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2010 Grand Prix showcases Olympians

Nearly 400 swimmers representing 112 USA Swimming teams were making waves April 1 through April 3 at the Bill and Mae McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion for the 2010 Columbus Grand Prix.

Ohio State hosted the fifth stop in the eight-meet series that started on Nov. 13, 2009, in Minneapolis, Minn.

“The Grand Prix series serves as an opportunity for swimmers to race against some of the best competition in the country, as they continue their preparation for the 2010 ConocoPhillips National Championships and the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships,” according to a USA Swimming press release from March 29.

Four pool records were broken over the weekend, according to Swimnetwork’s Web site. On April 2, U.S. Olympian Eric Shanteau broke the men’s 200 meter breaststroke record with a time of 2 minutes, 10.84 seconds. Nick Thoman broke the men’s 100 meter backstroke record with a time of 53.95 seconds.

On April 3, Elizabeth Pelton broke the women’s 200 meter backstroke record with a time of 2 minutes, 8.67 seconds. Jasmine Tosky broke the women’s 200 meter butterfly record with a time of 2 minutes, 10.69 seconds.

Some swimmers are also motivated by the $20,000 prize that goes to the overall winner at the end of the series, which will be awarded on July 11 at the last meet in Los Angeles, according to USA Swimming’s Web site.

Throughout the Grand Prix Series, a gold medal earns five points, silver earns three points and bronze earns one point.

Following the Columbus Grand Prix, U.S. Olympian Chloe Sutton remained in first place for the overall standings with a total of 83 points. She added 15 points at the Columbus Grand Prix with gold medals in the 200 meter, 400 meter and 800 meter freestyle events.

U.S. Olympian Cullen Jones, 26, is not in the top 10 standings of the Grand Prix series but still came to compete in Columbus.

The New Jersey native was the second African-American in history to win an Olympic Gold medal in 2008 with the 4×100 freestyle relay team.

Jones represented the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club of Charlotte, N.C. and swam the 100 meter freestyle event in 50.45 seconds on April 3, which was his best time of the year for that event, he said.

“One of my coaches said I was in better shape for the 100-meter than I was for the 50-meter yesterday, which was nice to hear,” Jones said. “I expected the 100-meter to be worse, but I’m not hurting at all right now.”

Jones said he is setting his sights ahead to the 2012 Olympic team trials in Omaha, Neb., by training with former Auburn University swimming coach David Marsh.

“I have high hopes for making the team in the 100 meter and 50 meter freestyle events. I could see myself getting in the top two places for the 100 and maybe even winning the 50,” Jones said.

When he is not in the pool completing his daily 8,000-yard workout, the video game and movie fanatic can be found “guilty of playing Call of Duty” and “sneaking a hamburger, fully-loaded, but with no mayo,” he said.

Despite appearances by the likes of Jones and Sutton, the meet also included young swimmers who are waiting to see where their swimming careers can take them.

Gina Matsumoto, 15, was the youngest of six swimmers representing the Great Lakes Aquatics team at the Columbus Grand Prix.

The eight-year swimming veteran traveled with her team from Detroit, Mich., to participate in the 200 meter butterfly.

To prepare for the meet, Matsumoto practiced twice a week, in the mornings before school and every evening after school. She also had weight training three days a week. Her weekly practice schedule added up to about 60,000 yards.

Matsumoto’s coach, John McGuire, said this was the first time his youngest team member had ever been to this level of a national meet to compete.

“These meets serve as an evaluation period to look at what the last cycle of work has produced and to expose our swimmers to this high-quality level of athletes from around the country,” McGuire
said.

Matsumoto placed 14th in the 200 meter butterfly preliminaries and was allowed to advance to the finals on Saturday night.

“Gina is not an overwhelmingly good athlete, but very fit,” McGuire said. “Last year, she was 20 seconds away from making the cut to this meet. Now she’s done it, and I’m proud of her.”

Jessen Book, assistant coach to the OSU men’s varsity swim team, said there were 40 OSU varsity swimmers competing in the
Columbus Grand Prix because of the convenience of the meet.

On Feb. 27, the men’s team won its first Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championship in 54 years.

“The guys competing in this weekend’s meet are doing it purely for fun,” Book said. “It’s toward the end of our season, and we’re in a laid-back phase right now, we’re just letting them loosen up.”

Book said he likes having meets at the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion because it is the biggest indoor pool in America with features that no other pool has.

“The pool is bigger. It allows more lanes that help us get younger athletes into meets sooner. We have a good recruiting class coming in next year, and this lets us see how quickly they develop,” Book said.

Christine Thompson, the meet director, agrees that the McCorkle is the best environment for great swims.

“We were asked to host this meet; it wasn’t bid on like a lot of meets are. To us that’s a nice honor,” she said.

Planning for the 2010 Columbus Grand Prix began in December 2009, Thompson said.

The McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion also hosted the 2008 Toyota Grand Prix, and in December will host the 2010 USA Swimming Short Course Nationals, the winter equivalent of the Grand Prix series.

“We have a wonderful staff, and hosting meets gets people used to the facility,” Thompson said.

She hopes that in the future, the Grand Prix series will again return to Columbus.

“I would like to make this an annual event,” Thompson said. “It brings swimmers to Columbus, and it’s good exposure for the university.”

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