On Day 5 of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nathan Adrian moved closer to defending an Olympic title, while Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte moved closer to their last national showdown. Here are some more observations from Thursday's events:
Return of a rivalry
The Michael Phelps–Ryan Lochte rivalry will have another chapter. On Thursday night, the swim legends with 33 Olympic medals between them advanced to Friday’s final of the 200-meter individual medley with the two fastest times in the semifinals. Phelps won his heat in 1:56.71. Lochte looked smooth and easy, taking his in a speedy 1:57.61. It was a far different Lochte than the swimmer who finished third and failed to make the team in the 400 IM earlier in the week. Lochte has been walking gingerly over the past few days, nursing a sore groin, and his Olympic status seemed in doubt until he finished fourth in the 200 free on Wednesday, assuring himself a spot on the relay team. “My leg is definitely better,” Lochte said. “It’s still kind of sore, but my range of motion really improved.”
Phelps has won this race three times at the Olympics; Lochte has won it three times at the World Championships. “We’ve gone back and forth a number of times in this race,” said Phelps, "and it’ll be great to be back in there with him tomorrow.” Lochte saw Phelps’s comments and raised them a superlative. “I think it’s the best rivalry in sports, him and me,” he said.
Adrian stays consistent
Defending Olympic champ Nathan Adrian is at it again. On Thursday, Adrian qualified for Rio by winning the 100 free (which he won gold for in London) in 47.72 seconds, comfortably ahead of Caeleb Dressel, who took second in 48.23. Ryan Held narrowly missed a top-two spot, taking third in 48.26. Anthony Ervin earned the fourth guaranteed relay spot, in 48.54. Unlike other veteran swimmers whose careers have undergone ups and downs, Adrian has stayed fairly consistent in his results, but at 27, he has had to adjust his preparation. “I don’t know why, but at this point it’s super easy to gain strength in the weight room,” says Adrian, who is listed at 6’6”, 230 pounds, “and it’s a lot harder to do the yards in the pool; whereas when I was younger, it was the opposite way: I was struggling to put on some muscle and I could just crush it every day in the pool.”
As a footnote, by making the team at age 35, Ervin achieved what swim officials and statisticians on site believed to be a first. Ervin made his two previous teams at age 19 and 31, making him perhaps the only swimmer in history from any country to qualify for three Olympic teams without making one in his 20s.
Ledecky in context
How many people in or out of the swimming world can identify with the way Katie Ledecky is dominating her sport? You can count those people on one hand, or maybe one finger. In the late 1980s, Janet Evans broke world records in the distance swimming events that stood for a generation. She held the world mark in the 400-meter freestyle from '87 to '06, until France’s Laure Manadou eclipsed it. The 800 free mark was hers from '89 to '08, when Briton Rebecca Adlington took it down. And Evans’s standard in the 1,500 stood from '88 until '07 when American Kate Ziegler surpassed her. Every one of those records now belongs to Ledecky.
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Evans is still history’s greatest distance freestyle swimmer and nobody has really come close to touching her until now. “When I see Katie,” Evans said from the trials arena in Omaha, “I see someone who just has it all together; technically, emotionally, just in the way she carries herself. It’s really fun to watch.” Evans, 44, is now the head of athlete relations for the Los Angeles bid committee trying to land the 2024 Olympics. She was known as a bubbly and chatty personality in her day. Ledecky is not overly expressive, but Evans likes her demeanor just the same. “The pressure doesn’t get to her,” Evans says. “She walks out with a smile, just to say, ‘I’ve got this.’ And she does.”
On Thursday, Ledecky qualified seventh in the 100 free semifinals. It is a race that expands her reach to the shorter event that rewards rapid powerful strokes. Though Ledecky has swum the gamut from 100 to 1,500 meters, Evans isn’t surprised to see her expanding to the shorter distances. “From watching her stroke, I’ve always thought of her as someone who hung onto the middle distances, but had the power and turnover for what she’s doing now,” Evans says. “The thing is she takes it out so early and she’s under control. Not easy to do. Not easy to do anything she’s doing.”
A Butterfly rebound
Cammile Adams made the most of her second chance. Adams won the women’s 200 butterfly on Thursday in 2:06.80. The result was foreseeable for Adams, a world bronze medalist and 2012 Olympian, but the path to victory wasn’t. Adams posted the fastest time in the preliminary round on Wednesday, but was initially disqualified by the judge at the 150-meter turn who ruled that she had made the turn on her back rather than her stomach. Adams appealed and the underwater camera supported her claim that she had turned legally. Adams went from being drained and distraught to getting a reprieve that ultimately paid off on Thursday. “It’s much more than just swimming,” she said. “I’ve learned about myself and how to overcome obstacles, and yesterday was an obstacle I never thought I would be able to overcome. . . I swam 11 hours yesterday and had a three-hour nap today. I’m a big sleeper, but that’s a lot even for me. This has been a ride.”
To the wire
In one of the best races of the Trials, Josh Prenot overtook Kevin Cordes to win the 200-meter breaststroke in 2:07.17. Cordes led until 175 meters into the race and was a full second up on the world record pace set by Akhiro Yamaguchi of Japan, when he swam 2:07.01 in Chiba, Japan four years ago. Cordes faded and finished second in 2:08.00 to earn a place on the team. Prenot’s patience was rewarded. He may have learned from going out a little too hard in Monday’s final of the first half of the 100-meter breaststroke, a race in which he placed third after fading at the end. “My focus tonight, [was avoiding] kind of the mistake I made last night, being a little too aggressive through the first hundred, so I tried to stay calm in order to finish my last 50 . . . This is by far the best I’ve ever put a race together.” After a spell in which the U.S. seemed weak in the 200 breast, it is now one of the stronger events for U.S. swimmers, male or female. “We’ve gotten real deep in that event,” Prenot said. “To have three guys 2:08 or better. If you had asked people in 2013, I don’t think anyone would have thought this was possible.” If the pool is fast, expect a record to fall in Rio.