The US Olympic Swimming Trials, which featured more than 1,800 competitors, lived up to the hype and then some. Here are some observations from a week-and-a-half of incredible swimming from the viewpoint of this swim enthusiast and wannabe:
1) The buoyant neck-to-ankle swimsuits are gone, and all eyes, it seemed, were on the caps and goggles of the swimmers. I noticed how swimmers took off not one cap after each swim but two! I had not seen that before. Masters swim coach Dirk Ebel of Cooper Fitness informed me it was to reduce resistance from the goggle straps. When one is dealing with competition in the hundredths of a second (like that between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte), every little bit helps.
2) While Phelps dominated 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Lochte won the title of the "world's best swimmer" in the past two years at the World Championships. In Omaha, they dueled it out in four events, (400 IM, 200 Freestyle, 200 IM, and 100 Fly). In all but the 400 IM, Phelps came out ahead of Lochte. But these two love to compete against each other, so we can expect the rivalry to continue, unabated, in London.
3) I did not sense this kind of rivalry among the women in the trials. If anything, there was this "kumbaya" spirit among the women after each event. I also noticed the manicured nails of these swimmers, which sort of threw me off. With the long workouts both in and out of the pool, they have time for manicures? That's great!
4) Missy Franklin exuded charm and fun whenever the camera was on her, and it did not seem fake or put-on either. Is she for real? She is only 17 and Michael Phelps has called her a "real stud." She is gunning for 7 medals in London in the 100 and 200 backstrokes, 100 and 200 freestyles, and three relays. If she keeps up the charm and skill offensive, I hope she runs for president someday.
5) Dara Torres was gunning for her 6th Olympic run. She is 45 and came in 4th in the 50-meter event. Janet Evans, who turned 40 this year and held records in three Olympic races, did not make it either. Much as I would have loved to see both Dara and Janet in London, age is definitely not just a number (the title of Dara's first book), it is a measure of mortality. Even 29-year old Natalie Coughlin, an 11-time Olympic medalist, struggled to keep her place in the relay.
6) Kathleen Ledecky is just 15 and went all-out on the 800-meter freestyle. She led the finals and never let up. There were write-ups on another swim phenom who did not quite deliver on the promise in Beijing - Katie Hoff. The events she set records for then (200 and 400 free) and 800 free, she came in 20th and 13th this time around.
7) While technique is king and queen and everything in between in these events, the Katie Hoff story says there is something to be said about having a positive attitude and mental strength. So it's still not only about physique (big feet, big hands, big shoulders) and fortuitous circumstances (supportive parents, great coaches, access to pools), there is still the x-factor of putting it all together into a fearless and confident frame of mind. Almost do-it-yourself!
I cannot wait to see how the best of the 1800 in this go-around fares in the global stage.