there anything that Missy Franklin can't do? In the first major final of the day -- the women's 100m freestyle -- Missy appeared as though she was down and out. She was beat. She was done. Her future Cal training partner, Natalie Coughlin, was out fast with the rest of the field, and Missy didn't appear as though she'd pull out a victory. Then, dramatically over the final 25 meters, Missy inched back on the field and overtook them. Later, Missy said, "The last 25 is my favorite part of the race." She said this, of course, with a smile. It makes me wonder about that chicken-versus-egg-esque theory about which comes first: The smile or the fast swimming? In Missy's case, maybe it's a little bit of both. The Smiley Club strikes again.
2. Jimmy Feigen has some good advice.
Minutes after placing second in the men's big showdown -- the 100m free -- Jimmy Feigen stood in front of reporters and gave some advice. "For any younger age groupers out there," Feigen said, "Just tell yourself, 'This doesn't hurt.'" That was Feigen's race strategy: Trick himself that the race just doesn't hurt. The theory seems straight out of Rocky movies when Apollo Creed screams into Rocky's face, "No pain!" After Feigen's break-through swim defeating Anthony Ervin, Matt Grevers, Ricky Berens, and Ryan Lochte, he may be onto something.
3. Why Katie Ledecky is still nervous?
You'd think that after winning Olympic gold, upsetting a home crowd London favorite, and accomplishing one of the great swims in Olympic history, nothing else would phase Katie Ledecky. But the 16-year-old said she was nervous before her 800m freestyle. "I was a little nervous," the teenage phenom admitted about coming into these Phillips 66 National Championships. Which goes to prove: You could be the defending Olympic champion in this event, but you can still get nervous. Everyone gets nervous. What matters is how you deal with the nerves. I'm anxious to see what Ledecky does later this summer at the World Championships. She seems to rise to the big stage. This summer gives her one more opportunity to do just that.
4. Best race of the night: Men's 200m butterfly.
With Michael Phelps not competing for the first time in what seems like generations, the 200m butterfly has opened up. Who would take advantage? Who would win this national championship title and event that had been dominated by one person for so long? There was a moment last night when a multitude of swimmers were trying to answer that call, charging home in the final 15 meters, while the PA announcer roared, "This is for a spot on the World Championship team!" That statement underscored just how vital these races are to up-and-coming swimmers. Turns out that Tom Luchsinger took advantage. You could tell how much it meant to Tom from the reaction of his support group in the stands. They jumped up and down, screamed, cried, and cheered Tom. In that moment, you realize how many morning practices, ups and downs, long summertime prelims swim meets, endless Holiday doubles, and agonizing distance sets swimmers endure for just one moment of greatness. It was a moment onlookers savored. This sport is not just about separate individuals in a pool, but the coaches, friends, teammates, family members, and supporters who helped get them there.
5. There's something in the water at Bolles.
Last night, I was able to catch up with Bolles' head coach Sergio Lopez. If you don't know him, you should. He's probably the hottest name in swim coaching right now. Not only has the coach helped develop up-and-coming superstar Ryan Murphy, but he also had three high schoolers break :50-point in the 100m freestyle. Think about that: three swimmers not even in college swimming times that could challenge the likes of some of the best swimmers in the world. Bolles has broken numerous national records last high school season. The momentum continues to the long course season. Expect big things from this contingent.
Tune in tonight to watch: usaswimming.org/nationals or on the Deck Pass Plus mobile app @ 6pm EST!