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. Josh Schneider – Despite a winning dry spell over the past year or so, Josh Schneider knows he is ready to make a big splash at Olympic Trials next month. Ever since winning the 50 freestyle for the University of Cincinnati at the 2010 NCAA Championships, and then tying with Cullen Jones for second in the same event at the 2010 ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championship (Jones made the team after winning a swim-off), Schneider has been included among the best sprinters in the United States.
In 2011, he finished eighth in the 50 free at Nationals and followed that up with a fifth-place finish at the AT&T Winter National Championships. In 2010, he won the RCP Tiburon Sprint Classic and $10,000 against a strong international team (including U.S. Champion Nathan Adrian).
Schneider said that being able to train exclusively for long course (after his final NCAAs) made a difference in his results. It was when he devoted his energy and time to swimming full-time that he really started to make strides and see results. Being a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team would be a dream Schneider has held since he first started swimming, and one he's eager to fulfill.
"I have improved my technique and attitude. I say my attitude because one day I came to realize that swimming is my main focus, and I am done with other sports. I committed myself to each practice and I actually practiced swimming each practice. By that, I mean I did not just go through the steps of practice just to get it done. I started to pay attention to my technique, starts, turns, etc. I am motivated by knowing I still have a lot to learn.
"A dream come true would be to have a gold medal around my neck at the next Olympics, but I know I have work to do just to make the team. I'm determined and excited."
4. Megan Romano – The past year has proven to be a whirlwind of sorts for University of Georgia junior Megan Romano. Starting with the 2011 World University Games last summer in Shenzhen, she anchored the gold-medal-winning 800 freestyle relay and placed third in the 400 freestyle. She also anchored the silver-medal winning 400 freestyle relay.
This past March, she followed those performances up with her first NCAA titles in the 200 freestyle and 800 freestyle relay. She also placed second in the 100 backstroke and third in the 400 freestyle relay, helping her Bulldog teammates to a runner-up finish at NCAAs.
In a competitive field that includes 2008 Olympians Allison Schmitt, Katie Hoff and Kate Ziegler in the mid to distance events, Romano will definitely be someone to watch at Trials this summer.
3. Charlie Houchin – After an All-American and Big Ten Championship career at the University of Michigan, Charlie Houchin picked up his goggles and Speedos and began his professional swimming career with Coach Sean Hutchison at Fullerton Aquatic Sports Team (FAST).
Within just the first four months of working together, Houchin swam at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships and qualified for his first major international competition, the Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships. Two weeks later at Pan Pacs, he placed fifth in the 400 freestyle, becoming the second fastest American in the event for 2010 and also earning a spot as a member of the 2011 World Championship Team.
Having streamlined his professional career to suit his approach to the sport, Houchin now trains with professional squad [iX3] sports, overseen by Bolles Head Coach, Sergio Lopez. His results so far in 2012 prove he’s right on course for a great Trials, with top five finishes in the 400 (5th) and 200 (3rd) freestyles at the Indianapolis Grand Prix and 400 (3rd) and 200 (4th) freestyles at the Austin Grand Prix.
2. Lara Jackson – Following the disappointment of finishing third in the 50 freestyle at 2008 Olympic Trials (despite setting the American record in prelims), Lara Jackson is more motivated than ever to make her first Olympic Team. She laid her claim to once again being a top contender for the U.S. team last summer with her win at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships, dipping under 25 seconds in the process.
Her time of 24.98 gave her the 17th-best mark in the world, second in the United States to Jessica Hardy’s 11th-ranked 24.80 from last May. At the Pan American Games last October, Jackson won the 50 free, powering to the wall in 25.09 seconds and breaking the previous Pan Am record in the process.
“I didn’t really swim long course that much or seriously until I got to college, so that (2008) was my first Olympic Trials. I didn’t really expect anything. Having to overcome adversity in and out of the pool made my mind stronger. Just being a swimmer at this level for that much longer is definitely a bonus. Shoot, I really didn’t do that much swimming until here – I kind of blossomed in college. I have all that experience, and 2008 Trials, under my belt, I know what to expect now, and I have that confidence that comes with it.”
1. Tyler McGill – All-everything swimmer Michael Phelps has had a stranglehold on the butterfly events for the best part of the last decade, but Tyler McGill is right behind him and ready to jump to the head of the pack. He proved this first at the 2009 ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships and World Championship Trials when he finished second in the 100 fly to Phelps in 51.06 and earned a spot on his first World Championship Team in Rome. At Worlds, he finished seventh in the 100m butterfly and also competed in the 50 fly. He also swam in the preliminaries of the 400 medley relay, which advanced to the finals and won gold.
Two years later at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai, McGill won a bronze medal in the 100 fly, finishing again behind Phelps. On the last day of competition, McGill won a gold medal in the 400 medley relay for his contributions in the heats. He earned a spot on the team based on his silver medal finish at the 2010 ConocoPhillips National Championships and 2010 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships.
After making the finals in the 100 fly at 2008 Olympic Trials, McGill is ready to prove his past two spots on the U.S. World Championship teams are the real deal and he’s primed for a strong Trials next month in Omaha.