By Sharon Robb
May 17, 2015—-Still looking for a confidence-building swim, Alia Atkinson got one on the final night of the 31st annual Arena Pro Swim Series at Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center in Charlotte, N.C.
The three-time Jamaican Olympian and world record holder from South Florida Aquatic Club stepped up and won in convincing fashion to close out the four-day meet on a good note Sunday in front of a sellout crowd and national television audience.
Atkinson, 26, won her first event of the meet in the 50-meter breaststroke in 30.54, second fastest time in the world this year and just 7/100ths of a second ahead of Olympian Jessica Hardy.
Atkinson had the fastest start off the blocks and broke the water first with a quick turnover to finish strong by out-touching Hardy.
Hardy was closing in fast but was short on the finish as Atkinson had the momentum going into the wall. Hardy finished in 30.61, fourth fastest time in the world.
“It’s a pretty good time considering my 100 and 200 breaststrokes were a bit iffy,” Atkinson said. “I am glad I could turn out a good 50. I am looking forward to a good summer and will see if I can do both the Pan American Games and World Championships.”
Atkinson also made the “C” final of the 100-meter freestyle where she finished eighth in 58.42 and 24th overall. Her prelims time was 57.49.
Two-time Colombian Olympian Carolina Colorado, 27, of SOFLO was eighth in the 200-meter backstroke in 2:15.99 after going 2:14.53 in prelims. Colombian teammate Jorge Murillo Valdes, 23, was seventh in the 50-meter breaststroke in 28.47 bettering his prelim time of 28.63.
Bermuda national champion and SOFLO teammate Lisa Blackburn, at 43 the oldest swimmer in the field, won the “C” final in an impressive 33.96 after going 34.12 in prelims.
Timothy Wynter, 19, was sixth in the “D” final of the 200-meter backstroke and 30th overall in 2:11.15.
After watching Michael Phelps win the “B” final of the 200-meter individual medley in 2:00.25 in a “statement swim” Olympian Ryan Lochte came back with his own “statement swim” to win the “A” final in 1:57.20.
Lochte, 30, looked like the old Ryan Lochte taking out the race with powerful strokes to finish with the third fastest time in the world this year in the event he holds the world record in.
“It’s definitely a confidence-booster,” Lochte said. “We were watching Michael’s race in the ready room and he was out like a bullet. I knew he was going to put up a good time. I wish he was in our heat, but when it counts he will be there.
“That swim helps my confidence. Last year was a little rocky. Now I’m back training and feeling good in the water. Things are getting better for my overall confidence and attitude. I feel great.”
In the “B” final, Phelps won by more than a body length in 2:00.25 after swimming 2:03.06 in the morning. Had he done that time in the morning it would have been the fastest qualifying time for the final and would have placed him sixth overall in the final.
Less than 20 minutes later after the 200 IM, Lochte was challenged with the second half of a tough double and managed to finish third in the 200 backstroke in 1:58.96, six seconds off his best time, despite dying in the last 50 meters.
“The coaches said they could see my face for the last 15 meters of the backstroke and I was like crying in my goggles,” Lochte said. “I was in so much pain. I watched the video, I could just see my stroke fall apart at the end. But the time was still good. I felt like I had a good meet.”
Three other swimmers with Florida ties did well on the final night.
Although overshadowed by Iron Lady Katinka Hosszu of Hungary in the 200-meter individual medley, Melanie Margalis, 23, of St. Petersburg had a great swim to finish second in 2:10.57.
Clara Smiddy, 19, of Club Wolverine and AquaKids Sharks was third in the 200-meter backstroke in 2:12.27, the top American finisher in the event.
Two-time Bahamian Olympian and Bolles alum Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, 25, of SwimMAC just missed sweeping the sprint freestyles, finishing second and just 7/100ths of a second behind 32-year-old veteran Natalie Coughlin in 54.31.
In other championship finals:
Women’s 800-meter freestyle: Denmark’s Lotte Friis pulled away early in the race and went on to win in 8:25.07, the sixth best time in the world this season. Friis returned to the Top 10 in the world for the first time this year. Former Clearwater swimmer Becca Mann finished two body lengths behind her in second in 8:28.82.
“I was consistent, that is my specialty my coach calls me a Swiss clock,” Friis said. “I felt comfortable. My goal was to do better than last season here and I did so I am happy.”
Women’s 200-meter individual medley: Hungarian Katinka Hosszu won her best event in 2:08.66, a full second faster than the fastest time in the world this year and her fifth win in the meet. Mann, 17, gets the Iron Girl award for finishing the 800 and less than five minutes later returning to the blocks for the second race of the night. Swimming in Lane 4, Mann was among the early leaders and had a great final 50 to tie for third in 2:16.32.
“I just tried to be aggressive and see where I am at right now with my training,” Hosszu said. “I am really, really happy with this time. It is definitely a really good time for me and I am really excited. This gives me a lot of confidence heading into the summer. I am excited to go back and train.”
Women’s 200-meter backstroke: Just fifteen minutes after winning the 200 IM, Hosszu went a best time 2:07.79 to win. It was the third fastest time in the world this year. Even Hosszu was surprised at her time on the scoreboard, throwing her arms up in disbelief.
Men’s 200-meter backstroke: Arkady Vyatchanin of Serbia and New York Athletic Club won his second event of the meet sweeping the backstroke events in a Serbian record 1:56.31, fourth fastest time in the world this season. Defending Olympic champion Tyler Clary was second in 1:58.43. Carlos Omana, 22, of Metro Aquatics was fourth in the “B” final.
“I had the same approach and same goal in the 100, I wanted everything faster than Mesa so it is good because it happened,” Vyatchanin said. “It is a good time for me. Of course, I am motivated by great racing with these guys and doing this. They are great competitors. The fact I was a little bit faster gives me a little more motivation. I am taking baby steps in the right direction.”
Men 50-meter breaststroke: Brazil’s Felipe Lima, who used to train in South Florida, won the 50-meter breaststroke in 27.72.
“This meet is part of practice for the Pan American Games and World Championships, two big meets ahead,” Lima said. “I am very happy with this time. Now I can go back home and start working next week. I am very confident with myself. I am training hard every day to achieve my goals. I am really happy with results here at this meet.”
Women 100-meter freestyle: Olympic veteran Natalie Coughlin, 32, of Cal Aquatics closed in on early leader Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace of SwimMAC to win in 54.24, just 7/100ths of a second ahead of the Bahamian Olympian.
“I have Santa Clara next and then Pan Ams which I am super excited about,” Coughlin said. “I still love this. I love the process of it. I get to work with amazing people. I have great teammates and coach. I love training, the day to day struggle.”
Men 100-meter freestyle: Top qualifier Nathan Adrian, 26, of Cal Aquatics out-touched Italian Marco Orsi to win in 48.85.
“That second 50 I need to be a lot faster, at least a full second faster,” Adrian said. “I will take this time tonight since we are in some tough training now. This summer it will be about execution. If I can execute a race the way I want to then the time will take care of itself. This is the first time I raced in a while so I’m happy.”
Phelps tied for third in “B” final in 49.96. Brazilian Cesar Cielo, seventh fastest qualifier in morning prelims, scratched from the final.
Men’s 1500-meter freestyle: Connor Jaeger, 24, of Club Wolverine made it look easy, winning in 14:58.13, third fastest time in the world. Egypt’s Ahmed Akaram, 18, swimming unattached, broke the national record.
The Arena Pro Swim Series wraps up in Santa Clara, Calif. June 18-21 where SOFLO is expected to send another large contingent.
800-meter: 1. Lotte Friis, Denmark 8:25.07, 2. Becca Mann, North Baltimore 8:28.82, 3. Leah Smith, Cavalier Swimming 8:29.28; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 19. Casey Francis, Unattached 9:03.49.
200-meter individual medley: 1. Katinka Hosszu, Hungary 2:08.66, 2. Melanie Margalis, St. Petersburg 2:10.57, 3. Caitlin Leverenz, Cal Aquatucs 2:11.84; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 24. Emily Kopas, Michigan/Swim Fort Lauderdale 2:22.80, 72. Lisa Blackburn, SOFLO 2:28.07
200-meter backstroke: 1. Katinka Hosszu, Hungary 2:07.79, 2. Dominique Bouchard, Team Ontario 2;10.25, 3. Clara Smiddy, Club Wolverine 2:12.27; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 8. Carolina Colorado, SOFLO 2:15.99.
50-meter breaststroke: 1. Alia Atkinson, South Florida Aquatic Club 30.54, 2. Jessica Hardy, Trojan Swim Club 30.61, 3. Breeja Larson, Unattached 31.01; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 11. Emily Kopas, Michigan/Swim Fort Lauderdale 33.14, 14. Evita Leter, Metro Aquatics 33.41, 17. Lisa Blackburn, SOFLO 33.96.
100-meter freestyle: 1. Natalie Coughlin, Cal Aquatics 54.24, 2. Arianna Wallace-Vanderpool, SwimMAC 54.31, 3. Chatal Van Landeghem, Canada 54.65; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 24. Alia Atkinson, SOFLO 58.42, 79. Isabella Paez, Metro Aquatics 59.78.
400-meter medley relay: 1. SwimMAC 4:07.07, 2. Team Ontario 4:12.27, 3. Canada 4:13.81.
200-meter individual medley: 1. Ryan Lochte, SwimMAC 1:57.20, 2. Josh Prenot, Cal Aquatics 1:58.98, 3. Thiago Pereira, Brazil 1:59.51; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 15. Carlos Omana, Metro Aquatics 2:05.99, 18. Juan Sequera, Metro Aquatics 2:06.04.
200-meter backstroke: 1. Arkady Vyatchanin, New York Athletic Club 1:56.31, 2. Tyler Clary, SwimMAC 1:58.43, 3. Ryan Lochte, SwimMAC 1:58.96; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 12. Carlos Omana, Metro Aquatics 2:03.47, 30. Timothy Wynter, SOFLO 2:11.15.
50-meter breaststroke: 1. Felipe Lima, Brazil 27.72, 2. Cody Miller, Badger 27.95, 3. Brendan McHugh, Greater Philadelphia 28.01; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 7. Jorge Murillo Valdes, SOFLO 28.47, 25. Juan Sequera, Metro Aquatics 29.84.
100-meter freestyle: 1. Nathan Adrian, Cal Aquatics 48.85, 2. Marco Orsi, Italy 49.06, 3. Joao De Lucca, Brazil 49.21; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 102. Timothy Wynter, SOFLO 53.77.
1500-meter freestyle: 1. Connor Jaeger, Club Wolverine 14:58.13, 2. Ahmed Akaram, Egypt 15:07.84, 3. Ryan Feeley, Badger 15:38.09.
400-meter medley relay: 1. Brazil 3:38.62, 2. SwimMAC 3:42.44, 3. Team Ontario 3:49.52.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com