Looking Ahead: Arena Grand Prix at Orlando


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

On the first electric night of the 2012 Olympic Trials, Ryan Lochte, who lives and trains in Gainesville, Florida, walked into the post-meet press conference. He answered questions about his night, which was a very good night, not just for him personally but also his Gator Swim Club teammates. Out of six possible Olympic roster spots, Florida-based swimmers qualified in four.

“We have a great group at the University of Florida, probably one of the best in the world, and we have one of the best coaches,” Ryan Lochte said in a press conference after his 400 IM victory, referring to Gregg Troy.

Florida has long been known as a “swimming state,” long before Ryan Lochte ever trotted onto a pool deck wearing neon-green rhinestone shoes. A diverse range of swimming legends, names such as Tracy Caulkins, Anthony Nesty, Martin Zubero, and Dara Torres, all have Florida ties in some capacity. Many Olympic greats trained at the University of Florida, like Nicole Haislett. Some crossed international borders to train and live at Bolles, like Gustavo Borges. There are many other great programs, like Florida State or Pine Crest, or the many excellent YMCA teams. The list goes on.

“We have one of the best programs,” Lochte said, “And it definitely showed tonight.”

Now, the state of Florida is home to some of the brightest up-and-coming swimming superstars. Gator Swim Club trains Olympians Lochte, Florida swimmer Elizabeth Beisel, and post-graduate Conor Dwyer. Peter Vanderkaay trained in Gainesville during his lead-up to the 2012 Olympics. Bolles, a private school in Jacksonville, recently smashed a slew of high school national records, featuring high school phenoms Ryan Murphy and Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling. Ariana Kukors trained in Jacksonville before her Olympic qualification. Leading to the Trials, T-2 Aquatics in Naples was home to Katie Hoff and Elizabeth Pelton. Gregg Troy, head coach of Florida University’s men’s and women’s swim teams, also served as the 2012 U.S. Olympic men’s team head coach.

Yes, Florida is a swimming state.

It’s a state surrounded by water, a peninsula linked to some of the greatest legends in our sport. And soon, over Valentine’s Weekend February 14-16th, the Arena Grand Prix visits Orlando for the first time to showcase some of Florida’s rich swimming talent.

Like the Arena Grand Prix at Austin, the meet will be capped at 600 swimmers. The capped number ensures that the meet will run smoothly, promptly, and swimmers will have the deck and pool space they need to compete at a high level. But unlike the Austin, the Arena Grand Prix at Orlando has more approachable “B” qualification standards. These times were tweaked two weeks ago, and the “B” times are slower than those seen in Austin. This means more swimmers will be able to enter the meet and swim alongside Olympians, while still offering a high-quality event.

It’s also the first Grand Prix of its kind to come to Orlando, which seems fitting, given the area’s rich swimming history. Bringing bigger meets, and subsequently, more swimming publicity, to places in the south also exposes the sport to a more diverse population. While Ft. Lauderdale has played host to numerous big swimming events including many USA Swimming and YMCA National Championships, a large, mid-season national caliber meet should bring additional new exposure to The Sunshine State.

And who – especially those trapped in the winter doldrums in more northern regions of the country -- wouldn’t want to go to Florida in February?

The Arena Grand Prix at Orlando hints at being a more approachable event, in a swimming state filled with history. It’s no wonder that a few months ago, on the first night of the biggest event in swimming, 67% of Olympic roster spots were filled by Florida swimmers. The state seems to be a factory for swimming success, and in a few weeks, we’ll be able to see why.

Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeLGustafson.

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