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5 Storylines to Watch at the Phillips 66 National Championships

6/20/2013

By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

It’s finally here: The swim meet we’ve all been waiting for since the conclusion of the London Olympics. The nextP66 Nationals and World Trials logo (small) chapter. The beginning of a new Olympiad. The 2013 Phillips 66 National Championships and World Championship Trials.

Like many new chapters, there are new characters. Take, for example, Becca Mann. Mann, at age 15, has already qualified for the World Championships in open water. She could qualify in more. Other swimmers like up-and-comers Ryan Murphy and Jack Conger hope to replicate Mann’s success. In this post-Phelpsian swimming world, teenagers who grew up watching the Baltimore Bullet are no longer watching the TV and hoping to one day be like Mike. They are competing, training, and racing.

But this story features some of our favorite heroes from chapters past, too. Olympic gold medalists and swimming superstars Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte return to the pool. Matt Grevers and Nathan Adrian won’t be roommates like in London, but that doesn’t mean they won’t swim well in Indianapolis. Dana Vollmer, Allison Schmitt, and Tyler Clary all seek to regain 2012’s glory. This is the “Who’s Who” of swimming. Anyone who is in decent shape and has the qualifying times will be at this meet. It’s the biggest, most important domestic swim meet of the year.

Like any good book, 2013 is a turning point. London is in the past. Rio looms far down the road. This season begins a new plot with protagonists new and old. In Indianapolis, we will see where the next few years could go. The Road To Rio begins now.

As always, here are 5 Storylines To Watch…

1. Missy. Missy Franklin (small)
What more can be said about Missy Franklin? She conquered Olympic gold before even graduating high school. She swam into America’s hearts. She’s continued with her success this season. What will 2013 bring? To be certain, nothing will come easy for Franklin at this meet. She will have her hands full. The race to watch? The women’s 200m freestyle.

We know what Missy can do in the 100 and 200 backstrokes. In the 200 freestyle, however, Missy will face both Allison Schmitt, 2012 Olympic gold medalist in this event, and Katie Ledecky, 800m freestyle Olympic gold medalist. There is no event more exciting than this one. Three Olympic gold medalists, all capable of potentially winning this event in 2016, racing each other. The men’s side has had epic 200m freestyle battles over the years a la Phelps vs. Lochte. Will the women’s 200 freestyle provide an equal amount of competitive fireworks? Expect Missy to have a fantastic meet and to challenge Allison in the 200 freestyle. She’s a once-in-a-generation athlete, and this summer is an important stepping stone leading to 2016.

2. Who will fill gaps in the men’s 400 medley? Tyler McGill (small)
The men’s 400 medley is one of those events the U.S. consistently dominates. We’ve conquered this event at so many international meets throughout the years, if Vegas were to place odds, the United States would certainly be favorites nearly every Olympics. But for the first time in years, there are major gaps to fill. While we have Grevers and Adrian who could both qualify and swim their fortes, Phelps is gone on the butterfly side, and Hansen is gone on the breaststroke side. The question becomes: Who will replace them? In the fly, Tyler McGill looks like a strong candidate. So does Ryan Lochte, who has always been itching to find himself on that medley relay. Tom Shields and Tim Phillips are others to watch. On the breaststroke side, it’ll be one of the most heated and unpredictable battles in years. Mark Gangloff, Mike Alexandrov, Scott Weltz, Kevin Cordes, and Clark Burckle all have a legitimate shot to win. Cordes is the youngest of the group. The Arizona based swimmer had the most impressive spring at the NCAA Championships, popping off a :49 split in the 100 breaststroke. (You read that right. He split a :49. Think about that.) If Cordes can continue his momentum into the long course season, he could be just the swimmer that the U.S. needs to continue medley relay dominance.

3. No Natalie Coughlin in the 100 back? Elizabeth Pelton celebrates her meet record in the 200m back at 2011 Pan Ams.
The women’s 100 backstroke is one of the most competitive events to qualify for the Worlds. There’s Missy Franklin, Olympic gold medalist. Rachel Bootsma qualified for the Olympics last summer, and she’ll be competitive. Olivia Smoliga won a world championship. Elizabeth Pelton had a great NCAA Championships last spring. But where’s Natalie Coughlin? She isn’t entered, as of now, in the 100 backstroke, aiming for instead the 50 and 100 freestyles. Are we seeing a change of direction? A shift of focus? No doubt that Coughlin was disappointed by not qualifying in the 100 backstroke last summer. And no doubt the 100 backstroke, filled with outstanding teenage and collegiate swimmers, will be one of the most competitive events at the 2016 Olympic Trials. It’s not every day that the 2004 and 2008 Olympic gold medalist in one event decides not to swim it at a national championships, but perhaps this is just part of a larger strategy. I hope we’ll see more of Coughlin and backstroke in the future.

4. What Will Ryan Lochte Do? Ryan Lochte (small)
No one really knows. Lochte’s been taking a somewhat “Phelpsian approach” to 2013, which means, he might not be totally concentrating on this non-Olympic swim season. He’s pursued other interests, including a reality TV show on E! We’re not sure how fast Lochte will swim. He could break world records. He could swim less-than-stellar. Regardless, Lochte is the biggest name in swimming right now, win, lose, or draw. All eyes will be on him. Without Phelps absorbing some of the media spotlight, most media writers and video producers will turn towards Lochte. It’s a new chapter without Phelps, and it’ll be interesting to see how Lochte handles the spotlight completely on him. Whatever he does in the pool, Lochte has always been great with young swim fans, signing autographs, taking pictures, and talking to age group swimmers. I hope this continues, even with his bigger-than-ever stardom.

5. World Record watch for Katie Ledecky. Katie Ledecky (small)
No one has impressed more than Ledecky this season. The 16-year-old became Olympic legend last summer with one great swim. Now, she sets her eyes on even more success,. She could potentially win the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 freestyles. The 200 is, by far, her biggest challenge, racing defending Olympic gold medalist Allison Schmitt (who is the favorite). But Ledecky, like Franklin, is one of those talents we rarely see in the swimming pool. Are world records in Ledecky’s future? Could she come close to Adlington’s world record in the 800? Pelligrini’s 400? Even – gasp – Ziegler’s 1500? It’s possible that Ledecky might be saving something for the World Championships later this summer, assuming she qualifies. But if anyone has a shot at a world record in Indy, it’s Ledecky. Watch out.


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