5 Storylines to Watch during the Arena Grand Prix at Orlando
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
This Valentine’s Day, hundreds of swimmers will congregate in Florida for the Arena Grand Prix at Orlando. The meet will feature some of the biggest names in swimming – Ryan Lochte, Dana Vollmer, and Missy Franklin are just a few. It’s the first time an Arena Grand Prix series event has hit the Florida area, you can be sure fans will flock to see some of their local Olympian heroes (Lochte, Conor Dwyer) compete.
As always, here are your 5 Storylines To Watch…
5. 15-year-old Becca Mann.
It’s not every day that a 15-year-old is seeded first in any Grand Prix event. But Clearwater Aquatic’s Becca Mann is seeded in the top-seven in each of the six events she’ll swim this upcoming weekend. The distance freestyler and IMer could make a big splash in Orlando racing names like Missy Franklin and Kate Ziegler. We knew the first Grand Prix in Florida would attract many talented age group swimmers, and Becca Mann is among the crème of the Floridian crop. Few sports offer young up-and-coming swimmers the invaluable experience of racing established, veteran Olympic athletes and it’ll be interesting to see how the 15-year-old does. Part of me wishes that another 15-year-old distance phenom was in attendance, but Katie Ledecky was too busy breaking high school national records last weekend. Still, something tells me that distance swimming is alive and well in the United States.
4. Josh Schneider and Anthony Ervin square off in the 50 freestyle.
Josh Schneider is perhaps the most talented swimmer to just miss the 2012 Olympic team. The former football player-turned-swimmer recently won the RCP Tiberon Sprint Challenge last autumn (including a $10,000 cash prize), and he returns to the Arena Grand Prix series this weekend. Conversely, Anthon Ervin is perhaps one of the most talented sprinters of all-time. The 31-year-old qualified for the Olympics twelve years after winning gold, and he looks better than ever. Simply put: I can’t wait for this race. Two of the most talented athletes you’ll see square off in a mano y mano aquatic splash ‘n’ dash.
3. Local superstars Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer race.
Floridians love their swimmers. Ryan Lochte is probably the most famous male swimmer to ever come out of the Sunshine State. Though Lochte doesn’t typically swim that fast mid-season due to grueling training and a laser-focus on the final meet of the season, you know his effort will be there. He’ll combat training partner Conor Dwyer in many of the 200-distance events, including the 200 freestyle and 200 IM. That 200 freestyle should provide some fireworks for the crowd. Both swimmers swam on the 2012 Olympic 800 freestyle relay, and this race means backyard bragging rights.
2. The return of Dana Vollmer.
Dana Vollmer was one of the great performers of the 2012 Olympics, and an equally thrilling comeback story. After making the 2004 Olympics, Vollmer missed the Beijing Games. A swimmer who carries a defibrillator to every practice and meet competition because of a heart condition, nor her heart condition or her Beijing setback stopped Vollmer. The Cal-trained swimmer bounced back in 2012, scoring gold in the 100m butterfly en route to a new world record. Now, she returns to the pool for the new Olympiad with her eyes set on Rio. She’s got momentum, confidence, and experience to be just as dominating in 2013 as she was in 2012.
1. Franklin vs. Smoliga in the 100 backstroke.
You’d think, just days after setting a new independent high school national record in the 200 IM, Missy Franklin would take a break. Nope. Franklin is entered in a plethora of events at the Arena Grand Prix at Orlando. By far the most intriguing event will be her bread ‘n’ butter event, the 100m backstroke. The defending Olympic gold medalist will compete against fellow high school senior standout Olivia Smoliga, the defending short course world champion in this event. Folks, we are going to see these two battle each other in this event for years to come, not only at the NCAA level (Franklin will attend Cal; Smoliga will attend Georgia), but at the national and international level as well. It’s the Olympic gold medalist versus the World Champion. I can’t wait to see them face off against each other this weekend.
As always, you can watch the live webcast on the USA Swimming Network and a live broadcast on February 15th and 16th on the Universal Sports Network.