OMAHA, Neb. — New blood has been ruling the pool so far at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials as emerging stars made their first teams and veterans struggled to keep pace on Tuesday. Here are five observations from the trials.
New faces thrive
Sure there will be some familiar names in Rio, but through three days of trials, no defending champion has retained their title in Omaha. Four first-time Olympians won races on Tuesday. Lilly King, 19, won the 100-meter breaststroke in 1:05.20, followed by Katie Meili in 1:06.07. Townley Haas, 19, won the men’s 200-meter freestyle in 1:45.66. Ryan Murphy, 20, took the 100-meter backstroke in 52.26, ahead of David Plummer and Olympic champ Matt Grevers. Olivia Smoliga took the women’s 100 back in 59.02, ahead of Kathleen Baker in 59.29 while Olympic veterans Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin finished at the back in seventh and eighth.
Some of the winners appeared in need of a tutorial in what to do after they win a race. Haas, a Texas Longhorn standout, just wanted to jump in the water. “I was pretty nervous in the ready room,” he said “I had to get into the blocks to calm myself down.” Hass wasn’t used to having a medal around his neck. “Not really,” he said during the post-race press conference. “I just hit it on the table. It’s pretty heavy.”
Smoliga cracked up when she heard her name during the award ceremony and didn’t seem to know where to walk to receive her medal. When the public address announcer said, “Olivia, you’re going to Rio,” she briefly covered her mouth and later mouthed the words, “No way.”
Murphy was the calmest of the lot. “I didn’t know I had it until I looked up and saw the result,” he said. “I knew it was a tight finish.” Murphy fought the stress and uncertainty by bringing 20 friends and family to the meet to keep him occupied. “I honestly didn’t feel pressure here,” he said. “My friends messed with me a bit and kept it pretty chill.”
Old guard struggles
Just 48 hours after Ryan Lochte missed out on a berth in the 400-meter freestyle, three simmers who own Olympic gold medals in the 100 back, failed to qualify as Franklin, Coughlin, Matt Grevers and their 11 combined Olympic golds missed out. Franklin, the champion in London, placed seventh in her final in 1:00.24. She has been fighting an injured back and will surely face questions about whether her decision to spend two years at Cal was the right one. “It was not a bad swim,” Franklin said, “but here it’s about being the best of the best and the best of the best was out there ahead of me tonight.” Coughlin, the 2004 champion, was unable to make her fourth Olympic team just two months shy of her 34th birthday. “I’ll have time later to ask myself if I could have done more,” she said, “but I really don’t think so. Hats off to those girls out there.” Olympic champ Grevers was the odd man out in the 100 back, won by one of his biggest admirers in Murphy, who was also born in Chicago.
“My heart goes out to Matt,” Murphy said after winning the race. “He’s a super nice guy. He’s definitely been a role model of mine. It was super cool to be in a race with him.”
Lochte toughs it out
Lochte is not 100% healthy in Omaha. He tweaked his groin while finishing a surprising third in the 400-meter IM on Day One, and he has been walking around the pool deck gingerly at times. He manage to finish fourth on Tuesday in the 200-meter freestyle final in 1:46.62, too slow to earn an individual berth, but fast enough to get on the 4×200-meter relay team. The swim trials do not forgive aging male swimmers either. Just look at the birthdays of the final eight. Lochte was born on Aug. 3, 1984, during the competition at the Los Angeles Olympics. The other seven were born 1989 and later. “You can never go in knowing that you’re going to make the team,” Lochte said, who estimated his pain level was at a seven or eight of 10. “The U.S. is so strong in every event. I’m just glad I have an opportunity to represent my country.”
Phelps still has his standards
For anyone else, an easy win in a semifinal heat of a 200-meter race, by roughly a body-length, would be a huge success. Michael Phelps pulled away from his fellow swimmers to finish first in his heat of the 200 butterfly in 1:56.68. Phelps appeared to be in complete control during the entire race. Few swimmers have dominated an event as Phelps has in the 200 fly over the year. He broke the last eight world records in that event and by his own admission had some lazy strokes at the end of his Olympic final in London, where Chad Le Clos of South Africa nipped him at the wall to end his Olympic and world dominance. But Phelps has high standards. He floats through butterfly races so smoothly and yet seems to notice more flaws than successes.
“My third turn was bad. Awful,” he said. “Killed all the momentum. I felt like I didn’t use much legs, so kind of just dragging them along through the way. Something to build off tonight.”
No doubts about Dwyer
Despite not winning the race, Conor Dwyer had no complaints about his showing in the 200 free. Swimming in lane four, he held off Jack Conger in lane five, but didn’t notice as Haas passed him in lane three. “I saw Jack on my right,” he said. “That’s where my focus was. I didn’t see Townley at all.” By past standards, this has already been a fine meet for Dwyer, who has been a strong swimmer for the U.S. team over the past five years. Six of his seven world and Olympic medals have come as a freestyle swimmer on relay teams. As he did four years ago, he rallied to earn a spot on the team in the 400 free on Sunday, this time edging Haas for second place.
“I put in a crazy amount of work this year and I feel I’m a smarter racer,” Dwyer said, who seemed to turn 27 when nobody was looking. “I don’t feel like one of the older guys, really, but I guess I am. I wish I knew how to prepare like this my whole career.”