Michigan GP: Five Storylines to Watch


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By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent for USA Swimming

Now that we’re in the doldrums of sport – when no “mainstream sport” championships loom on the horizon (no Super Bowl, no March Madness) – swim fans can turn their attention toward swimming, and Summer 2011. This weekend kicks off the first Grand Prix of the summer season, when swimmers shake off winter tapers and jump back in the pool, gearing up for that all-important pre-Olympic summer championship season. World Championships. Pan Ams. Nationals.
Big meets loom on the horizon.
This weekend at the Eric Namesnik Michigan Grand Prix (broadcast LIVE both on usaswimming.org/michigangrandprix and Universal Sports TV), here are five storylines to watch: 
Natalie Coughlin in the finals of the 200 IM at the 2008 Olympics. (Small)5. Natalie Coughlin Returns. The former Cal superstar returns to Grand Prix action for the first time this year. She’s everyone’s favorite Golden Girl (no, that’s not a rip on her age), and it’ll be interesting to see where she’s at with her swimming. Last December, Coughlin competed at the Short Course World Championships in Dubai, but now we get to see Coughlin in the midst of training. She’s such a great ambassador for the sport and a positive role model for kids, so we’re all rooting for a strong showing in 2011. Here’s to the first step in this pre-Olympic year for the Olympic champion. 
Peter Vanderkaay swimming at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships. (Small)4. Michigan Homecoming. Several swimmers return to Ann Arbor and Canham Natatorium. Peter Vanderkaay moved to Florida after a lifetime training and competing in Michigan. Michael Phelps moved to his hometown Baltimore after attending Michigan. Tyler Clary withdrew from the Wolverines to train at Fullerton under another Wolverine legend, head coach Jon Urbanchek. Allison Schmitt and Bob Bowman also return to Ann Arbor with Michigan ties. It should be interesting to see everyone compete once again in this breeding ground for Olympic champions. Must be something in the water. National Teamer Missy Franklin won the Kiphuth Award for High Points at the 2010 Short Course Nationals. (Small)
3. Grand Prix Leader Board. We continue to watch the Grand Prix leader board. Missy Franklin still holds a commanding lead over the rest of the field. After Ann Arbor, only two more Grand Prixs remain (Charlotte and Santa Clara). Ous Mellouli and Ryan Lochte sit in 2nd and 3rd, respectively. But so far, it’s been all 15-year-old Franklin (who turns 16 next month). We’ll see if someone can come close to her this weekend. 
Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps after the 200m IM at 2010 Nationals.2. Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte. The saga continues. The world’s two best all-around swimmers once again converge, this time in Michigan. Phelps is coming off a brilliant performance last month in Indianapolis. He dominated his events. Swam fast. Looked like the old Phelps. Even smiled a few times. Lochte, meanwhile, continues to be a workhorse. Swimming multiple events. Training hard. Playing hard. Most swim fans will tune in to watch these two battle, but also wonder: “What color swim suit will Lochte wear tonight?”
1. Twenty-Five National Teamers Competing. This weekend I was at a diversity clinic in Flushing, N.Y. There, kids all around the New York metro area had the opportunity to witness Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin swim a bit. The importance of watching fast swimming can never be understated: kids need to see fast swimming. They need to see, first-hand, how bodies move through the water. Humans are a visual species. You can explain the angle of a perfect hand-entry as much as you want; kids need to see it. No better opportunity to see fast swimming than this weekend in Ann Arbor, where 25 of the country’s best swimmers compete alongside 14, 15 and 16 year-olds. It’s a special opportunity, and if you live in the vicinity, drive there. You won’t regret it.