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Can't-Miss Race of the Minneapolis Grand Prix

11/8/2012

Minneapolis Grand Prix smallBy Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Yesterday, I asked followers on Twitter which Minneapolis Grand Prix race they were most excited to watch.

The responses were mixed, ranging from, “Whatever Lochte’s swimming” (@ForTomorrow10) to “Who’s in shape, who’s not in shape!” (@FaresKsebati). A few Twitter users responded that they were on-the-edge-of-their-seats pumped to see Missy Franklin return to a big meet.

Someone mentioned Garrett Weber Gale’s comeback to swimming, and in particular, his 50 freestyle. And of course, the biggest “debate” most people wanted to watch for… What color of Speedo would Ryan Lochte unveil this weekend? (Most people voted for pink.)

But there was one name people mentioned that caught my attention: Becca Mann. If you’re not familiar with Becca Mann, don’t worry. You will be.

Becca Mann is 14-years-old. She hails from Florida. She trains with the Clearwater Aquatic Team. This past summer at the 2012 Olympic Trials, Mann competed in the finals in multiple events, including the 400 IM and 400 freestyle. She also smashed a 34-year National Age Group record (13-14 year olds) in the 800m freestyle. She’s the youngest person to ever swim the Maui Channel, which she accomplished at the extremely old age of 10. Not since 1996, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, has there been a 14-year-old to qualify in two different Olympic Trials finals.

Needless to say, she’s a pretty talented age grouper.

Before we bestow unfair proclamations onto the home-schooled distance phenom, let’s take a step back: Becca Mann has a long way to go before she’s on par with Missy Franklin. But anyone who is gauging the future of female swimming in the United States needs only to check out this upcoming Minneapolis Grand Prix. Missy Franklin will be there. Many other up-and-coming age group swimmers will have an opportunity to race alongside The Missile, too. And Becca Mann is right at the forefront of that next generation. She could become a force in 2016.

Or even sooner.

This weekend, there will be stellar races. Many will eagerly anticipate the return of Ryan Lochte. He’s been the man this year, including one of the more incredible races in Olympic history, his gold medal performance in the 400m IM. Lochte has been the superstar, the celebrity, the media mogul. But he also is not known to swim in-season best times. Though he should have a competitive match-up with training partner Conor Dwyer this weekend, don’t expect the Lochtenator to better any world records. He should be in heavy training, tired, and broken down. Lochte took some time off after the Olympics, which could also affect his performances. Don’t fret if Lochte isn’t the Lochte you remember from London. That’s just how swimming works. Regardless, Ryan’s 200 freestyle could be an exciting race to watch.

Other eyes will be on Missy Franklin. Missy is always one to watch, no matter when she’s swimming. Her time drops, sometimes, can be unexpected and phenomenal. The real question when it comes to Missy’s swimming is: How fast can she go in yards this senior season of high school? Could she lower some national high school records? Will her times be faster than NCAA winning times? She is now an Olympic gold medalist, which means, naturally, she’s the “woman to beat” in every race, every time. Her 200 backstroke will be something of beauty.

And you can’t forget about some of the fascinating comebacks to the pool, such as Dagny Knutson. Knutson battled an eating disorder that caused her to miss the Olympic Trials. She’s back in the pool, training in North Dakota, healthy and sounding happy and content. It’ll be extremely interesting to see how Knutson’s return to competition goes after almost a year away from big competition.

However, for the first Can’t Miss Race of the first Grand Prix of the new Olympiad, I’m looking forward to seeing young 14-year-old Becca Mann begin the journey of making a name for herself. She’ll give some of the older distance veterans a “swim” for their money – literally speaking, because some professionals are looking to earn some cash from the Grand Prix circuit. She’s seeded first in the 400 IM, and it’s that event I’m most excited to watch.

The future is beginning now, swimmers. The next generation will make its first major statement of the Olympiad this weekend at the Minneapolis Grand Prix.

What will you be watching?

Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer for USASwimming.org and Splash Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeLGustafson.