By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Every four years at the Olympic Trials, there are more new faces in the water than familiar ones, and this year in Omaha, that will once again be the case. Here are five who could make a big splash – and potentially the 2012 Olympic Team.
5. Micah Lawrence – When Micah Lawrence was first learning to swim as a 7-year-old, she often pretended she was a mermaid, feet and legs locked together as she cut through the water with speed and precision. Now, she’s one of the best breaststrokers in the world and will be a strong contender at this summer’s Olympic Trials. Her win in the 200 breast at the Indianapolis Grand Prix last month – in a personal-best 2:24.85 – proved she is someone to watch in Omaha.
Last summer at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships, she also won the 200 breast and finished fifth in the 100 breast, and followed that performance up with a sixth-place finish in the 100 breast at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China. She also placed seventh in the 50 breast.
At the 2010 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships, Lawrence won the "B" final in the 200 breaststroke and finished second in the "B" final of the 100 breast. Her preliminary time of 2:25.90 in the 200 breast would have qualified her for the "A" final had American teammates Rebecca Soni (the eventual champion) and Olympic veteran Amanda Beard not finished ahead of her. Pan Pac rules stipulate that only two swimmers from each country are allowed to swim in the championship final. After finishing 14th in the 200 breast at the 2008 Olympic Trials, Lawrence is pumped and ready to compete in Omaha this summer.
4. Eugene Godsoe – Ever since his first summer league swims as a 7-year-old, Eugene Godsoe knew he had found something that would not only change but also help define his life. “I just have a real love for the sport,” Godsoe said. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career – shoulder surgery in 2006 almost took me out of the sport completely -- but the ups have always been amazing. The downs make me want to come back and compete even harder.”
After last summer’s strong showing at the Pan American Games – where he won four silver medals for the United States – Godsoe is definitely riding the wave of some significant “ups” right now. In Guadalajara, Mexico, the Stanford graduate finished second individually in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly events and also swam on the United States’ silver-medal-winning 400 freestyle and 400 medley relays. He earned a spot on the Pan Am team (as well as the U.S. National Team) based on his top four finishes in the 100 back and 100 fly at last summer’s ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships.
Godsoe said he is definitely looking forward to having an equally strong showing this summer at Trials. “Swimming at 2008 Trials proved inspiring for me. My goal was to ‘get some TV time,’ a.k.a., make semifinals, and I was able to accomplish that and go best times. However, I’m the kind of guy who is always looking at what’s next. After Trials, I asked myself, ‘So now, what’s keeping me from being the guy in the finals? What about being top two? Do I want to watch the Olympics on TV or be there in person next time?’ The experience definitely made me want more.”
3. Dagny Knutson – Coming out of high school in 2010, Dagny Knutson had her choice of schools vying for her swimming prowess. She was designated one of only a handful of coveted six-star recruits, and originally chose Auburn University. After Paul Yetter left Auburn, she decommitted and has since gone pro, now training with Greg Troy and a host of other Olympic hopefuls at the Gator Swim Club in Gainesville, Fla. Now a seasoned 20 year old – having been a member of the 2009 and 2011 U.S. World Championship teams – Knutson will be one of the strongest contenders to make this year’s Olympic team, both individually and as a contributing member of U.S. relays.
One of the most versatile swimmers in the world, Knutson will be a force in the 200 and 400 freestyles, 400 individual medley, 200 butterfly and potentially the 200 backstroke at Trials this summer. A native of Minot, N.D., Knutson said her training is going well – swimming with Olympians and world champions like Elizabeth Beisel and Ryan Lochte will do that for you – and she feels good about her chances this summer in Omaha. “As far as training, right now I am pretty tired, because we do 7,000 and 8,000 – a lot of work at practice, and most of it is long course. But training is going really well, much better than I expected.”
2. Giles Smith – At 5-foot-10, Giles Smith is almost a full person shorter than most of the world’s top freestyle sprinters. But what the University of Arizona sophomore lacks in size, he more than makes up for in heart…and hands…and feet. “I am one of the smallest sprinters in the NCAA and possibly the smallest on the U.S. National Team,” said Smith, who hails from the Baltimore, Md., area. “Although I may be shorter than a lot of my competitors, I have big hands and feet for my size. I believe that height can be very overrated.”
After a year at the University of Arizona, Smith said his confidence is at an all-time high – and that showed in his recent results at NCAA Championships. In addition to helping his teammates win the 200 medley relay (setting a new American record) and a top 5 overall finish, he finished a close second to California’s Tom Shields in the 100 butterfly.
One of a select few African-Americans in the upper ranks of the sport, Smith just missed the cut to compete at 2008 Trials in Omaha and said that experience taught him a lot about perseverance and the ups and downs that accompany the sport and life. “Making the U.S. National Team has given me a huge mental boost,” said Smith, who is a journalism major with aspirations of being a television broadcaster some day – possibly calling swimming events in the future. “It for sure has led me to believe that I can compete against the world’s best and succeed.”
1. Madison Kennedy – After a strong summer where she won silver in the 50 freestyle at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships (her second consecutive runner-up finish at Nationals), Madison Kennedy is ready to take the next step – and there’s no better place for her to do it than this summer at the Olympic Trials.
She knows she’ll be up against a loaded field in Omaha – including 2008 Olympic silver medalist Dara Torres – but Kennedy has never been someone to shy away from challenges or opportunities. She has seen her swimming career take regular steps up, including being named to the 2009 World University Games team, 2010 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championship team, and last summer, the 2011 World Championship team that dominated in Shanghai.
"My goal is to get as much racing experience as I can," Kennedy said. "The most improvement that I have made since 2008 Trials (finished 12th in the 50 freestyle) is my overall approach to my races. I didn't have any idea how to swim a smart race, and the concept of having the confidence to support your training is something my coaches have helped me to constantly improve.”