|Missy Franklin speaks at a press conference ahead of the 2014 Phillips 66 National Championships on Aug. 5, 2014 in Irvine, California.|
IRVINE, Calif. – After five grueling days in the pool, 60 swimmers boarded a plane to Australia for the Pan Pacific Championships, their first major international test on the road to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Here are five things we learned from the 2014 Phillips 66 National Championships, as well as five things we didn’t learn.
1. This is a team in transition. Sure, Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin made yet another national team, but among that estimable trio only Phelps turned in a world-leading time (in the prelims of the 100-meter butterfly) and he didn’t win an event. Katie Ledecky, another gold medalist from the London 2012 Olympic Games, posted the only world record of the meet in the 400-meter freestyle. Natalie Coughlin and Allison Schmitt, a couple of stars from various Games, were left home because they didn’t crack the roster. Melanie Margalis and Cody Miller, who each won their first national titles, have never swum in a meet on the scale of the Pan Pacs. “Those athletes are going to figure out what it takes to be at that level,” said head women’s coach Teri McKeever, “and older ones have to realize there’s some people nipping at your heels and what are you going to do about it?”
2. Competition within the U.S. team isn’t over. Times from nationals and from the Pan Pacs Aug. 21-25 will factor into the selection process for the 2015 World Championships team heading to Kazan, Russia, in about a year. “It’s kind of a weird situation,” said McKeever. “We’re a team, but still competing for places on worlds. That creates a real challenging dynamic as a coaching staff to bring this group together.” That’s not all. At Pan Pacs, swimmers can enter any event — even those they didn’t swim at nationals — to try to work their way onto the world championships team in more events. Only two U.S. athletes, though, can advance to the A final. “You have to race against your Team USA teammates again and that’s just kind of a bummer,” said Nathan Adrian.
3. Phelps and Lochte are still not back to top form. Phelps was retired for more than a year and half while Lochte had knee surgery following an unfortunate fan encounter. “I guarantee you we’ll be faster and better in the next couple of years,” said Lochte, who edged Phelps in the 200 individual medley. Phelps swam relaxed in the mornings, but nerves took hold before his evening races. He was also second in the 100 fly, but a disappointing sixth in the 100 back and seventh in the 100 free. Phelps said knowing that he hasn’t put in the same level of work as he did in the past cost him. “Being able to have these experiences, I think it’s going to help me a lot more for the future,” he said. “I mean, I hate this — anything to be able to change this. I know whatever I really put my mind to, I know I can accomplish,” Phelps added. “I think I’m not going to use the excuse of taking off a year and a half to two years. When there are workouts, I need to beat everyone and that’s the bottom line.” Or as his coach Bob Bowman said, “I think he just needs to go home and put in some more practices.” Bowman said Phelps gets better every day. “I’m more tired,” Phelps, 29, responded. “Old man gets more tired easily.” Although Lochte, who just turned 30, said his knee has healed 100 percent, his time away from the pool still hurts him. “He still has some training to do before he’s back to 100 percent physically,” said his coach, David Marsh. “He’s strong again in the weight room; his strokes are coming together quite nicely. This next two weeks will be very good for him, and then the next two years.”
4. U.S. times must drop in two weeks in order to remain the top swimming team in the world. Archrival Australia is coming off a very successful Commonwealth Games in Scotland. “They’re on fire; we haven’t been yet,” said Bowman, the head men’s coach for Pan Pacs. “We’re going to have to get better if we’re going to give them a meet.” Conor Dwyer, runner-up in the 200 freestyle and fourth in the 100, is confident that will happen. “The U.S. always tapers well the second time around,” he said, “so we’ll be OK. Yeah, it wasn’t that fast of a 100, wasn’t that fast of a 200. Hopefully we can turn it around and get some medals at Pan Pacs.” Dwyer said it is particularly important to win the 800 freestyle relay. “Michael and other guys have dominated it,” he said, “so we’re just trying to keep it going and do what the older guys taught us to do.” Although neither Phelps nor Lochte swam the 200 free final in Irvine, they could still be placed on the relay team by the coaching staff. However, Bowman said, “While we do have our two go-to guys here, they may not necessarily be the go-to guys. Some people are going to have to step up if we’re going to be competitive on relays.”
5. Franklin is still adjusting to a new coach and new environment. The rising sophomore at Cal under coach McKeever won a record six gold medals on the women’s side at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, Spain. This year, she is ranked no higher than third in the world in the four events that are her mainstays: the 100 and 200 freestyles and 100 and 200 backstrokes. “New coach, new training, Teri and I are still figuring it out,” Franklin said, comparing her taper now to the way she tapered a year ago. “We definitely learned so much every single race here, which is exactly why we come here and why we do this.”
We didn’t learn…
1. What unfinished business Phelps has in the pool. “There are always things that I still want to do and still want to achieve, and that's part of the reason why I'm still here,” he told reporters before the meet began. “You're not going to get what it is. You guys know me too well.”
2. How fast Ledecky can go. She is already the first swimmer since Janet Evans in 2006 to hold the 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle world records simultaneously. Ledecky also demonstrated her speed by winning the 200 free, defeating Franklin. In practice, Ledecky is more likely to race eight 100-meter freestyles than one 800 meters. “There’s some technical things that we can do to get better,” said her coach, Bruce Gemmell. “I don’t know if that happens in the next two weeks, but hopefully over the next couple of years we can address them.”
3. If swimmers eventually named to the world championships team can carry that momentum into next summer and avoid complacency. By not having to go through a qualifying meet next year, athletes can put in a complete summer of training. However, national team director Frank Busch acknowledges that some world team members might wind up with slower times next year than up-and-comers or even veteran swimmers with no chance to go to Russia. “There’s a little bit of give and take,” he said. In the long run, performance in Rio is at stake, he said.
4. What fashion statement Lochte will make in Australia. He wore iridescent shoes with wings for the 200 IM final in Irvine.
5. The next “Call Me Maybe” for the swim team. Their lip-synched video went viral during the summer of 2012, with Franklin at the forefront. “I think we might have to wait for an Olympics to pull that together,” Franklin said. “We have way too much time on our hands at the Olympics, but it’s actually kind of a quick turnaround for Pan Pacs, so I think we’ll all be pretty focused on getting ready for that.”