What We Learned from the Minneapolis Grand Prix
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Anyone who has questions about the future of USA Swimming needs only to peruse the results from this past weekend.
At the Minneapolis Grand Prix, Missy Franklin dominated the meet and swam to a number of lifetime bests – including in-season times that would have won last year’s NCAA Championships (including a jaw-dropping 50.97 in the 100 yard back and 1:50.10 in the 200 back).
Also performing well at the Grand Prix was 14-year-old Becca Mann, whom I had picked as the “Can’t Miss Race” in the 400 IM. She broke a 31-year-old National Age Group record in the 1650, swimming a time of 15:54.46. The previous record was held by Tiffany Cohen set in 1981. A remarkable feat, and a “statement” swim.
Meanwhile, down in Florida, future Cal swimmer Ryan Murphy was breaking high school national records everywhere you looked. He swam 19.54 in the 50 free, 45.34 in the 100 back, and played a role in their record-breaking relays, 1:28.02 in the 200 medley, 1:19.27 in the 200 freestyle relay, and 2:54.43 in the 400 freestyle relay – with a 42.9 freestyle lead-off. It was one of the most incredible high school performances ever.
What does this mean?
Here’s what we learned this weekend:
1.) The future of USA Swimming is very, very, ridiculously good.
Missy Franklin and Becca Mann certainly dominated the Grand Prix news, but you can’t overlook what Ryan Murphy accomplished down in Florida swimming for Bolles, either. The times are listed above. They are times that, similar to Missy Franklin’s, indicate the landscape of swimming could change over the next four years. It also means that the future of swimming in the wake of big retirements, like Michael Phelps, is still very good for Team USA. We already know the name “Missy Franklin.” Begin to remember the names “Becca Mann” and “Ryan Murphy.”
2.) Ryan Lochte is still a heartthrob.
50% of Tweets on my timeline this weekend were swimmers at the Grand Prix stalking Ryan Lochte. Sorry, Ryan. That’s what happens when you sign every autograph handed to you. Ryan is so good with younger age group swimmers, taking the time to pose with them for photographs, I probably saw at least 10 different swimmers uploading pictures with the Lochtenator. Oh yeah – Ryan also swam pretty decently this weekend, winning five different events. He’s just getting back in the swing of things, and should be ready to make waves next summer.
3.) Cal-Berkeley is going to be loaded for the next four years.
2012 Olympic coach Teri McKeever knows what she’s doing. The Cal-Berkeley head swim coach has already recruited the biggest name coming out of high school in the history of the sport in Missy Franklin. (Phelps was ineligible to swim at the NCAA level.) But on the men’s side, Cal men’s head coach Dave Durden could be assembling an equally stellar force in Ryan Murphy. Murphy has committed to Cal next year, giving the Bears a swimmer who could be a future superstar. While Murphy did not compete at the Grand Prix, we’ll be seeing his name at many more USA Swimming meets in the future.
4.) Becca Mann is another great young face in American distance swimming.
This summer, all eyes were on distance phenom Katie Ledecky. The 15-year-old blasted the field in the 800m freestyle en route to winning a thrilling Olympic gold. It was the race of the summer. But Ledecky isn’t the only young U.S. female distance swimmer making a name for herself. 14-year-old Becca Mann bettered a 31-year-old National Age Group record in the 13-14 age group this past weekend at the Minneapolis Grand Prix. Anytime you can break a 31-year-old record in-season, you know you’re primed for a great year. We’ll keep fans updated about the progress of the home schooled Mann throughout the year. It could get interesting to see her race Ledecky in the coming years.
5.) It’s going to be an exciting, fast year.
The first stop on the Grand Prix series taught us one thing: It’s going to be a pretty fast year. While Lochte’s times weren’t record-breaking, he’ll get there soon enough. One can only speculate how quick Missy Franklin will swim this year. What I’m most excited to see is how low Missy’s 200 yard backstroke will go. It’s obvious that a majority of younger swimmers are fired up after watching this summer’s Olympics. They’re ready to take the reins and lead the nation. Younger swimmers like Franklin, Mann, and Murphy answered the call this weekend with some jaw-dropping times. As I’ve said all along, the road to Rio begins now.
Next stop? The AT&T Winter National Championships in Austin, starting November 29th. And then the Austin Grand Prix on January 18th after some holiday training trips and grueling practice regimes. Should be an exciting swim season. Buckle up.