5 Storylines of the Arena Grand Prix at Charlotte
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
This weekend’s Arena Grand Prix at Charlotte could be one of the most exciting of the series: Not only because Michael Phelps returns to an east coast swim competition, but also because swim fans will be within an arm’s reach of some of the world’s biggest swimming superstars. Charlotte’s pool deck is one of the more intimate. Swimmers in competition rub shoulders with their veteran Olympic heroes. Fans are nearly on-deck with the swimmers themselves. It’s a bit crowded, it’s a bit packed, and that’s what makes this one of the best Grand Prix events around.
Swim team powerhouses like North Baltimore and SwimMAC Carolina are bringing their elite teams. Though SwimMAC’s Ryan Lochte is slated to sit this meet out due to injury, other big swim names will be attendance: Phelps, Allison Schmitt, Yannick Agnel, Tyler Clary, Katinka Hosszu, Conor Dwyer, Nick Thoman, Cullen Jones, and Eugene Godsoe are all slated to compete, among others.
As always, here are your 5 Storylines…
1. Michael Phelps’ comeback tour continues: Watch his 200m freestyle.
If Phelps’ doesn’t scratch the 200m freestyle, don’t miss this event. At the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, Phelps competed in the 100m butterfly. He barely lost to Ryan Lochte. But in the swim – his first official race since London – Phelps proved that he can still compete and race. This weekend in Charlotte, Phelps will try out the four-lap freestyle event. It’s a more grueling event, and it could be a better indicator of where Phelps’ endurance is right now. Phelps will have his hands full: Teammate and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Yannick Agnel is the swimmer to beat. Conor Dwyer should also push the field. Expect 4th of July fireworks to come early in this 200m freestyle, which could be the Can’t Miss Race of the weekend.
2. Katinka Hosszu vs. Elizabeth Beisel in the 400 IM.
I love close 400 IMs. Something about the switching strokes, the pacing schematics of the swimmers, the different strategies and strengths, and the race coming down to the freestyle makes this race, in my opinion, the most fun to watch. (Not to mention: It’s swimming’s toughest event.) Katinka Hosszu could be on fire, aiming to score more points in the overall Arena Grand Prix series leaderboard. But Elizabeth Beisel, recently graduated and turned-pro swimmer, should give Hosszu a swim for her money. The U.S. Open record is 4:37.6. I doubt we’ll see that this weekend, but as we’ve seen before, just about anything can happen on the Arena Grand Prix series.
3. Tyler Clary competes in his new home pool & training location.
In the past few years, Tyler Clary has made a name for himself. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 200m backstroke broke through the Phelps/Lochte stronghold on individual events, upsetting Lochte at the London Olympics. Clary solidified himself as one of the great swimmers in the world. Now, Clary switched training locations from Ann Arbor to Charlotte. Clary is now teammates with Lochte. Though Lochte may sit this meet, it’ll be interesting to see Clary perform in front of what is now his “home” pool. David Marsh has kept veteran swimmers’ careers thriving, and it’ll be fun to see what effect Marsh’s training has had on Clary.
4. Jones vs. Schneider vs. Ervin.
Three of the biggest personalities in swimming will compete in swimming’s most exciting event, the 50m freestyle. Cullen Jones is Charlotte’s megastar. Josh Schneider is one of the best personalities in swimming. And Anthony Ervin is the rock ‘n’ roll star of the sport. All three are proven veterans. Perhaps the one swimmer with the chip on his shoulder could be Schneider, still seeking an Olympic roster birth. Cullen Jones typically builds up to the Olympics, so I’m not sure what we’ll see from him in this “between” year. Anthony Ervin has arguably been the most consistent of these three, and he could take this event. Though I would have loved to see Nathan Adrian and Matt Grevers take part in this sprint, this field will be a great battle. And don’t miss the post-race interview, because no matter who wins, it should be a great battle between three great swim personalities.
5. The stroke 50s!
This weekend’s Arena Grand Prix meet also means we’ll see the emergence of all four stroke 50s in one Grand Prix competition! The 50 breaststroke, 50 fly, 50 back, and 50 freestyles are all officially competed events this weekend. Now those sprint freestylers won’t have all the fun in the splash ‘n’ dash. I’m most excited to see David Plummer vs. Nick Thoman in the 50m backstroke, and Jessica Hardy take on the world in that 50m breaststroke. Don’t blink. You could miss it.
Tune into USASwimming.org to catch the live stream of the Arena Grand Prix at Charlotte! The action starts tomorrow morning. Universal Sports will also have finals coverage on Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.