By Mike Gustafson | Wednesday, May 11, 2016
If three is the “magic number,” then magic must be in the chlorinated air. Only three Arena Pro Swim Series meets remain before this summer’s Olympic Trials — one on the east coast (Charlotte, this weekend), west coast (Santa Clara in June), and in the Crossroads of America, Indianapolis (also June). Each time zone has one last chance for regional-bound swimmers to test their swim supremacy.
Then, in six weeks in Omaha, The Big Show begins.
This weekend’s Arena Pro Swim Series stops in Charlotte, historically called the “Charlotte UltraSwim.” A unique convergence of culture and competition, Charlotte’s annual spring swimming soiree has featured the best pre-Trials racing (with some dynamite “sweat tea” offerings at concessions).
Though one notable name is missing from the psych sheet — Michael Phelps — a large contingent of international swimmers will make this weekend’s field competitive and exciting. Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary, two Olympians who have relocated training locations to Charlotte, should have a hometown crowd advantage.
As always, here are your 5 storylines…
5. The return of Katie Meili.
Four years ago, Katie Meili wasn’t only dealing with typical pre-big-meet nerves and last-minute training adjustments. She was dealing with a broken arm. Suffered during warm-ups at the Santa Clara Grand Prix weeks before the Olympic Trials, Meili’s world suddenly turned upside-down. She competed admirably at those 2012 Trials. But you can’t help but wonder: What if? Four years later, Meili gets her “what if” moment. Seeded first in this weekend’s 100m breaststroke, Meili is a favorite heading to Omaha. She should perform well in Charlotte this weekend, her training home under coach Dave Marsh and SwimMAC Carolina.
4. A strong showing of international swimmers.
This weekend, many top-seeds are international swimmers, allowing domestic athletes an opportunity to compete against the world. Canada brings a strong team, and New Zealand, Mexico, Colombia, among others will also be represented. Some wonder: Does it matter who is from where, once you hit the water? Maybe. Maybe not. But if swimming is, as many claim, 90% mental, knowing you’re “competing against international swimmers” is half the fun.
3. Elizabeth Beisel, at 23, continues on.
Elizabeth Beisel may be only 23-years-old, but she’s one of the most experienced swimmers in America. An Olympian at age 15, Beisel has achieved almost everything the sport can offer, except for Olympic gold. A silver medalist, Beisel chases that elusive individual gold. In some ways, Beisel reminds me of Summer Sanders, another charismatic swimmer who experienced success early in the 400 IM and a 200-stroke event. Sanders finally achieved an Olympic gold before hanging up her competitive goggles. I wouldn’t be surprised if Beisel did, too.
2. What will Ryan Lochte do?
Oh, remember when Ryan Lochte had a reality TV show? I’m glad to enter swimming’s distraction-free period, when athletes shift all focus to Trials and the upcoming Olympics. Lochte’s swimming has been overshadowed by Michael Phelps’ recent comeback, but make no mistake, Lochte will be ready to go at Trials. Phelps and Lochte facing off in the 200 IM makes me giddy. This weekend, there’s no Phelps, but Lochte will face off against Conor Dwyer, former training partner. Expect a great race in that 200 IM.
1. 50 free battle of Ervin, Schneider, & Jones.
You’d have to time travel back a number of years to re-experience the electric magic that was “Jones v. Schneider,” a race-off that had World Championship roster implications. I remember the race: A humid, standing-room-only pool deck, TV cameras, two men, one pool, one race. This weekend, that epic race could be re-enacted, with a little dash of Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin for good measure. This may be the last time we see a race like this, as all three athletes are approaching the sunsets of their competitive careers. Don’t blink.