To strike gold, times from trials must improve at Games

- Nicole Auerbach @NicoleAuer­bach USA TODAY Sports

Michael Phelps qualified OMAHA for his fifth Olympics and secured roster spots in all three events he entered: the 100-meter butterfly, 200 fly and 200 individual medley. By all accounts, he had a successful U.S. Olympic trials.

Except for one measuremen­t — his times.

“It’s frustratin­g to not be able to go the same time or faster than I did last year, especially because I think I’m in better shape than I was last year, but I believe I can,” Phelps said. “I’m not going to put a limit on myself of what I can or can’t do. I think time will tell just what we can do. I definitely think I can go faster in (the 100 fly) … and the 200 fly can be faster.”

Phelps’ longtime coach, Bob Bowman, said he thought Phelps’ times at the trials were mediocre.

By that measure, so were a lot of other U.S. swimmers’ times. Sure, the races resulted in dramatic finishes and emotional victories. But that doesn’t mean the times bode well for a truckload of gold medals in Rio de Janeiro.

No world records were set, and only one U.S. record was broken — by Josh Prenot in the 200 breaststro­ke. Four U.S. swimmers who won individual gold medals in London four years ago did not make the team in those events: Missy Franklin in the 100 backstroke, Matt Grevers in the 100 back, Tyler Clary in the 200 back and Ryan Lochte in the 400 IM.

A small percentage of swimmers swam faster than their entry times.

All said it’s almost tougher to swim at trials in the spotlight in front of a raucous, 14,000-person crowd. The environmen­t at times feels more like a rock concert than a swim meet — which can affect times.

“I think that’s what trials will do,” Phelps said. “I think there are a lot of people that the lights come on and it’s a different experience.”

On the men’s side, only David Plummer (100 back) and Prenot (200 breaststro­ke) posted the best times in the world this year in their events, meaning those times would theoretica­lly equate to Olympic gold.

On the women’s side, only Katie Ledecky’s 400 and 800 freestyle times from Omaha and Lilly King ’s 100 breaststro­ke would project to Olympic gold. Thirteen times on the men’s side would project to silver or bronze in individual events, compared with four on the women’s side. Ledecky, who did not qualify to swim the 100 free in Rio, is almost a lock to swim even faster in Rio — without three extra 100 races to swim — and likely break a world record or two.

But outside of Ledecky, the world is still, in many events, faster than the USA just a month away from the Rio Games.

“One of the things that we have always done well, better than anyone else, is improve from the trials to the Games, and I’m confident we’re going to do that again,” said Bowman, the U.S. men’s head coach. “We have a great plan in place to do that, and, quite frankly, we’re going to have to do that if we want to have the kind of Olympics that we are expected to have and want to have.”

Said David Marsh, the U.S. women’s head coach: “This meet is about sharpening iron.”

Marsh acknowledg­ed the uphill climb in some of the women’s events. For example, in the 200 breaststro­ke, no American woman has posted a top-10 time in the world this year.

“There are some real strengths and there are some, I would say, significan­t challenges, event by event,” Marsh said. “Katie and Missy and Dana (Vollmer) and the leaders that are experience­d and have been down this road before, we’re going to be counting on them to help kind of fast-forward the younger swimmers so that it’s not an Olympic of an experience but it’s an Olympic of performanc­e.”

Marsh is encouraged that so many collegiate swimmers performed well enough to make the U.S. roster. He said that system — swimming in a conference championsh­ip and then in the NCAAs — is essentiall­y a double taper, which is much like the trials-Games combinatio­n swimmers face now.

In the past, holding trials this late in the calendar year, about a month before the Games, has worked quite well in terms of resting and also training to per- form even better a month later. U.S. coaches and competitor­s hope that trend continues.

“Certainly, the goal coming into this meet was to go some times that were good enough to make the team and still have a little left to go a little faster,” said Nathan Adrian, who will swim the 50 and 100 free in Rio. “Who wants to sit here and be like, ‘Well, that’s all I got! That’s it!’ ”

Bowman said it’s easier to make adjustment­s and tweaks with swimmers already performing at a high level — which is where they are coming off this Olympic qualifying meet.

“You know what you have, so it makes it easier to manipulate the training to get them to do what you want them to do later,” Bowman said. “If you look at the numbers, we’re very good at taking people who swim a good trials — or even a poor trials — and getting them to swim faster four weeks later.”


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