US Olympic Swimming Trials 2012: Ranking the 5 Swimmers with the Most to Prove

Stephen Fenech@Fenech2491Correspondent IJune 23, 2012

US Olympic Swimming Trials 2012: Ranking the 5 Swimmers with the Most to Prove

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    The U.S. Olympic Trials are almost upon us, and the stakes will be very high for every swimmer that dives into the pool in Omaha. 

    Swimming superstars Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have to qualify for the London Games just like everyone else. The Olympic Trials will bring us the next edition of the Phelps and Lochte rivalry as they are set to compete against each other in multiple races. 

    Although the stakes are high for all the competitors, the bar is set even higher for certain swimmers. Some are under pressure due to past success, while another is trying to prove that coming out of retirement was the right decision. 

5. Dana Vollmer

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    Dana Vollmer was a teen sensation as she qualified for the 2004 Athens Games at just 16 years of age. She was a member of the gold medal world-record-breaking team in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay.

    She failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Games, so she will be looking for redemption at this year's U.S. Olympic Trials. In her defense, Vollmer struggled with extreme back pains in 2008 that disrupted her training.  

    Vollmer is the current world champion in 100-meter butterfly, and she is also hoping to qualify for the Games in the 200-meter freestyle and the 200-meter freestyle relay. 

    The pressure is on Vollmer to prove that she can qualify for the Olympics as an individual swimmer rather than as a member of a relay team. 

    The 100-meter butterfly is Vollmer's race to lose; hopefully she can prove to swimming world that she is ready to win Olympic gold this summer. 

4. Brendan Hansen

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    Brendan Hansen is by far the best American in short distance breaststroke races.

    At the 2004 Games in Athens, he claimed silver in the 100-meter breaststroke and bronze in the 200-meter breaststroke. 

    He failed to win any individual medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and retired shorty afterwards. It appeared as if Hansen's career was over, but that turned out not to be the case. 

    In 2010, Hansen came out of retirement, and at last year's U.S National Championships, he won gold in the 100-meter breaststroke and the 200-meter breaststroke. 

    Hansen performed well at last year's U.S. National Championships, but if he doesn't win another medal in London, then his comeback will be questioned.

    If he swims well at the Olympic Trials and carries that momentum onto the podium in London, then he will be praised for his hard work, and his decision to return to the pool will be deemed as pure genius. 

3. Jessica Hardy

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    Jessica Hardy tested positive for a banned substance weeks before the 2008 Beijing Games. She has always maintained her innocence, and her two-year ban was cut in half, allowing her  to return to the pool a year early. 

    At the 2010 Pan Pacific Games, Hardy won four gold medals and appears to be ready to dominate in London. 

    There will be a lot for Hardy to prove in London because of her doping history. Once athletes test positive for a banned substance, they are looked at in a different way and face more scrutiny. 

    She will be competing in the 100-meter breaststroke, 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle along with two relay events in Omaha. 

    If Hardy performs well and wins a couple of medals in London, then her past indiscretion will be a thing of the past. 

2. Michael Phelps

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    Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer in Olympic history. Nothing that happens this summer in London will change that, but this time he has a bit of a rival. 

    Since the 2008 Games, Phelps has lost his claim as the best swimmer in the world. That title currently belongs to Ryan Lochte, who beat Phelps in the 200-meter freestyle at last year's World Championships.

    Phelps is currently set to take part in seven races at the U.S Olympic Trials and will compete against Lochte in at least three races.

    It will be especially interesting to see if Phelps decides to swim in the rigorous 400-meter individual medley. It is an event that Phelps has dominated in the past, as he won gold in each of the past two Olympics. 

    However, Lochte has beaten Phelps in the 400 IM in the past, and that may motivate Phelps to try to get revenge on his friend and fellow American. 

    Phelps has little left to prove, but beating Lochte this summer would send him out with an unblemished Olympic record. 

1. Ryan Lochte

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    Ryan Lochte is a six-time Olympic medalist, but when history looks back at his career, he will always be overshadowed by Michael Phelps. 

    That is, unless Lochte dominates the London Games and beats Phelps multiple times in the process. Even if he does so, he will not be considered better than Phelps. However, if Lochte captures a handful of gold medals this summer, he will chisel his name into swimming lore. 

    Lochte and Phelps will face off multiple times at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, and those races will represent another chance for Lochte to send a message to Phelps: a strong message, stating that he, not Phelps, is the best swimmer in the world. 

    All eyes will be on Lochte, and whether or not he can step up and truly prove that he is the best swimmer in the world.