By Sharon Robb
August 5, 2014—Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps will renew their rivalry in the meet of all meets this week at the Phillips 66 National Championships.
The five-day meet begins Wednesday at William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center in Irvine, Calif. with so much on the line in every race.
The star-studded meet will serve as the USA National Team selection for the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, 2014 Jr. Pan Pacific Championships, 2015 World Championships, 2015 World University Games and 2015 Pan American Games.
For many swimmers it will be a crossroads meet. For others, it will begin a remarkable journey that may lead to the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
For Lochte, now training at Swim MAC, it will test his on-again, off-again ailing knee that he said Tuesday “was 100 percent ready” against some of the best in the world including Phelps.
“I’m glad Michael is back,” Lochte said. “It’s definitely good for the sport and it helps me out, too, just because we push each other. Probably his golf wasn’t going so well. Bottom line, I’m glad he’s back.
“Every time we go on the blocks, we never want to lose. We always want to win and whether it’s racing against him or anyone else in this world, we want to go up there and win. He’s one of the best in swimming and I always like a challenge.”
Phelps and his longtime coach Bob Bowman are eager to see his workouts translate into fast racing. It will be Phelps’ first nationals since he retired after the 2012 London Olympics.
Phelps, who has competed in four meets since coming out of retirement in April, is entered in the 100-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter backstroke and 200-meter individual medley.
“We really have no idea how I will do,” Phelps said. “This will be the first time to really swim this many events at this level. First time being shaved since the Olympics. The 100 fly feels the best. It’s what I’ve raced the most since I came back.”
Said Bowman, “I think we’ll see how it goes this week and maybe if there is anything after that, we’ll see how that goes and kind of go from there. We just talked about it yesterday. I think it’s a nice little milestone, and it goes really quickly. It was funny, I was talking with Gregg Troy yesterday and he said the days can be so long, but the weeks and months go by really quickly, and that’s true.”
With so much riding on the outcome of every race, swimmers have been motivated to train at a high level this year and to lose the attitude of nationals “being just another meet.”
Said Jessica Hardy, “It’s been very motivating training this year knowing that we have to qualify for the next two year’s National Teams this summer.”
Every race will be intense. And, any and all events that feature Phelps and Lochte against each other will have fans on their feet.
Bolles alum Ryan Murphy coming off his freshman season at Cal-Berkeley where he won NCAA titles in the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes, is one of the backstroke favorites.
In the women’s competition, Missy Franklin, also coming off her freshman year at University of Cal-Berkeley and 17-year-old Katie Ledecky head the field. They will compete against each other in only the 200-meter freestyle.
South Florida Aquatic Club’s Marc Rojas, 20, heads the Florida Gold Coast contingent. The Florida State-bound junior will compete in the 50-meter breaststroke on Friday and 100-meter breaststroke on Saturday.
The meet will use an underwater video review system to ensure the highest level of accuracy in officiating.
USA Swimming will be live streaming prelims and finals at usaswimming.org. Universal Sports will also televise finals and stream online.
FLORIDA GOLD COAST SWIMMERS TO WATCH
AquaKids Sharks: Austin Manganiello, Blake Manganiello, Clara Smiddy, Sam Smiddy.
Boca Raton Swim Team: Harper Bruens
Coral Springs Swim Club: Brandon Goldman, Alex Evdokimov
Hurricane Aquatics: Katie Hoff
Metro Aquatics: Isabella Paez, Carlos Omana
North Palm Beach: Connor Knight
Pine Crest: Casey Francis
St. Andrew’s Swimming: Megan Moroney, Logan Heck
South Florida Aquatic Club: Marc Rojas
Swim Fort Lauderdale: Emily Kopas, Luke Torres, Adam Bull, Ryan Rosenbaum, Lauren Driscoll, Lindsey McKnight
Westminster Academy: Greg Penny, Logan Lassley
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com