5 Storylines to Watch at the Indianapolis GP
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
You want a guide that tells you which races to watch this weekend? How about all of them? Because you should watch all of them.
This year's 2012 Indianapolis Grand Prix makes my head hurt. Glancing through this weekend’s psych sheet is as if there was an entire NCAA March Madness bracket, and all 68 teams are labeled "Kentucky." Every event features a superstar. Nearly every superstar is here: Phelps, Lochte, Torres, Franklin, Lezak, Vollmer, Hardy, Beard... On Twitter, kids were tweeting this psyche sheet with comments like, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" In this case, “Psych Sheet” literally means “psyched.”
Arguably, this will be the fastest, biggest Grand Prix of the season. The IUPUI Natatorium (affectionately referred to as “The 'Nat”) plays host to this mini-Olympic Trials beginning on Thursday. It's an especially nostalgic venue, as “The 'Nat” used to be the go-to aquatic destination for the Olympic Trials before 2004. There are names written on the wall from previous Olympic Trials, painted immediately after each swimmer qualified for the Olympic Team – “old-school” names like Dolan, Barrowman, Evans, and -- wait, what's that name on that wall? Torres? Wait a second. There's a "Torres" swimming in this weekend's Grand Prix. Maybe it's her daughter? A niece? It's the same Torres? No. You must be mistaken, because that "Torres" is written under "1984 Olympics.” That’d mean she’d be 44-years-old and still competing…? (Sometimes I amuse myself.)
As always, here are your 5 Storylines To Watch:
5.) Will Swim Fans Lose Their Mind Watching The 50/100 Sprint Freestyles?
This is less a question, and more a statement. Yes. Everyone will lose their minds watching these sprint events. Try the men's side: In the 50m freestyle, there are ten people seeded at or under 22.2 seconds. I’ll write that again: 10 people seeded 22.2 or FASTER. There weren't even ten people at the 2008 Olympic Trials who could go that fast -- it took a 22.3 to make the Top-8 from semi-finals. Here's some of the men’s sprint names competing: Nathan Adrian, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones, Josh Schneider, Jason Lezak, George Bovell, Anthony Ervin... Now check out the women’s names: Jessica Hardy, Lara Jackson, Madison Kennedy, Amanda Weir, Dana Vollmer, Dara Torres, Kara Lynn Joyce, Missy Franklin... WHY I'M PSYCHED: I can't wait to see the Cal contingent swim. Something's in the water in Berkeley these days. (The Golden Bears just won both men’s and women’s NCAAs.) Ervin, on the men's side, will continue to amaze, while on the women's side, I'm curious to see Liv Jensen swim (multiple NCAA Champion). Not many mainstream swim fans know Jensen, but she's got the height and talent to do serious damage this summer.
4.) Michael Phelps is Signed Up For The 400IM
Before I write a novella about the reasons why I'm so excited -- and simultaneously so sad -- to see Phelps in this event, I will just say: This sign-up had better not be a trick. Phelps better not scratch this. Now, the reasons I'm excited to see Phelps in the 400IM are obvious: It's the hardest event in swimming, and Phelps is the best swimmer in swimming, and I like it when the best things in life tango together. However, I'm a bit sad because I feel like one of the following will happen: 1.) Phelps won't swim it. I have this feeling he'll scratch, and I will have jinxed the entire endeavor because I wrote about it. (There seems to be someone who always scratches one of my pre-Grand Prix "Storylines" -- it's like the Sports Illustrated Cover jinx, only not as cool.) And also, 2.) I believe this could be the last time we see Phelps swim this race when he’s in “peak form.” Phelps first got his Olympic birth in the Indianapolis Natatorium, and this would be a special place to say goodbye to the 400IM long course event. We've heard time and time again that Phelps won't be swimming this 400IM in any major international competitions anymore, but maybe if we just all clap really, really loud, he'll do it again. Maybe. WHY I'M PSYCHED: I used to be a 400IMer, and Phelps' Beijing 400IM was Mozart playing a sonata. I don't know how else to describe it. I’d love to see it again.
3.) Will Missy Franklin vs. Kirsty Coventry Be A Prelude to London?
I'm not sure where Kirsty Coventry is at training-wise, so it's hard to speculate if she'll be at the top of her game this weekend. But we know Missy Franklin’s story: Teenage phenom, sticking to her amateur status (instead of turning professional), could be the "next big thing." First, we have to remember: She's just 16. What were you doing when you were 16? Learning to drive? I’m just as excited as everyone else to celebrate Missy the Missile, but let’s wait and see how she does in London. That said, Franklin is a phenomenal swimmer, and I think it’ll give her great experience swim alongside the defending Olympic champion in this event. WHY I'M PSYCHED: Don't forget about Liz Pelton. Another superstar-in-the-making, another phenomenal swimmer. Coach Paul Yetter is doing a great job down at T2 Aquatics. Whatever happens with Coventry, Franklin vs. Pelton could be a great race.
2.) New Faces & A Few Old Faces.
Much has been said of the heroes of our sport returning once again to the pool -- the Torres, Lezaks, Beards, and Moses (who will be at this meet). But let’s not forget: Some of the best and brightest youngsters have also been swimming amazingly well. Two such up-and-coming swimmers train at Bolles, who, as swim fans know, have been dominating the age group scene lately. Coached by Sergio Lopez and an assortment of top-notch assistants, Joseph Schooling and Ryan Murphy are two names that could become the next generation of superstars. Schooling is from Singapore, and you'll see him compete in this weekend's 200 butterfly, while Murphy could challenge the establishment in the backstrokes. I've been saying for a while: These kids are swimming out-of-this-world times right now. They'll only get better. Also of note: Ariana Kukors is back, and she's also with Bolles. She adds veteran status among youngsters there, and could provide leadership to mentor these young superstars. WHY I'M PSYCHED: I'll be honest, I scan the psych sheets, and I'm nervous about post-2012. We need some of our young swimmers to gain invaluable "championship finals" experience, so they can confidently take the reins (when it’s their time). A few swim clubs have been notable churning out great next-generation swimmers, clubs like North Baltimore, Colorado Stars, and Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics. Add Bolles to that list.
1.) Phelps vs. Lochte, 200IM.
I will not get tired writing about Michael Phelps over the next three months. I will not get tired writing about Ryan Lochte over the next three months. And I will never get tired writing about this match-up -- this collision of giants, this smashing of meteors, this clashing of the titans in the men's 200IM. On paper, Phelps and Lochte are slated to battle in two events (200 freestyle & 200IM) at the Olympic Trials. But the 200IM is the one event where bragging rights of being "the world’s all-around best swimmer” is on the line. This event has gone back and forth between Phelps & Lochte since the 2008 Olympics. Right now, it’s Lochte’s event. But I think Phelps wants it back. Conversely, I think Lochte wants to beat Phelps when Phelps is at his “A-Game,” which we've seen that he is. This is going to be a heck of a race. When both swimmers want it, this will be an epic, Ali vs. Frasier battle. No doubt the sport -- and Team USA -- is better for these two swimmers vying for one spot on the victor's podium. WHY I'M PSYCHED: We'll see if Lochte is up to the test. He is known for beating himself up in his mid-season training, and he may not be in “race shape.” Phelps swam great at Columbus a few weeks ago, and he should continue to build on that momentum. Either way, if these guys give us a race, it'll be the best thing they can do to give back to the sport. Swimming is supposed to be fun, right? Well, it doesn’t get more fun than watching the best swimmers in the world race each other under the American flag, at a historic venue, just four months before the biggest meet in the world.