There was a funny moment Sunday at the 2016 Arena Pro Swim Series at Charlotte when 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte and NFL running back DeAngelo Williams met for the first time in a hallway.
Williams – the former Carolina Panther who is now a Pittsburgh Steeler and shares a trainer with Lochte – sized the swimmer up.
“I thought you were taller!” Williams said.
Like much of the rest of the world, Williams will need an introduction to the U.S. swimmers who find the Olympic spotlight only once every four years. A number of those swimmers were in Charlotte for the past four days for the 2016 Arena Pro Swim Series at Charlotte. With six weeks to go before the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha and less than three months until the 2016 Olympics in Rio, here are five impressions of the meet and what lies ahead for American swimmers.
1. Charlotte will be well-represented on the U.S. swim team as usual. SwimMAC Carolina’s Team Elite, based in Charlotte, provides one of the best concentrations of chlorinated talent in the world. It would be a surprise if there weren’t at least three U.S. Olympians who qualify from Team Elite – Lochte is as near a sure thing as you can get – and perhaps twice that many will make it. And the U.S. women’s Olympics head swim coach is David Marsh, who is also Team Elite’s head coach.
2. I communicated Sunday briefly via email with Hannah Saiz, who finished third in the women’s 200 butterfly Saturday night but then collapsed on the pool deck. Saiz eventually was helped to a wheelchair and wheeled out of the aquatic center by medical personnel. It was an unnerving five minutes for everyone. But Saiz – who lives in Wisconsin – said Sunday she is OK.
“I’m alive and kicking,” she said in her email, adding that she had “tons of fun at the Charlotte meet.”
Saiz has previously suffered severe asthma attacks after swimming, and once in college temporarily had to stop competing because of her asthma. But she said that wasn’t the problem this time.
“This isn’t asthma,” Saiz said, “and we’re still trying to figure out what it is.”
3. The meet certainly felt the absence of Michael Phelps, who has traditionally put the Charlotte meet on his calendar for the past several years but did not show up this time.
Phelps was going to swim in a meet in Atlanta this weekend anyway, but instead ended up swimming nowhere and staying home because he just became a new father. Without Phelps, the meet lost a very big headliner, and the crowds at Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center – while still good – did not appear quite as large as they have been in the past several years.
4. Charlotte has temporarily gained an eclectic and experienced swimmer, as Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin moved to the Queen City to train only three weeks ago to train with Team Elite in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics.
Ervin, 34, has California roots, but his parents retired to Fort Mill nine years ago. He won the 50 freestyle Saturday over a strong field and has lit a competitive fire under Cullen Jones, who is used to being the fastest 50 freestyler around but now is challenged for that title each day in practice by Ervin.
5. While Lochte won another event Sunday – the 200 individual medley to go along with his 400 IM win – neither he nor Marsh seemed very satisfied with his time of 1 minute and 58.97 seconds. Lochte holds the world record in the event of 1:54.00. Lochte, who came into the meet in the middle of a massive training cycle with no rest, said afterward his legs “felt like cinder blocks.”
“All weekend, he’s had kind of heavy legs I’d say,” Marsh said of Lochte. “He hasn’t had that spark I’ve seen in practice. ... For Ryan, he usually doesn’t have to feel perfect. But at his age now (Lochte is 31), he needs to feel a little closer to perfect than he used to. You can’t just turn on the teenaged switch and come to life. Those are things he’s learning, because he likes to do what he likes to do.”
Lochte said he felt he had a “solid meet” but that he needed more time to “tune up” before the Olympics. As for Williams, Lochte said he planned to enjoy watching Williams attempt to learn how to navigate the water instead of a football field.
“We’ll hang out,” Lochte said of Williams. “He said he wants to learn how to swim and everything, so that will be fun. He says he can doggie paddle but he doesn’t really know how to swim.”