Arena Grand Prix at Mesa: 5 Storylines to Watch


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Last March was arguably one of the more exciting, thrilling, and jaw-dropping Marches we’ve seen in quite a long time. Around 22 National Age Group records fell. The men’s and women’s NCAA Championships broke new time barriers. Multiple national high school records fell. Age group swimming, high school swimming, and collegiate swimming were in full-force throughout March. Anyone who thought there would be a lull of fast swimming in the wake of the 2012 Olympics were decidedly mistaken. This is shaping up to be one of the swiftest seasons we’ve had in quite a long time. The past four weeks simply added to swimming’s reputation of some madness in March.

This weekend, the post-graduates get a chance to display their own fast swimming. The Arena Grand Prix at Mesa, Arizona will feature numerous Olympians and veterans. Nineteen Olympians are expected to compete this weekend, beginning April 11-13, including Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer and Nathan Adrian.

What should we watch for? As always, here are 5 Storylines to Watch:

5. Missy Franklin vs. Elizabeth Pelton
At the 2013 NCAA Championships, Elizabeth Pelton had the yards swim of the season. In the 200 backstroke, Pelton crushed the field, including the American record, NCAA record and U.S. Open record. She dropped a sizzling 1:47.84. Pelton is scheduled to compete this weekend. The swim fan in me desperately wants to see a Pelton vs. Missy Franklin match-up in multiple races this weekend, particularly the 200m backstroke. The U.S. is stacked in the women’s backstroke events (especially the sprint). These future collegiate teammates will race each other for years to come.

4Kevin Cordes swimming breaststroke for the University of Arizona. (Small). Clark Burckle answers Kevin Cordes
I should edit this headline, as I’m not sure there is any “answer” anyone can provide to counter the amazing recent swims of Kevin Cordes. Cordes’ performances at the men’s NCAA Championships (49-split 100 breaststroke, 1:48 200 breaststroke) were some of the most incredible performances in yards history. 2012 Olympian Clark Burckle, who trains in Tucson along with Cordes, is expected to compete this weekend. Burckle and Cordes, to me, remind me of a duo similar to the aforementioned Franklin and Pelton in that they will most likely continue to race each other until 2016 (and beyond). I’d love to see what Burckle will do this weekend near his home training ground. 

Breeja Larson (small)3. Breeja Larson returns to her hometown
Breeja Larson was one of the big surprises of 2012. She seemingly came out of nowhere last year and qualified for the Olympics. Her success has continued this year where Larson won an NCAA Championship in the 100 breaststroke. She also set the American record (57.43). This weekend, Larson returns to her hometown of Mesa, Ariz. The Texas A&M swimmer is poised to do great things this summer in the long course format. Jessica Hardy, another breaststroke sprinter, is poised to compete. It’ll be interesting to see how these two fare at this point of the season in the long course format. Expect a great race that should come down to the wire. 

Natale Coughlin (small)2. Natalie Coughlin returns to the competition pool
Natalie Coughlin is slated to be back in the competition pool this weekend. Swim fans couldn’t be more excited. Natalie is one of those veterans of the aquatic domain who brings a leadership, maturity and wisdom to the pool deck. She’ll have her hands full with the plethora of younger swimmers and sprint backstrokers, but it’s just great to have her back in the Grand Prix circuit. She’s a role model to so many swimmers. Though she didn’t have the summer she wanted, it’s a new year, new season, and new opportunities await the Cal-based swimmer.

1Matt Grevers (small). Matt Grevers swims in his “Just Married” swim cap
Last year at the Missouri Grand Prix, Matt Grevers got down on one knee, proposed to longtime girlfriend and teammate Annie Chandler, and made swimming history. Last weekend, Grevers and Chandler got married in Texas. Matt, believe it or not, is slated to compete this weekend. Word on the street is that Grevers will swim in a cap that says, “Just Married.” Which is just awesome, fitting, and perfect. Though I wouldn’t necessarily ridicule him if he takes off on a Honeymoon and doesn’t show up to the pool for a few weeks, it’ll be great to have the officially married duo at another Grand Prix. Congratulations, Matt and Annie. You are swimming’s First Couple. Here’s to hoping for a wonderful life together, and even more fast swimming!

Check out this great picture of Matt’s swim cap:

Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer for USA Swimming and Splash Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @MikeLGustafson.

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