By Sharon Robb
April 14, 2015—Three-time Jamaican Olympian and world record holder Alia Atkinson of South Florida Aquatic Club heads a star-studded field for the Arena Pro Swim Series that begins Wednesday at Skyline Aquatic Center in Mesa, Ariz.
Atkinson, 26, opens with the 100-meter breaststroke where she is seeded fourth in her signature event in 1:06.86 behind Jessica Hardy, Breeja Larson and Micah Lawrence.
Atkinson is also entered in the 100 butterfly, 200 breaststroke and 200 individual medley.
Atkinson will be joined by SOFLO teammates Jorge Murillo Valdes, 23, and Carolina Colorado, 27, both of Colombia; and teenager Julien Pinon of state champion American Heritage Plantation. Pinon will compete in the 100, 200 and 400-meter freestyles.
Colorado will swim the 100 butterfly, 50 freestyle and 100 and 200 backstrokes. Murillo Valdes will swim the 100 and 200 breaststrokes
At 43, SOFLO and Bermuda Olympic hopeful Lisa Blackburn is the oldest swimmer in the field. Blackburn is entered in the 100 breaststroke, 100 and 200 freestyles.
The fourth stop on the Arena Pro Swim Series opens with the men’s and women’s distance events timed finals.
Katie Hoff, 25, of Hurricane Aquatics, Elizabeth Beisel, 22, of Gator Swim Club, St. Augustine’s Vien Nguyen, 18, of Vietnam and Lindsey Schwartz, 18, Marta Ciesla, 16, and Jessica Nava, 15, of Pine Crest Swimming and Cody Cline, 17, of Wahoos of Wellington leads the Florida Gold Coast and Florida Swimming contingent.
Beisel is the women’s points leader on the series with 38.5 points. She has entered more than the limit seven events and is expected to drop one. She is entered in the 200 freestyle, 200 and 400 individual medleys, 200 butterfly, 100 and 200 backstrokes, 400 and 800 freestyles.
Ryan Lochte, 30, of SwimMAC and Daytona Beach heads the Florida men’s contingent that also includes Florida 2012 alum Conor Dwyer, 26, the men’s series leader with 38 points, and South African two-time Olympian Sebastien Rousseau, 24, of Gator Swim Club.
The meet also marks the return of Michael Phelps, 29, from his six-month suspension for a second drunk driving charge. Phelps, seeded first in the 100-meter butterfly (51.17), is entered in five events and will go head-to-head with Lochte in all five events.
The 18-time Olympic champion is entered in the 100 butterfly on Thursday, 100 backstroke and 400 freestyle on Friday and 200 individual medley and 100 freestyle on Saturday. Phelps hasn’t competed in the 400 since 2009.
For the second time Phelps is using the Mesa meet as a springboard meet back into competition. Phelps competed in the Arena meet after coming out of retirement last year after a 20-month hiatus since the 2012 Olympics.
Phelps, now engaged to be married, has gone through a six-week rehab program after his suspension by USA Swimming in October. His last competitive meet was the Pan Pacific Championships in August.
While Phelps is expected to be in the media spotlight, U.S. Olympians Katie Ledecky, Tyler Clary, Natalie Coughlin, Matt Grevers and Allison Schmitt head the field.
Fifty members of the U.S. national swim team are expected to compete. The field is a good mix of pro, collegiate and high school swimmers.
Among other Florida swimmers entered are:
Venezuelan Olympian and Gator Swim Club’s Andreina Pinto, 23, opening the meet in the 1500-meter freestyle (8:25.93). Hungarian Iron Lady Katinka Hosszu, 25, who has been training in Fort Lauderdale, is also entered in the distance event.
Poland Olympian Marcin Cieslak, 23, and Nick D’Innocenzo, 24, Gator Swim Club.
Carlos Mahecha, 22, Andres Felipe Montoya, 24, and Esnaider Reales, 18, Azura Florida Aquatics.
Mateo De Angulo, 24, of Club Seminole.
Emma Svensson, 22, of Swim Florida.
Bahamian Olympian and Bolles alum Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, 25, of SwimMAC, seeded first in the 50-meter freestyle (24.34).
Kira Toussaint, 20, of Swim Florida
Caroline Simmons, 24, of Performance Aquatics.
My Fridell, 22, Heather Arseth, 21, and Cameron Davis, 19, of University of Miami.
Claire Donahue, 26, of Western Kentucky, who has been training with Atkinson and SOFLO, will compete in the butterfly where she is seeded second in the 100 in 58.03.
The four-day meet, capped at 600 swimmers, ends on Saturday. Top three finishers will win $1,000, $600 and $200.
Prelims are 9 a.m. and finals 6 p.m. MST. The meet will be live streamed at usaswimming.org. Universal Sports Network will air live television coverage on Thursday and Friday with Floridian Rowdy Gaines as color analyst.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org