By Mike Gustafson// Special Correspondent for USA Swimming
Now that the waves have settled, and the pool is once again silent, we reflect on the Phillips 66 National Championships of the new Olympiad. We saw new faces emerge and seize the opportunity 2013 brings. We witnessed former London heroes of yesteryear dominate once more. We watched as up-and-comers mixed and mingled with veterans, clawing, scratching, and churning for a roster spot on the World Championship Team.
Now that the white waters have calmed, we have a much clearer view about elite swimming in the United States.
What did we learn? Who had the best performances? What swimmers seized their moment in the spotlight? As always, here are the 5 things we learned from the latest long course round of the Phillips 66 National Championships....
1. Missy and Ryan haven't missed a beat. Two swimmers, two superstars, two different post-London journeys, and two names who have once again ascended the throne of U.S. swimming. Anyone who thinks that returning from competition after winning Olympic gold is easy needs to have their goggles adjusted. Give STARS head coach Todd Schmitz credit. Missy Franklin handled post-London pressures. She returned to high school a celebrity. She navigated the new, shiny, bright waters of stardom and managed to emerge on the other side just as victorious -- and as humble -- one year later. That's not easy to do. While I'm sure there are all sorts of storylines and hardships we haven't heard about, what we do see is the product of another year of hard work and passionate effort. Missy hasn't missed a beat.
Also give Lochte's coach Gregg Troy credit. Talk about an up-and-down-and-all-around year. While Lochte wasn't at his best last week, he certainly did what it took to win a few titles. Also not easy to do, especially considering all the media hoopla surrounding Lochte's reality show that debuted earlier this year. I'm sure Troy would have preferred Lochte to remain in heavy training instead of venturing into the TV market, but give Team Lochte some credit, too. Swimmers can't just swim the rest of their lives. Lochte wanted to pursue another activity outside the pool, made it happen, and continues his swimming success. He was on pace to break the world record in the 200 IM until the final 50. In Barcelona, with more training and more focus, I bet he'll come very close to making that happen.
2. Katie Ledecky needs a nickname. Any 16-year-old who qualifies for the World Championship team in the 200, 400, 800, and 1500m freestyles needs a nickname. Ledecky is already an Olympic legend. Now she's traversing territory into swimming lore. How about it? I asked people on Twitter their thoughts, and I got many "LeDestroyer" or "LeDominator." Too bad "Le-" anything implies French. I hope Rowdy Gaines is locked away somewhere in a deep, dark cave conjuring different nicknames to bestow on Ledecky when she dominates the Worlds next month. What an awesome week-long performance by a phenomenal teenage superstar.
3. Eugene Godsoe took advantage of a Phelps-less Nationals. No Baltimore Bullet means more opportunities. Ironically, events previously dominated by Phelps are suddenly just as -- if not more -- exciting. That's because they're totally unpredictable and up for grabs. Events like the 100 and 200 butterfly are suddenly as unpredictable as March Madness. Two swimmers took advantage: Tom Luchsinger and Eugene Godsoe. The former took the 200m butterfly title, surging home over the final 15 meters and winning over Tyler Clary. The latter Godsoe won both the 50m and 100m butterfly, solidifying his spot as our sprint butterflyer at Worlds. Talk about two swimmers who rose to the occasion. It's not easy to suddenly find yourself in the spotlight, knowing the opportunity to break-through is finally there. Are we seeing the next two great butterflyers of this Olympiad? No doubt that each will have a substantial boost in momentum and confidence heading into Barcelona. They won't be watching this meet on TV. They'll be competing, learning, and hopefully, winning.
4. Anthony Ervin: He keeps going... and going... and going... Part of the allure of the The 'Nat are those names on the wall. After hosting previous Olympic Trials, a multitude of previous Olympians' names are painted on the wall of this Mecca of swimming. But if you glance at the names from the 2000 Olympic Trials, only one name continues to swim at the elite level: Anthony Ervin. It's amazing to remember those other names he's grouped with, swimmers like Tom Dolan. Many people see Ervin's resurgence as a comeback story, but when you consider that Ervin won Olympic gold and probably has just as much seasoned racing experience as anyone else, Ervin has all the tools that sprint swimming requires. He's got the mental fortitude. He looks as though his freestyle continues to improve and stroke gets faster. He qualified for the 400 freestyle relay, and afterwards reflected that it's been "10 years since I've last been on a relay." Ervin is the Energizer Bunny of swimming. Since trekking around the FINA World Cup last fall (financed in part by his fandom on IndieGoGo), Ervin has scorched the pool and just hasn't let up since London. On to Barcelona...
5. There are new, young names that could be major forces in 2016. Remember these names: Simone Manuel. Kendyl Stewart. Chase Kalisz. Ryan Murphy. Jack Conger. These are just a few names who either made the Worlds Team or came very, very close. Numerous teenage swimmers watched the London Olympics and returned to the pool as motivated as ever. These are the swimmers who hit the pool day in, day out at 5am every day. These are the swimmers who, while other Olympians took time off, hit the weight room, hoping to rise in their wake. Of all the newcomers, Simone Manuel impressed me the most. It's not easy as a younger swimmer challenging the field in the 50 freestyle. Manuel not only challenged them, she beat them. The only woman she didn't knock off was Natalie Coughlin. Look for Manuel to gain incredible racing experience in Barcelona and emerge the better, more mentally confident, and formidable swimmer. In this post-London, post-Phelps era of U.S. swimming, it seems as though the next generation of swimmers is ready, able, and motivated to keep the torch burning.