By Sharon Robb
July 2, 2016—Making his final appearance on American soil, Michael Phelps made a lasting impression Saturday night at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
The five-time Olympian, fourth at the turn, had a strong underwater kick to blast past the field to win the 100-meter butterfly in 51.00. First-time Olympian Tom Shields of Cal Aquatics was second in 51.20.
After the medal awards ceremony, Phelps walked slowly off the pool deck looking into the crowd, soaking it all in for one last time.
“No way I was losing my last race on American soil,” said the world record holder and three-time Olympic gold medalist in the event. Phelps, 31, has been on the U.S. national team for 16 years.
Phelps was seeded sixth going into the race and was in Lane 7 for the first time in his career.
“I wanted my last race to be a win, this was my last swim ever on American soil,” Phelps said. “It was a special night, 51.00 gets the job done. In the last 25 meters I was trying to really dig with my legs.
“I knew I would be back in it the last 25. My wall wasn’t great, but I got the job done. That was the first time I ever swam in Lane 7, it was a weird feeling.
“I have some work to do at home if I want to be at the top of the podium in Rio. It’s going to be challenging. I have to improve some of the things I did here, but just to have the opportunity to compete in my fifth Olympics is another dream come true.”
In Saturday night’s finals:
Women’s 200-meter backstroke:
Maya DiRado of Stanford earned her third Olympic berth winning the event in a best time 2:06.90, fourth fastest time in the world this year. DiRado led from wire-to-wire. Defending Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin fought hard to get into her second individual Olympic event breaking open a close race to finish second in 2:07.89. Franklin was fourth after 100 meters but pulled away for the chance to defend her Olympic gold.
“I don’t know how I got my best time,” DiRado said. “It’s a lot of backstroke training. To do that after seven days of racing and emotional racing at that, I am really happy.”
Said Franklin: “This means so much to make it. I was a little timid tonight after what happened in the 100, I was so devastated. Tonight I kept fighting with everything I had left. To have another shot is the best feeling in the world.”
Women’s 800-meter freestyle:
Katie Ledecky, 19, of Nation’s Capital, qualified for her third Olympic event effortlessly, winning in a national championship meet record in 8:10.32. Leah Smith of Cavaliers Swimming was second in a best time 8:20.18.
“I wanted to put together a smart race and swim as fast as I could,” Ledecky said. “I didn’t quite have the leg strength to bring it in. I just focused on my own race, maintained my rhythm and tempo and put together a solid race.”
Men’s 50-meter freestyle:
Racing side-by-side, Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin finished one-two in the sprint. Adrian won the 21.51 to sweep the sprint events. Ervin, 35, already a member of the U.S. men’s relay, qualified for his first individual event in 21.52. Ervin was away from the sport for ten years.
“It means a lot to get to be there with my buddy and training partner,” Adrian said. “We both have a chance to win two medals for Team USA.”
Said Ervin, “I am happy to be hanging with the young ones.”
Cullen Jones was out-touched by 23/100ths of a second and failed to make the team. Bolles alum Caeleb Dressel was fourth in 21.80.
In the men’s 1500-meter freestyle prelims, Club Wolverines Connor Jaeger led from the start to become the only swimmer under the 15-minute mark. The American record holder qualified in 14:58.59. Jordan Wilimovsky, already on the U.S. team in open water, qualified second in 15:05.89.
In the women’s 50-meter freestyle semifinal: Abbey Weitzeil of Canyon Aquatics and Madison Kennedy of SwimMAC are the top two qualifiers for tonight’s final in 24.34 and 24.39.
So far, there are 25 first-timers on the U.S. men’s and women’s Olympic swim teams.
Sunday’s closing events are: women’s 50-meter freestyle and men’s 1500-meter freestyle. NBCSN is broadcasting tonight’s finals at 8 p.m. EST.
SATURDAY FINAL RESULTS
200-meter backstroke: 1. Maya DiRado, Stanford 2:06.90, 2. Missy Franklin, STARS 2:07.89, 3. Lisa Bratton, Texas A&M 2:08.20; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 10. Clara Smiddy, AquaKids Sharks/Michigan 2:10.74, 15. Tasija Karosas, Texas 2:12.42, 25. Megan Moroney, Cavaliers 2:13.12.
800-meter freestyle: 1. Katie Ledecky, Nation’s Capital 8:10.32, 2. Leah Smith, Cavaliers 8:20.18, 3. Stephanie Peacock, Mission Viejo 8:24.71.
100-meter butterfly: 1. Michael Phelps, North Baltimore 51.00, 2. Tom Shields, Cal Aquatics 51.20, 3. Seth Stubblefield, Cal Aquatics 51.24; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 61. William Pisani, Lake Lytal/Seminoles 54.56.
50-meter freestyle: 1. Nathan Adrian, Cal Aquatics 21.51, 2. Anthony Ervin, Unattached 21.52, 3. Cullen Jones, SwimMAC 21.75; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 44. Jason McCormick, Boca Raton/Seminoles 23.02; 127. Gage Kohner, NU 23.57, 158. Michael Saco, Miami Swimming 24.01.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com