Trials are always the biggest, craziest meet every four years in the USA, and 2016 did not disappoint. Let’s get right to it!
The biggest, lasting impression for me this year? Loaded heats. And I’m not just talking about finals. Looking down the lanes prior to multiple semis had me shaking my head in awe at the lineup, in “anyone could truly win this” appreciation. Factor in what seemed like an unusually high amount of game-changing wild cards (Illness! Injury! Scratches! Muffed Starts! DQs & Reinstatements!), the Trials were exceptional swim-viewing this cycle.
My “swimmer on fire” awards go to: Dwyer, DiRado, [Leah] Smith, and Margalis. Each looked so confident, strong, solid. If they can keep the momentum rolling, I expect each to have their best-ever meet, at the Olympics.
It was exciting to see that my “year of the whippersnapper” prediction rang true—so many young and new-ish faces made the team. The whippersnappers will out-number the old guard in Rio, but I think it’s a win-win situation. The whippersnappers will receive guidance from experienced teammates while pumping up the old guard via their fresh-eyed excitement and energy.
Furthermore, many youngsters had an outstanding meet and I look forward to seeing them come up through the ranks: Ivy Martin, Sarah Henry, Bethany Galat, Townley Hass, Giles Smith, Ella Eastin, Cierra Runge, Clark Smith, Michael Taylor, Olivia Smogila, Cassidy Bayer, Maxime Rooney.
Unfortunately, the lows were still incredibly low. The scratches and not-what-they’re-capable-of swims due to illness and injury (what is with all of the hand and finger fractures this year?). All of the “swam my best but touched third” swims, especially those by hundredths, were as heartbreaking as ever to witness. My top two picks in this category? Leverenz in the 200 IM and Cullen Jones in the 50 free.
Then there were all of the “this is my last meet but I’m not exactly announcing my retirement” announcements. Here’s my long-ish list, made prior to the Trials, of old guards who probably would retire this year, either after Trials if they didn’t make it, or after the Games if they did: Phelps, Lochte, Grevers, Coughlin, Beisel, Clary, Pelton, DiRado, Leverenz, Ervin, Plummer, Hardy, Jones, Schmitt, Schneider, Weir, Larson, Lawrence, Adams, Kennedy.
Certainly, some of these names are not shockers (e.g. Phelps, Schmitt, Clary, and DiRado shared their post-Games plans with the public prior to Trials), but I was surprised to hear so many announcements during Trials, followed by prelims and semis scratches. Hands down, the toughest of this lot was Matt Grevers’ announcement so soon after touching third in the 100 back. Although he did his best, both per training and racing that day, it just wasn’t quite enough. Grevers’ career has been stellar, so I hope he finds a way to be at peace with his last Trials.
In between the highs and lows was a lot of really good swimming that’s only going to get better during training camp (clean up starts and turns, more pacing practice), and with rest. Among this group, the two most intriguing cases to consider, for me at least, are Franklin and Phelps. I remain puzzled by Missy’s performances over the past few years. Up until moving to Reno this spring, I had the privilege of seeing her train LCM most Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings. She was always her usual bubbly, good-humored self at practice, and I saw first-hand how much she put into sets. So, what’s in her way? Lingering back issues? Mentally spooked by the back injury? Too many professional time/energy demands? Too many transitions among homes, coaches, teams, and schooling? I really can’t predict how she’ll do in Rio—she may have an awesome training camp, work with a starts, turns, and confidence-whisperer and thus place well. Or she may not…Luckily, Franklin’s young enough to take a long break/finish her degree after Rio, then return to training mentally and physically refreshed to still crush it in Tokyo, if she chooses.
Michael Phelps also has me thinking. I think he has an excellent chance for gold in the 200 IM and fly (and much of that due to sheer grit). But his 100 fly has been sooooooo close in past Games I think he may run out of luck this time. Either way though, it’s been wonderful to see him so relaxed and happy. I’m glad he made the decision to come back for one more because you can tell this time he’s really just soaking it all in and sharing his joy with his new family. He seems the healthiest (physically and mentally) he’s ever been, and I love that he has solid plans for after the Games. All things considered, I hope he’s finally got his demons in the rear view mirror.
The USA swim Trials have earned the rep of being harder and more stressful on competitors to just make the team than actual Games competition (again, just look at the men’s 100 back. Grevers is out despite going faster than his last Trials while Plummer, who would have won a bronze in 2012 with his Trials time but sat at home, is in this time), but the 2016 results have me even more excited about the Games. I can’t wait to see how this team performs and places in Rio because I think everyone on the Team has much more to show!