It’s not every day that you get to see an Olympic-calibre athlete compete in person. It’s even less often that you get to see literally a handful of them all at one place. Even rarer is the opportunity to meet an Olympic gold medalist.
This is exactly what happened this past weekend.
My son Carter and I headed down to Orlando to attend the USA Swimming Arena Grand Prix meet. This three-day meet is one stop of a six-city Grand Prix event. Let me tell you…the swimming was top-notch and fun to watch.
There were some HUGE names at the meet. Missy Franklin. Ryan Lochte. Conor Dwyer, Tyler Clary, Dana Vollmer. Anthony Ervin. There were also some up-and-coming, keep your eye on athletes: Becca Mann and Ryan Murphy. And even though the vast majority of the swimmers weren’t fully shaved and tapered, the meet was exceptional – and included a handful of best-in-the-world-this-year times.
So Carter and I headed down to Orlando on Saturday with high hopes of watching some good swimming and maybe getting a few autographs. Once we arrived at the pool, we (along with 20 or so other kids from Julington Creek Loggerhead Aquatics) hung out at the athlete/coach entrance hopeful to catch a swimmer on their way in for warm-ups. Not long after we arrived, a video crew came out looking for volunteers to participate in a segment taping for an upcoming TV show focusin on Ryan Lochte.
Carter – being a silly 13-year-old – naturally jumped at the chance to get taped. Of course, he thought that he was going to get videotaped actually interacting with Lochte…but that wasn’t the case. Regardless, he got the chance to be asked a few questions about Ryan, say why he liked Lochte as a swimmer, and ultimately ask “What would Ryan do?” (look for the TV show on “E Network” later this year, and you’ll understand the significance of that question).
Following his entry into the world of Reality TV, Carter and I headed into the meet.
The Arena Grand Prix Orlando was one of six different meets spread throughout the US. I believe that swimmers earn points for swimming at each meet – and can ultimately win a share of a pretty big prize pool (ha – get it….prize POOL). Additionally, I think there were cash prizes for winners of races in Orlando.
Saturday was the last day of a three-day meet, and we were there for finals. We got to see some good races: the women’s 800 LC meter free, and men’s and women’s 200 IM, 200 Back, 100 free, and then the men’s 1500 free. They had two heats of each race – a “B” final and an “A” final. The “A” final is the faster of the two, and where most of the “superstars” were.
As expected, there was great swimming. The first race – the 800 free – was won (going away, I might add) by 15 year-old phenom Becca Mann. You need to remember this name! She is going to be the real deal come time for the next Olympics. She pulled off a pretty amazing double at this meet – literally 5 minutes after winning the 800, she got right back in the pool and won the 200 IM! Keep in mind, though, that this young lady pulled off an even more amazing double a couple of years ago at the Florida Age Group Championships. She swam two Olympic Trials cuts in back-to-back races. And I mean literally back to back. She finished one race, got out of the pool, got right on the blocks and swam again!
Of course, the real stars of the night were Lochte and Franklin. Missy didn’t disappoint at all – she easily took the 200 backstroke and then turned around a few minutes later and won the 100 free (in :55:37….which for all of us short course swimmers translates to :48:95 in short course yards). Lochte won the 200 IM in a race that was fun to watch. It was like he toyed with the other swimmers for 150 meters and then literally floored the accelerator to surge past the rest of the field to win by more than a body length.
Another highlight was watching 31-year-old Anthony Ervin swim a :49:85 in the 100 free. That, in case you’re wondering, converts to :43:52 in a short course pool. Absolutely FLYING! Just for grins & giggles, I could do 50 yards in the time it’d take him to do 100 yards. Really puts into context how fast these world-class swimmers are.
Perhaps the biggest highlight (at least for the kids) was that they had an opportunity to get a bunch of autographs from the swimmers. One girl from our team snagged Dana Vollmer’s swim cap. Literally every big-name swimmer autographed something.
It was after the meet really ended that something really blew me away. Enter Missy Franklin – the 17-year old darling of the London games. She came out and hung-out and literally signed hundreds of autographs. I think she was out for more than an hour – the whole time with a million-watt smile on her face. She signed backpacks, swim caps, shirts, autograph books, phone cases…you name it. She probably posed for a couple hundred pictures (like the one below with Carter). In fact, I think she stayed out signing things until she was sure that anyone who wanted something had been cared for. It was, frankly, very impressive. I’ve never seen a “superstar” be so open and giving of her time. It really made an impact on us adults. And probably on the kids too.
Carter got Missy to sign his Beats headphones. He was super excited to have her do it! Later on, he found Lochte (actually as he was leaving the building) and got him to also sign his headphones. (Here’s a cool sidebar about Lochte…I heard over the weekend that once when he was a kid he tried to get an autograph at a New York Yankees game and the player wouldn’t do it because he “didn’t have time”. As a result, Lochte has vowed to never be that type of guy and will sign anything and everything).
At the end of the day, I can say that our little trip down to watch the Arena Grand Prix swim meet was AWESOME and built memories that will be hard to forget!