5 Storylines to Watch at the U.S. Open
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Get ready, swim fans. One of the most action-packed competition-heavy weeks is upon us. Not only are the World Championships happening next week in Barcelona, but also taking place is what will be a thrilling, star-studded U.S. Open in Irvine, California.
Many swimmers who did not qualify for the Worlds will be attending the U.S. Open, striving for best times, top podium spots, and a triumphant exclamation mark heading into the short course swimming season this autumn. Expect some of your favorites to be in attendance.
And this U.S. Open should be very, very fast. While the World Championships offers prestige, the U.S. Open offers a more laid-back atmosphere to succeed and score swift times. Olympians like Cullen Jones should be taking advantage of the opportunity, as well as Tyler McGill and Lia Neal, among others.
As always, here are your 5 Storylines to Watch…
1. Nick Thoman vs. Ryan Murphy, 100m backstroke.
This match-up is interesting on many levels. On the one hand, Thoman, 2012 Olympic silver medalist, is the favorite, the veteran, and the U.S. Open record-holder. Thoman usually rises to the occasion when pressure is applied, evident last summer as the SwimMAC swimmer found himself on the Olympic medal podium. But on the other hand, Murphy is one of those up-and-coming swimmers impossible to ignore. Murphy is on the brink of a breath-through performance, like Thoman was prior to the 2012 Olympic Trials. Could this be it? Expect this battle to ensue in the middle of the pool and come down to the final touch. Both swimmers could challenge times put up at the World Championships.
2. A great 400m free battle.
One of the most intriguing races will be the women’s 400m freestyle. Your recently-crowned 5K World Champion Haley Anderson will compete in this event, but she’ll also have her hands full in this “long, long sprint” against some lightning-quick younger swimmers. 17-year-old Gillian Ryan has made headlines lately. 18-year-old Leah Smith is the top seed and will be formidable. Sarah Henry is the top seed in both the 200 and 400 IM. Many different styles of swimming converge in this event, which is arguably one of swimming’s most difficult. Some will come back strong. Others will take it out faster. Nearing the end of the summer season of racing, it ultimately won’t come down to strategy, but toughness. The toughest female of the bunch will take this event.
3. Will Cullen Jones bring it in the 50m?
Perhaps no swimmer knows how to flip the switch like Cullen Jones. It seems as though Jones knows how to pace out his performances, like he did at the 2012 Olympic Trials. Though this is a post-Olympic year, Jones should be the huge favorite in the 50m splash ‘n’ dash. No doubt that Jones would rather be at the World Championships, but expect the American record holder to put up times that would challenge times coming out of Barcelona. With both meets happening virtually simultaneously, through the magic of times comparison, it’s almost like these swimmers in Irvine can “virtually compete” against swimmers in Spain. Jones could definitely bring it.
4. A multitude of younger swimmers to watch.
Usually, swimming’s “Next Big Thing” doesn’t suddenly appear from nowhere. These talented swimmers emerge with warning signs, making their way through sectionals, zones, junior nationals, and the U.S. Open. Be on the watch for names like Kathleen Baker, Gunnar Bentz, Gillian Ryan, Quinn Carrozza, Leah Smith, and Kylie Stewart. These are just a few of some very promising younger swimmers who could make waves throughout the next Olympiad. They have already experienced success in the age group scene. The U.S. Open offers a great opportunity to race a variety of peers, veterans, international swimmers, all on domestic soil.
5. Tyler McGill, a fond farewell?
Reports surfaced that McGill, 2012 Olympian in the 100m butterfly, will retire following this meet. While that remains to be officially seen, McGill’s absence in the sprint butterfly would be a blow to U.S. swimming. After Phelps’ retirement, there would be a significant lack of depth should McGill hang up his suit. Nevertheless, if he does retire after the U.S. Open, kudos to McGill for a successful competition career. He’ll have his hands full in Irvine, competing against Tom Shields, Tim Phillips, and Jason Dunford. But personally, I love to see swimmers close out careers on high notes. If this is indeed factual, I’d like to see McGill put up one last, great performance. As much as we’d love if these swimmers could compete forever, eventually all chapters come to a close, and another one begins…