By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, February 26, 2018
In terms of competition, March is usually known as the short-course championship season. Many high schools and colleges conclude their winter seasons, one last splash-and-dash statement before the focus shifts towards long course.
However, not everyone will be short-course sprinting this month.
This weekend, many Olympians and National Teamers converge in Georgia for what’s shaping up to be a very competitive long course meet. The next installment of the 2018 TYR Pro Swim Series resumes this week, beginning March 1st in Atlanta, Georgia. Around 30 members of the National Team are scheduled to compete this week, including big names like Nathan Adrian, Ryan Murphy, Conor Dwyer, and Leah Smith. Expect a healthy competition between veterans and up-and-comers, all vying for success.
As always, here are your 5 Storylines To Watch in Atlanta…
1. Olivia Smoliga chases a top podium spot in the 100m backstroke.
Four years ago, the women’s 100m backstroke was considered to be one of the USA’s strongest and deepest events. Missy Franklin, Elizabeth Pelton, Rachel Bootsma, Natalie Coughlin, Olivia Smoliga… there were so many accomplished names, it seemed like anyone could win any race at any time. Smoliga, who eventually captured the 2016 Olympic Trials top spot, is eyeing another run at the 2020 Olympic Trials. Meets like this weekend’s are momentum-keepers, those races one loves to have in a build-up to an important summer season of racing. Ali Deloof, Taylor Ruck, and Jade Hannah all will attempt to earn a victory. This should be a great race.
2. USA Swim Squads continues.
Natalie Coughlin, Lenny Krayzelburg, Jason Lezak, and Kaitlin Sandeno are this year’s captains for the first-ever USA Swim Squads. Sort of like how the NBA All-Star Game shifted its roster into forming teams chosen by captains, each captain chooses six active athletes to compete across event categories. Points are scored, and prizes at the end of the year are awarded. Team Krayzelburg is leading the way so far, but at this early stage, anything can shift.
3. Top international competitors.
Sarah Sjostrom, the standout world-record holder and Olympic gold medalist from Sweden, is expected to compete this weekend, giving Kelsi Worrell competition in the 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle. Yulia Efimova, from Russia, is on the psych sheet for the breaststroke events. Any international competition can infuse even more of a challenge for racers. Expect these events to have a little more focus and fire.
4. Battle in the 100m butterfly.
With Michael Phelps’ retirement, for the first time since I can remember, a 100m butterfly roster spot has opened. World Championships, Olympics, and medley relays at those events, too. It’s all on the line. Who will step up? Who will attempt to fill those very large Phelpsian butterfly flippers? Tom Shields, Jack Conger, and Tim Phillips are all vying to do just that. And they’ll have their chance this weekend. Expect the younger Conger to finish strong… though in this event, anything can happen.
5. Chase Kalisz chases world records.
Though Kalisz never really had an opportunity to race Phelps and Ryan Lochte in all their respective primes, the beautiful thing about swimming is, you can. Through times. Through records. And during these next few seasons and years, you can expect Kalisz to continue his recent run of success. Last summer’s World Champion in both the 200m and 400m IMs, you just know that Kalisz is looking at those world records — Lochte’s 1:54 in the 200 IM and Phelps’ 4:03 in the 400 IM — and figuring out how to get there. I love watching these mid-season meets to gauge where athletes are at in both training and racing shape, and in an event so brutal as the individual medley, if Kalisz comes anywhere close to a personal best, you know he might make a run at a record this summer.
Don’t miss it.