Olympians set to Compete in Austin


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Mid-season national championships are a swimmer’s best friend. They allow you to get some rest. Sometimes,2012 Winter Nationals your coach even lets you shave down. After a grueling autumn training program, after the laborious process of getting back in shape following the post-summer season break (for those swimmers who had one), most programs allow their swimmers to have some easier practices for a day or two leading up to a mid-season championship meet. To most swimmers, these extra few practices of “rest” feel like bliss – almost as nice as a full-blown taper.

On Thursday, the AT&T Winter National Championships begin in Austin, Texas. All your favorites from last week’s Golden Goggle Awards will be there – Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte, Katie Ledecky, and others. How fast will they go? Probably not world-record speed. But will they score some personal best times? Absolutely they could. And could they scorch a few short course American records? Without a doubt.

Already this season, Missy Franklin has demolished her previous personal bests. At the Minneapolis Grand Prix, Franklin showed the world exactly who the future face of United States Swimming will be. In the first big meet of the season, Franklin – a high school senior – swam a time that would have won an NCAA title in the 100 backstroke. She almost broke 1:50 in the 200 yard backstroke. Her times are flat-out jaw dropping, not only because they are incredibly fast, but because they are so early in the season.

All swimmers know that getting a personal best time in the beginning of the season is extremely difficult. You’re tired from getting back in shape. You’re exhausted from long distance practices and aerobic training. You’re not used to racing on the blocks, against competition. Look for Franklin to have an incredible meet.

Ryan Lochte didn’t win a Golden Goggle Award, but make no mistake: This is the Lochtenator Era. Now that Michael Phelps has retired, Ryan Lochte must now define his career in terms of “Ryan Lochte.” This will be Lochte’s first National Championships with Phelps officially in retirement, which means, Lochte could dominate. Though Lochte is presumably in heavy training and may not rest for these Nationals, expect him to bust out some pretty spectacular times.

Katie Ledecky is back in action, too. The teenage phenom went 2-for-2 at the Golden Goggle Awards. She won the “Breakout Performer of the Year Award” and the “Performance of the Year Award” for her epic, thrilling, heart-pounding 800m freestyle Olympic gold medal final. It’ll be fun to see how Ledecky does in the short course version of her long distance events. Typically, distance swimmers prefer long course because there are fewer turns to worry about.

That said, long course and short course, as most swimmers know, are entirely different beasts. While the Olympics and most major international meets are held in long course, hosting a short course championship meet, like the AT&T Short Course Nationals, is a fun way to set some new personal bests. Especially considering most swimmers train in short course pools here in the United States. NCAA competes in short course, and we could see some future NCAA swimmers (Franklin and Ledecky, among others) swim times that could challenge a few NCAA records. You just never know.

The AT&T Short Course Nationals are the first real stepping point since this summer’s Olympics. It’s the first major domestic swim meet since the U.S. Olympic Trials. Many Trials participants are heading down to Austin not only for some sunshine and warm air, but to get back into the pool. Some swimmers haven’t rested since the Trials and are anxious to splash back into an intense racing environment. We’ll see many swimmers who did not make the Olympic Team swim fast times this weekend, fired up from a summer of watching the Olympics, inspired from their experiences at Trials.

But the real stories are Lochte, Franklin, and Ledecky. Three of the biggest names going forward the next four years are back in a championship format swim meet. And it’s short course. Could we see some American records go down? Could we see some new names and faces emerge and upset someone from this summer’s Olympic roster? Will Missy Franklin go even faster than she did at the Minneapolis Grand Prix?

Be sure to tune in and catch all the action here this weekend. The meet will be streamed LIVE on usaswimming.org/nationals, and follow USA Swimming on Facebook and Twitter for live updates on the meet.

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