5 Storylines of the Arena Grand Prix at Santa Clara
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
This weekend, hundreds of the best swimmers around the country flock west and converge in Santa Clara, California. The Arena Grand Prix at Santa Clara commences on Thursday, featuring numerous Olympians, NCAA veterans, post-graduates, club swimmers, high schoolers, and age groupers from all over the world.
Huge names return to the pool for one final dress rehearsal prior to this summer’s National Championships. Many Bay Area swimmers are expected to compete, including Olympic gold medalists Missy Franklin, Elizabeth Pelton, Rachel Bootsma, and Nathan Adrian. Michael Phelps is also expected to continue his comeback tour, and Anthony Ervin aims to take on a loaded men’s sprint freestyle field.
As always, here are your 5 Storylines…
1. Missy Franklin leads a strong Cal contingent.
Once, I said I’d pay to watch a Cal practice. The intersquad competition is that deep, rooted with a plethora of Olympians and superstars. This weekend’s Arena Grand Prix might as well be another Cal practice. Missy Franklin should do well in her first Grand Prix appearance of the year, but she’ll have her hands full with teammates Bootsma and Pelton. Everyone’s in World Cup mode, but if you’re a fan of Olympic sports, don’t miss the women’s 100m backstroke. Franklin, Bootsma, Pelton, and Georgia’s Megan Romano and Olivia Smoliga are all seeded and expected to swim. Minus Katie Ledecky, this heat might as well be a “who’s who” of U.S. female swimming. And this event final could just as well be an Olympic Trials final.
2. Matt Grevers: Mr. Consistent.
Watching the NBA Finals this month, I was impressed with Tim Duncan’s performance as well as his entire career. San Antonio Spurs teammates call him “Old Man Riverwalk” and Duncan charged his way to his 5th career NBA title. I was reminded of another very, very tall Olympic sports veteran with years under his competitive swimming belt: Matt Grevers. A few years ago, an Olympic BBC announcer once said that London’s Olympic gold medal would be Grevers’ swan song, his farewell medal. When hearing that, I was confused, as well as offended. Flash-forward two years, and Grevers is still competing, and more than that, he’s winning. Grevers is seeded first this weekend, competing against a few of the nation’s best up-and-coming younger backstrokers, Cal’s Ryan Murphy, teammate Jacob Pebley, and Jack Conger. Grevers, nicknamed “Dutch”, could be our sport’s version of Tim Duncan. A classy guy who gets it done, competition after competition, year after year.
3. Natalie Coughlin focuses on the short sprint freestyle.
Not a huge surprise here, but Coughlin is only expected to compete in the 50m freestyle. I’d love to have seen her in the 100m freestyle or backstroke, but hey, when it comes to one of the sport’s great role models and ambassadors, I’ll take it. Coughlin is expected to battle 17-year-old Simone Manuel in one of the more intriguing sprint races you’ll see this summer.
4. Will the real men’s 100m breaststroker please stand up?
Where’s Brendan Hansen when you need him? When you analyze the United States’ medley relay’s biggest weakness, no question, the 100m breaststroke leg is the weakest leg. To win Rio gold, we’ll need this leg to be strong. Kevin Cordes is jaw-droppingly amazing when it comes to short course, and he could have a break-out long course season this year. Nic Fink is another outstanding up-and-coming swimmer who has broken the one-minute 100m barrier. Both need more international experience. Both compete this weekend, and I can’t wait to see where they’re at. This is the one event we need to be even stronger internationally, and this weekend, against a strong international field, provides the perfect platform to do so.
5. Michael Phelps and North Baltimore bring the heat. (Waves?)
Phelps continues his comeback tour, and he is expected to compete this weekend. Watch for his 100m butterfly, but he’s also entered in the 200 IM. I’m not getting my hopes up that he’ll actually compete in that event, but if he does, it’ll be like a North Baltimore Aquatic Club practice. Phelps vs. Connor Dwyer (an excellent IMer) vs Chase Kalisz (one of the best up-and-coming IMers in the world) vs Austin Surhoff (NCAA Champion). I don’t know what they put in the water at North Baltimore, but in the IM event (as well as the 200 freestyle) it’s working.
Tune in this weekend to watch the Arena Grand Prix at Santa Clara LIVE! usaswimming.org will live-stream all the action.