By Mike Gustafson | Wednesday, June 1, 2016
When age group swimmers begin the long, arduous journey otherwise known as competitive swimming, many have imaginary, long-shot, far-in-the-distance goals: To ascend a certain podium; to conquer a conference or state championship; to break a long-standing record. Swimmers use these imaginary moments as necessary elixirs to push them through long morning practices, never-ending distance freestyle sets, and 400 IM repeats.
But one goal remains constant for most swimmers big and small, young and old: Competing at the Olympic Trials.
There’s something about the magic allure of Trials: The arena’s expansive ceiling, like entering a cathedral devoted to aquatic sport; the 360-degree seating that engulfs the competitive pool itself; the stage-esque stadium lighting reflecting off the indigo blue of the calm competitive waters. The Olympic Trials is the battleground where dreams come true. To simply enter and compete is, for many, an ultimate ascension to the mountain peak itself.
With less than four weeks left until this lofty destination, many swimmers around the country are beginning to fine-tune their training. There’s little room for mistakes now. With one final Arena Pro Swim Series weekend left, elite swimmers aiming for the Trials have one last meet. One last weekend to tweak, change, and morph into the swimmers they wish to become walking the Trials pool deck.
This is it.
This is the final month.
As always, here are your 5 Storylines To Watch for the Arena Pro Swim Series at Santa Clara…
1. Less than four weeks left.
The intensity this weekend will be unlike others. The NBC Sports Network will broadcast portions of the event. Swimmers will be running through their race routines as though they were at Trials. Warm-ups will be more serious. Races will be more intense. Sure, taper helps morph swimmers into their best versions of themselves. But you can’t bake a pie without the right ingredients. Swimmers will use this meet to analyze progress — there’s not much room for error now.
2. Sun Yang competing?
At the 2012 London Olympic Games, China’s Sun Yang captured the attention of many with his jaw-dropping, unbelievable final laps in the distance freestyle events. Sun Yang eventually swam his way to a world record in the 1500m freestyle and gold medal in the 400m. This weekend, Sun Yang is on the psych sheet to compete in the 200, 400, and 1500m distances. Will he? We’ll see. Make no mistake, though: All eyes will be on him.
3. Yulia Efimova also scheduled.
Earlier this year, Efimova tested positive for meldonium, was suspended by her swimming federation (Russia) temporarily, and created quite a stir. After all, she had already served a 16-month ban, and there were reports that she could be banned for life. Since then, however, her suspension has been lifted by FINA, suggesting that more research was needed on the substance that Efimova tested positive for. Efimova is back on the circuit and is scheduled to compete this weekend.
4. Natalie Coughlin has a few great races.
Coughlin has always been one of my favorite swimmers. Articulate and passionate about the sport, Coughlin is one of those rare examples of a veteran swimmer extending a career beyond just the scope of the pool. This weekend, Coughlin is scheduled in a couple interesting races, including against 50m free superstar standout Simone Manuel, as well as a potential 100m backstroke showdown with Emily Seebohm, Australia’s 100m backstroke Olympic silver medalist. Coughlin brings leadership to Team USA — leadership that will be needed in Rio.
5. Nathan Adrian also with a few battles.
On the men’s side, perhaps no sprinter is as popular as Nathan Adrian, defending Olympic 100m freestyle gold medalist. Adrian looks to defend his title this summer. Keep an eye on a few races this weekend, including against former training partner Anthony Ervin (2000 Olympic gold medalist) in the 50m freestyle and Australia’s up-and-coming superstar Kyle Chalmers (just age 17) in the 100m distance event. Both races could be preludes to bigger happenings later this summer. As every swim fan knows, the 100m freestyle event has big magnitudes, determining anchors for the 400 medley and 400 freestyle relays. I’m already getting excited. Adrian is one of the leaders on the men’s side. He brings experience and calm focus to relays and to the team. This summer should be a great test to see if he can return and defend his Olympic title.
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