By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
The second stop on the Arena Grand Prix Series proved much of what we already knew from 2012: Nathan Adrian is really, really fast, Missy Franklin could have the best senior year in high school swimming history, and Ryan Lochte is focused on the World Championships. There weren’t many surprises in Austin, and that’s okay. Swimming isn’t a sport that wildly fluctuates month-to-month. It’s a slow process of gradual improvement.
Still, there are things to be learned. That’s why swimmers compete throughout the year – to learn, tweak, analyze, break-down, and refine. Here are five takeaways from the 2013 Arena Grand Prix at Austin:
1. Nathan Adrian will be a major competitor in the 50m freestyle in 2013.
Saying that the 2012 Olympic 100m freestyle champion will be a “major competitor” in the men’s splash-n-dash isn’t exactly prophetic. Everyone knows Nathan Adrian is good. Last summer, Adrian just missed an Olympic roster spot in the 50m distance. (Cullen Jones and Anthony Ervin qualified.) Adrian didn’t get a shot to compete in the short course AT&T Winter Nationals last month because he hurt his finger and scratched finals. However, there was a glimpse of the upcoming greatness Adrian could achieve this Olympiad when he sprinted a blistering 21.70. That time would have placed 4th in London. To further put this time into context, 21.70 is only one-tenth of a second slower than Ervin’s 2nd-place Olympic Trials qualification time last summer. That’s fast, not just for a mid-season meet, but any meet, period.
2. Missy Franklin is probably the busiest high school senior in the country.
Is there any high school senior more busy than Missy Franklin? Coming off her whirlwind Olympic summer, Franklin has been just about everywhere: TV shows, football appearances, Justin Bieber concerts… The fact that Franklin still dominates in the pool is testament to the training program and life balance Todd Schmitz and her parents helped structure this year. Franklin once again swam phenomenally last weekend, winning four events, including the 100 and 200 freestyles and 100 and 200 backstrokes. Franklin’s schedule gets more exciting, as the Colorado High School Swimming Championships approach. Side rant: To people who say Missy Franklin shouldn’t compete in high school (because she’s too fast?) I say this: Sports is the one life opportunity where we’re supposed to celebrate greatness. That’s why sports exist – to allow people an avenue to push themselves to the brink of their physical, emotional, and spiritual personal best. Why do people want an individual to not be allowed this opportunity? Go, Missy, go. You deserve that opportunity -- like every other high school female in Colorado -- and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
3. Ryan Lochte will be ready to go by the World Championships.
There probably won’t be mid-season world records for Ryan Lochte. Not this year, not next year, and, probably, not ever. That’s because Lochte keeps his eye on the prize. Ryan Lochte’s focus is not on Arena Grand Prix meets. His focus is on the National Championships, the World Championships, and the Olympics. If you remember, Michael Phelps had that similar “championship focus” between 2008-2012. Lochte will endure grueling, puke-in-the-gutter training under Greg Troy throughout the swimming season. He’ll swim relatively off his personal best times throughout the year. Then, at the World Championships, count on Lochte to swim lights-out. That’s just what he does. Fans who are relatively new to the sport of swimming, who started following the sport after last summer’s Olympics, need to understand that Ryan Lochte is just fine, even if he’s not challenging world record times every time he competes. Swimming isn’t like football or basketball where athletes can replicate top performances night after night. Swimming is like climbing a mountain. You reach the apex only once every journey, and it’s a long, treacherous climb.
4. Matt Grevers looks to replicate his 2012 success.
Who had a better 2012 than Matt Grevers? He got engaged. He won Olympic gold. Last month, he broke an American record. The 2012 momentum continues for the 6’8’’ Tucson-trained swimmer, and I’m sure he hopes for a similar (or better) year this year. Last weekend, Grevers shocked the swim stands with his 53.75 100m backstroke. To put that time into context: 53.75 is an in-season time that’s a half-second off his 2008 Olympic qualification time. The defending Olympic champion continues to prove he’s the Olympic favorite in 2016. Both Grevers and his Olympic roommate Nathan Adrian were the big stories on the men’s side last weekend. The sky’s the limit for 2013.
5. Fine-tuning the Arena Grand Prix entry times.
In the women’s 400 IM, there were only three finalists. Which means, as Swimming World pointed out, everyone (if eligible) who competed earned prize money. This is not ideal. The goal behind the faster, swifter Arena Grand Prix entry times was to make the series more competitive, leaner, and meaner. But we can’t make these meets too lean. The appeal of these meets, and why they’ve been so successful in the past, are the lifelong memories younger swimmers gain by competing alongside Olympic heroes. There is an immeasurable benefit allowing high school swimmers to “rub shoulders” with swimmers like Matt Grevers and Missy Franklin. Going forward, I’d imagine the Arena Grand Prix qualification times will be tweaked and fine-tuned. You don’t want only three people in a championship final – and I think everyone understands that.