London 2012: Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin and 6 Storylines at Longhorn Invite
The Longhorn Elite Invitational is one of swimming's final meets before the U.S. Olympic Trials, which are around the corner as we gear up for the 2012 Summer Games in London.
These tuneups are a good way to gauge athletes as they prepare to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. They can also be a time to catch up on what you have missed and learn about newcomers if you only follow swimming once every four years.
This year, Olympic favorites and hopefuls Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Garrett Weber-Gale, Amanda Weir, Kathleen Hersey and Allison Schmitt will be competing in the event. Here are their stories.
Note: you can catch the Longhorn Elite Invitational on the Longhorn Network and online from June 1-3.
Michael Phelps -- One Last Run
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This invitational will mark the beginning of the end for Phelps, who recently said he wants to retire and is "sick of the water" when talking about his future in swimming. News of his post-London retirement should not come as a surprise—the star swimmer has been on the record about his retirement for years—but the end is nigh.
It will be interesting to watch the dichotomy between his desire to retire and his competitive spirit in play. It is one thing to plan your retirement, but it is an entirely different matter when your will to compete wanes. If you thought Phelps was being melodramatic when he told Rick Reilly he was weary of swimming, just look at the past few years.
The evidence lies in recent competition.
Ryan Lochte is Phelps' fiercest American rival, gaining a leg up on the superstar in recent years. Lochte captured six gold medals at the 2010 World Championships, and he outperformed Phelps at last year's Grand Prix events.
Is Phelps merely lying in wait, or has Lochte surpassed him? Will he bring his killer instinct to the 2012 Games? Winning 11 of 15 Grand Prix events without losing to Lochte this year might be your answer. The Longhorn Invitational might be our first glimpse at the revitalized Phelps.
Perhaps more importantly, it could finally provide an answer for how many events Phelps will enter—as usual, he has been reticent to say just how many swims he plans to make at the trials. While he is certainly unlikely to reprise his grueling effort in Beijing, the more events he swims the merrier for the U.S. Olympic team and their medal count.
Missy Franklin -- Rising Star
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How young is Olympic hopeful Missy Franklin? Veteran Olympian Dara Torres had already competed in three Games when Franklin was born.
While Torres aims to make history again by competing in her sixth Olympic Games at the age of 45—she skipped the '96 and '04 Games—the 17-year-old Franklin will be donning her first Olympic swim cap this summer.
Though she is young, Franklin is not the reigning FINA swimmer of the year without merit. The Longhorn Invitational is a great way to catch your first glimpse at the rising star if you have not already.
Franklin could follow in Phelps' swim strokes and capture gold in seven events this summer. She already had her coming out party last summer, winning two gold, two silver and a bronze medal at the 2011 world championships at the age of 16.
Moreover, she is capable of competing in more events—she swam in more events at last year's Austin Grand Prix, winning three gold medals in the span of 30 minutes at one point. This was after winning five medals at the 2011 Minneapolis Grand Prix.
This meet could be the start of something special for the 6-foot-1 teenager out of Colorado.
Get a good, early look at the teenage sensation at the Longhorn Invitational. Much like Torres, she could be a fixture in American swimming for a long time.
Kathleen Hersey -- at Home in the Water
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One swimmer who is not going to feel at all like a fish out of water is Kathleen Hersey.
The University of Texas graduate will be right at home at Longhorn Aquatics, having trained there since 2010 after leaving the NCAA squad.
It will be interesting to see if Hersey can take her swim to the next level. She finished 8th in the 200-meter butterfly—her signature swim—at the 2008 Games and did not make the finals at the 2009 world championships.
Hersey has seen little international competition since '09 while focusing on her academics and training in Austin. She has performed well in national competitions, however.
Hopefully she will use the familiar waters at the Longhorn Invitational as a springboard to greater things at the trials and 2012 Games.
Amanda Weir -- Comeback Kid
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Disaster. Collapse. Failure.
Those were just some of the sentiments surrounding Amanda Weir after failing to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. Expectations were sky high leading into Olympic trials that year after helping the U.S. women's team to silver in the 4x100-meter Medley and Freestyle relays at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
That is all a distant memory now. Here is some of what she had to say to Mike Watkins, correspondent for USA Swimming:
“I am much more relaxed now,” said Weir, who is thinking about pursuing a future in interior design or art when she’s done with competitive swimming. “Before 2008, I would dread getting on the blocks; fearful of what it would do to me if I had a bad swim. Now it's pretty simple—if things don't go as planned, I'll just move on to the next phase of my life and I'm at peace with that.
Weir has bounced back in recent years, performing well at grand prix events last season, including a gold medal performance in the 50-meter freestyle at the Minneapolis Grand Prix that saw her beat the likes of Dara Torres and Missy Franklin.
Her Olympic redemption tour begins at the Longhorn Invitational. For a swimmer whose psyche is seemingly important to success, getting off the blocks on the right foot is vital. She needs to propel herself with positive momentum heading into the U.S. Olympic trials.
Garrett Weber-Gale -- Team Player
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Four years removed from being a key cog in the electrifying 4x100-meter freestyle relay at the Beijing Games, Garrett Weber-Gale finds himself in the shadow of his teammates and competitors once again.
He looks to add some individual medals to his collection this summer.
Weber-Gale thrives on relay teams, but he has yet to see international victory in individual events. He made the 2008 Olympic team in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events, but he placed 13th and 10th in those events, respectively.
The song remains the same over the years for Weber-Gale, continually helping the U.S. team win relays while falling short of individual success.
Can he transcend that this summer? His next shot starts with the Longhorn Invitational.
Allison Schmitt -- Coming out Party?
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If any current teammate would need to coach Missy Franklin on the pressures of being a 17-year-old swimmer on the U.S. Olympic team, Allison Schmitt would be the one to do it.
In Beijing, she was in a similar position to Franklin, albeit with much lower expectations placed on her shoulders four years ago. (Although being an Olympian at any age is an incredible pressure no matter what expectations surround you, I am sure).
Much like Weber-Gale, Schmitt has largely earned her medals in relay races during international competition. She proved she could do it individually at the 2009 world championships and 2010 Pan American Games, however, where she won gold and silver in the 200-meter freestyle in respective competitions.
Can she capture some magic in London?
Schmitt enters the Longhorn Invitational overshadowed by Franklin, but with other big names like Katie Hoff, Natalie Coughlin and Dara Torres elsewhere, Schmitt has a chance to make a splash in the public eye.