Ryan Lochte and Jessica Hardy were just two of the many Olympic hopefuls that swarmed USA Swimming's AT&T Winter National Championships last week in Atlanta, Georgia.
One factor contributing to the popularity of the event was the organization's approval of switching the traditionally short-course meet (racing in a pool of 25 yards) to a long-course meet (50 meters). Long-course times are eligible for qualification for Olympic trials in Omaha next year.
The potential to put up some qualifying times drew a large crowd of swimmers who were eager to practice for the big meet.
The three-day competition featured strong American swimmers in every field. Although the most recognizable, Michael Phelps, was not present, there was enough star potential to go around.
Phelps' good friend and chief competitor, Ryan Lochte, competed in few events, including the 200 individual medley (IM). Earlier this year, he beat Phelps in the same event in Shanghai and set a world record. Lochte did not race at his full potential and failed to place in any of his races. He came in sixth in his signature swim. Instead, South Africa's Darian Townsend got the top spot.
Commentator Rowdy Gaines noted Lochte's extreme training schedule and how he traditionally swims better at meets when he tapers—which he did not for this event.
Former Cal Bear sprinter Nathan Adrian raced brilliantly in his two events. He placed first in both the 100 and 50 freestyle, coming in at a sturdy 21.85 for the 50 free.
Matt Grevers won the 100 backstroke, Brendan Hansen did double duty to claim both the 100 and 200 breaststroke, and Jason Dunford took the 100 butterfly. Tyler Clary won the 200 backstroke and came in second for the 200 butterfly. He also won the 400 IM, which tests the endurance and versatility of the swimmer.
Other Cal Bears included Caitlin Leverentz, who outraced Elizabeth Pelton to win the 200 IM. Leverentz put in a strong breaststroke leg—her specialty. She also won the 400 IM. Dana Vollmer did her alma mater proud by snagging the 100 butterfly.
Jessica Hardy put up a good 100 breaststroke swim against the great Rebecca Soni, but Soni was able to hold her off and keep her title as the world's most dominant breaststroker. Soni won that race as well as the 200 breast.
Hardy left the meet with the 50 free title after outracing the veteran Dara Torres. Despite a knee injury earlier this month, Torres competed at full force. Accompanying that win was the 100 free, which Hardy took in 54.82 over 16-year-old Missy Franklin.
Franklin dazzled at the meet, putting in excellent times across the board. Franklin won the 100 and 200 backstroke, but it is worth noting that Natalie Coughlin was not at the meet to race in her best events. Franklin lost out on the 200 freestyle to France's Camille Muffat by one-tenth of a second—a great indicator of her progress so far in competing against the world's elite.
Among the international swimmers competing were France's Frederick Bousquet and Japan's Kosuke Kitajima.
Whether the swimmers won or lost, they all left with a better sense of how race ready they are now. They also know what work still needs to be done in the final months before London.