Charlotte Grand Prix

Dana Vollmer shakes up 100m freestyle; Ryan Lochte’s big question

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Three thoughts off Sunday’s finals at swim meets in Charlotte and Atlanta:

1. Dana Vollmer shakes up 100m freestyle

Vollmer continues to amaze in her comeback from childbirth. The Olympic 100m butterfly champ now owns the fastest times among Americans in the 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle since the start of 2015, after clocking 53.59 in the 100m free prelims in Charlotte on Sunday morning.

Vollmer, who gave birth to Arlen on March 6, 2015, knocked Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky down the U.S. standings, which now look like this since Jan. 1, 2015:

  1. Dana Vollmer — 53.59 (2016)
  2. Missy Franklin — 53.68 (2015)
  3. Katie Ledecky — 53.75 (2016)
  4. Abbey Weitzeil — 53.77 (2016)
  5. Simone Manuel — 53.80 (2016)
  6. Natalie Coughlin — 53.85 (2015)

The top two at the U.S. Olympic Trials on July 1 in Omaha make the individual Olympic 100m freestyle. The top six will likely be chosen for the 4x100m free relay pool.

Vollmer’s time Sunday marked her fastest 100m free outside of the fast-suit-era 2009 World Championships by .39 of a second.

Manuel clocked 54.11, Ledecky posted 54.55 and Coughlin 55.41 in Atlanta on Sunday.

Atlanta Results | Charlotte Results

2. U.S. men’s 100m freestyle bunches up behind Nathan Adrian

The Olympic champion Adrian clocked 48.29 to win in Atlanta. No other American was within one second of that time in either Atlanta or Charlotte.

Adrian appears a lock to make the Olympic 100m free, but several men are bidding not only for the second individual U.S. spot but also for a place in the 4x100m free relay pool.

The contenders’ best times on Sunday:

Anthony Ervin — 49.30
Jimmy Feigen — 49.56
Michael Chadwick — 49.96
Ryan Lochte — 50.01
Conor Dwyer — 50.22
Caeleb Dressel — 50.26
Cullen Jones — 50.31

That list doesn’t include Michael Phelps, who has been a part of the 4x100m relay final quartet at the last three Olympics and has the second-fastest time among Americans since the start of 2014. Phelps skipped competing this weekend as his fiancée recently gave birth.

Olympic 100m backstroke champion Matt Grevers, a 4x100m free relay prelim swimmer at the last two Olympics, also didn’t compete this weekend.

3. Will Ryan Lochte double up at Olympic Trials?

Lochte will turn 32 years old two days before the Opening Ceremony. Since London, he endured major injury, retirement thoughts and a coaching change to remain one of the world’s greatest swimmers.

But one wonders when the daunting 200m backstroke-200m individual medley double will be too much for the 11-time Olympic medalist.

Lochte earned medals in both events on the same day at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Those finals are again in the same session at the Olympic Trials in Omaha and the Rio Olympics.

In Charlotte, Lochte swam the 200m IM on Sunday, winning in 1:58.97. He is the four-time reigning World 200m IM champion and was second-fastest overall in the world last year behind Michael Phelps.

Lochte did not swim the 200m backstroke in Charlotte on Sunday. He ranked tied for ninth in the U.S. in that event last year and eighth in 2014, failing to make the 2015 World Championships.

It’s clear Lochte’s standing is better in the 200m IM than the 200m back, but the latter holds significance as it was his first individual Olympic title in 2008.

The question is, is it worth doing both events at the Olympic Trials (and perhaps the Olympics) within minutes of each other? Especially when no swimmer as old as Lochte has ever won an individual Olympic event.

We’ll find out in the next six weeks.

The next top domestic U.S. meets are in Austin, Indianapolis and Santa Clara, Calif., the first weekend of June. Phelps is scheduled to compete in Austin. Ledecky might skip them all.

VIDEO: Inside Lochte’s home, featuring ‘The Jeah Spot’

Katie Ledecky’s growth evident on anniversary of breakout

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Five thoughts off Saturday’s finals at swim meets in Charlotte and Atlanta:

1. Katie Ledecky has come a long way in four years

It was this weekend four years ago that Katie Ledecky became a U.S. Olympic team contender. At the 2012 Charlotte Grand Prix, a 15-year-old Ledecky finished second in the 400m freestyle and won the 800m freestyle.

On Saturday, Ledecky won a 400m free in Atlanta by 8.72 seconds in 4:00.31. In 2012, she went 4:05.79 at that Charlotte meet, one month before she qualified to become the youngest member of Team USA in London.

In two days in Atlanta, Ledecky won the 200m and 400m frees easily and set a personal best in the 400m individual medley by 1.25 seconds. She will likely swim two more events Sunday to close the meet, which could be her final races before the Olympic Trials from June 26-July 3.

Atlanta Results | Charlotte Results

2. Natalie Coughlin is an unknown

The 12-time Olympic medalist made a triumphant return to the 100m backstroke last year by posting the fastest time in the U.S. by a comfortable .35 of a second over 2012 Olympic champion Missy Franklin.

This year, Coughlin ranks sixth among Americans in the 100m back after clocking 1:01.07 in prelims and 1:01.18 in the final in Atlanta. Coughlin’s best time last year was 59.05.

Fortunately for Coughlin, Franklin is the only U.S. woman to break one minute in 2016. If Franklin is the Olympic Trials favorite, the second spot looks up for grabs at this point.

3. Anthony Ervin matches his 2000 Olympic time

The tattooed Ervin may have one more Olympics left in him. At 34, Ervin is trying to become the oldest U.S. man to swim an individual event at the Games since 1904, according to sports-reference.com.

Ervin needs to finish top two at the trials in the 50m freestyle to do that. On Saturday, he moved up to No. 2 in the U.S. rankings this year (behind Nathan Adrian) by clocking 21.98 to win in Charlotte, his new training base. The time was his fastest-ever this early in a year and matched his Olympic final time in 2000, when he shared gold with Gary Hall Jr.

Ervin also swam 21.98 at the 2015 World Championships, where he missed the final in a swim-off. That time ranked him fifth in the U.S. for 2015, so he’ll need to be faster at trials to make his third Olympic team.

4. Madison Kennedy backs up her wind-aided Mesa time

In April, Kennedy clocked the fastest U.S. women’s 50m freestyle outside of the fast suit era of 2008 and 2009. But it was thought to be heavily aided by huge tailwinds. Maybe it wasn’t.

Kennedy confirmed on Saturday, indoors, that she deserves to be favored to qualify for her first major international meet at age 28. She swam 24.53, just .08 off her Mesa time.

No other Americans broke 25 seconds in Atlanta or Charlotte on Saturday, including Simone Manuel, the fastest American in the event in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Manuel clocked 25.21 in Atlanta.

5. The Olympics may be too early for Reece Whitley

Whitley, a 6-foot-8 high school sophomore profiled by Sports Illustrated for Kids and The New York Times, is a great talent in the breaststroke.

In 2015, he ranked No. 7 in the U.S. in the 200m breast at age 15. The top two at the Olympic Trials on June 27 make the Olympic team, so Whitley’s ascent needs to speed up if Rio is a hope.

“The trials may be six months too early for him,” NBC Olympics analyst Rowdy Gaines said, according to the Times profile this week.

That appears true after the 200m breast finals in Atlanta and Charlotte on Saturday. In Charlotte, Cody Miller won in 2:12.22. In Atlanta, Josh Prenot prevailed in 2:09.49. Whitley was second in Atlanta, but well back in 2:14.99.

Whitley could become the first U.S. Olympic swimmer born in the 2000s, but he may have to wait until 2020 to earn that distinction.

MORE: Elizabeth Beisel is back

Elizabeth Beisel is back; swimming takeaways

Elizabeth Beisel
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Five thoughts off Friday’s finals at swim meets in Charlotte and Atlanta:

1. Ryan Lochte’s 400m individual medley win wasn’t impressive

First off, it’s hard to judge times when it’s unknown where swimmers are at in training and when they don’t have an elite-level field to push them. 

That said, Lochte’s coach, David Marsh, raved before the meet about how Lochte has been looking in training and put him in just one event on Friday, the 400m IM, to focus.

Lochte prevailed by two seconds in 4:16.92, but he would have finished third at the opposite meet in Atlanta with that time. And neither field included Chase Kalisz, the fastest American in the event last year.

“I would like to be faster,” Lochte told media in Charlotte. “I always feel I can go faster, but for right now, where I’m at, I think that’s all right. … But this is not the big meet. I’ve still got six weeks to tune everything up and get ready for trials.”

Lochte remains the fastest in the U.S. this year, with his 4:12.66 on Jan. 16, which bodes well for his chances to defend his Olympic title should he swim the event on the opening day of the U.S. Olympic Trials on June 26.

Atlanta Results | Charlotte Results

2. Katie Ledecky’s more impressive swim was the race she lost

Ledecky crushed the 200m free in Atlanta by 3.08 seconds, which was to be expected with nobody else in the field close to her level in the event.

But Ledecky showed her growing versatility 77 minutes later by finishing third in the 400m IM, an off-event for her, with a personal-best time by 1.25 seconds.

Ledecky’s 4:37.93 isn’t going to scare the favorites to make the Olympic team in the event, because …

3. Elizabeth Beisel is back

Beisel won the 400m IM in Atlanta in 4:33.55, her fastest time since the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships.

Beisel, the 2012 Olympic 400m IM silver medalist, came into this weekend questionable at best to make her third Olympic team. Now she’s the fastest American in the event this year. That time was bettered in 2015 by only one other American, Maya DiRado, who took Worlds silver in 4:31.71 on Aug. 9.

4. Lilly King could be the new U.S. breaststroke queen

The 19-year-old from Indiana took seven tenths off her 100m breaststroke personal best, clocking the second-fastest time in the world this year in 1:05.73.

Among Americans, only Katie Meili has been faster since the start of 2014, and King beat Meili by .81 on Friday. Plus, other Olympic team contenders Melanie Margalis (1:07.48), Molly Hannis (1:07.86) and Breeja Larson (1:08.46) were slower over in Atlanta.

5. The women’s 200m freestyle gets more crowded

Ledecky, Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt might not be the only women in the mix for two 200m freestyle spots in Rio.

Enter Leah Smith, who set personal bests in the morning and evening in Charlotte and moved past Franklin as the third-fastest American in the event this year. Smith won in 1:57.26, but keep in mind Franklin has gone 1:56.04 or faster each of the previous five years (just not yet this year).

At the very least, Smith, who is known more for her 400m free, is in a great place to make the 4x200m freestyle relay pool of the top six finishers at trials.

And don’t forget Simone Manuel. The top U.S. finisher in the Worlds 100m free (sixth place) clocked a 200m free personal best by .64 on Friday. She moved into fifth place in the U.S. this year in the event, meaning she’s an Olympic relay threat, too, should she want to branch out beyond the 50m and 100m frees.

NBC Sports Live Extra will have live coverage of the Saturday and Sunday finals in Charlotte at 6 ET both nights.

VIDEO: Inside Lochte’s home, including ‘The Jeah Spot’