5 Things We Learned During the Arena Grand Prix at Orlando
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
The Arena Grand Prix at Orlando was a convergence of two completely opposite age groups of swimmers. First, you had the teenagers. Missy Franklin, of course, dominated. High school senior Ryan Murphy scored a big win over Ryan Lochte in the 100m backstroke. 15-year-old Becca Mann completed an impressive double in which she won the 800m freestyle and then seven minutes later won the 200 IM. (Insane.)
Then, you had the Olympic veterans. Ryan Lochte seemed a bit off his game, and he admitted as such. (We’ll get to that down below.) Dana Vollmer was returning to her first big meet of 2013. Anthony Ervin continued to prove that 31-years-old is the new 21, as he looked strong in the sprint 100m distance. Tyler McGill scored a big victory in the 100m fly which should boost his momentum heading into the summer championship season. And Tyler Clary swam the world’s fastest time in the 200m backstroke this year.
But if there was a scorecard measuring who won this meet – the teenagers or the Olympic veterans – you’d have to score this one for the teenagers. The United States has some major, impressive up-and-coming high school talent, and a few of those swimmers were on display in Orlando. There are more Grand Prixs to come. This was a stepping stone meet for younger swimmers. What did we learn? What can we take away from this Valentine’s weekend swim meet?
As always, here are the 5 Things We Learned…
5. Becca Mann accomplished an amazing double victory this weekend.
Becca Mann loves to swim. You’d have to love to swim if you sign up for a back-to-back 800m freestyle/200m IM event schedule. Most swimmers – and especially most 15-year-olds – would never attempt such a feat. Mann not only attempted it, but she flourished, winning both events just seven minutes apart. “It was really a fun double,” she told SwimSwam.com. “I really, really enjoyed it.” The teenage phenom has made a name for herself in the past year. She continues to improve in dramatic fashion. Any swimmer who can win two Grand Prix events back-to-back is impressive. Here’s to looking forward to Mann swimming more in the future.
4. Anthony Ervin breaks 50-point in the 100m free.
Anthony Ervin is swimming fantastic. He joked that to win the 100m freestyle, he had to embrace his “inner masochist.” Ervin continues to prove that age isn’t important – fast swimming is. “I was a little disappointed how I was buckling and fading at the end,” Ervin said about his 50m free. Then Ervin showed up in the 100m distance and broke the 50-second barrier, a great mid-season time. The best part was during the post-race interview: Apparently Ervin was staying with Rowdy Gaines and the Gaines family over the weekend. Gaines jokingly credited Ervin’s fast swimming with the Gaines’ home cooking. Now that’s a reality show I’d want to see: Anthony Ervin and Rowdy Gaines sharing housing together.
3. Missy Franklin shows her 100m free speed.
Missy Franklin can swim pretty much anything. She’s so versatile and well-rounded. She scored a victory in the 100m backstroke that would have won her the 2004 Olympic gold – and this is only mid-season! But this weekend, Franklin had a great opportunity to race one of the best 100m distance swimmers in the world, Dana Vollmer, in the 100m freestyle. And Missy won. “You start to run out of superlatives,” Rowdy said on Universal Sports. “I certainly did that with Michael Phelps over a 12-year span… I’m starting to do that with Missy.” Rowdy said that Missy’s freestyle is constantly improving, and I couldn’t agree more. As Missy continues to get stronger and refine her sprint stroke and begins to transition into NCAA swimming, you’ll see her 100m freestyle improve more. Watch out. She’s going to be a major force in that sprint freestyle.
2. Ryan Murphy upsets Ryan Lochte.
It was a battle of the Ryans: Lochte vs. Murphy. Two Florida-based swimmers battling to be Orlando’s King of Sprint Backstroke. Surprisingly, Murphy came out on top in the 100m distance with a swift 54.9. Talk about a confidence-booster. Lochte’s strongest stroke is the backstroke. For a teenager to upset Lochte near his home turf was a big shocker. “It’s just how to deal with pain and the determination to finish,” Murphy said after the race about finishing hard and surging to the wall. Murphy also pointed out the plethora of talented young backstrokers in the United States – Jack Conger comes to mind – and how it is Murphy's goal to hopefully one day join the United States’ illustrious history of top-level backstrokers. This weekend was a stepping stone towards doing just that.
1. Ryan Lochte’s Reality Show Overtakes Orlando.
Before the meet, I said that Ryan Lochte wouldn’t swim that fast because he was most likely enduring some heavy training. Truth is, Ryan Lochte didn’t swim fast because he’s shooting his E! reality show, “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” The relatively grueling and all-encompassing shooting schedule will eat up eight weeks of Ryan Lochte’s training life, which means more time in front of the cameras, and less time in the pool. After the meet, Lochte joked, “[Coach Gregg Troy] calls me yelling at me all the time, threatening to kick me off the team.” But while it’s frustrating to swim enthusiasts that Lochte hasn’t been fully training as hard as he could, at the same time, this reality show opportunity only comes once a blue moon for a swimmer. Ryan Lochte wants to take full advantage of his post-London celebrity. This is the only real time he can afford to take off in the build-up to the 2016 Olympic campaign. Despite the break from the full training schedule, Lochte should still be ready to go by this summer’s World Championships.