Nations top swimmers converge on Columbia, MU

Wednesday, February 13, 2008 | 11:12 p.m. CST; updated 1:30 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — At least 20 Olympic swimmers, along with other U.S. National Team members, will be coming to Columbia this weekend to compete in the year’s firs long course meet.

The Missouri Grand Prix will be held Friday to Monday in the Mizzou Aquatic Center at the MU Student Recreation Complex.

If you go

What: The Missouri Grand Prix When: Preliminary heats are at 4:30 p.m., Friday through Sunday; finals will start at 9 a.m. the following morning, Saturday through Monday. Where: Mizzou Aquatic Center, MU Student Rec Complex, MU campus Tickets: Prelim tickets cost $5 at the door; finals cost $10, and an weekend pass costs $30. Schedule: Find schedules and meet information here.

The national athletes will be using the 50-meter pool format to prepare for the U.S. Olympic qualifying trials, set to be held June 29 to July 6 in Omaha, Neb.

With about 640 athletes competing in 32 different events at the Grand Prix, all eyes in the swimming world will be on Columbia.

“This is competition they’re not going to see much of, and it’s getting them prepped for the trials,” said Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for MizzouRec, of the Olympians. “These are some of the best swimmers from all across the country.”

Last year’s Grand Prix drew an estimated crowd of 5,000, but with a stronger group of swimmers competing in a Olympic year — and Michael Phelps debuting a new Speedo suit — the attendance for the meet should increase.

Despite the spike in attendance, though, Anderson said he did not anticipate having to turn away people at the door.

“We’re not going to turn people away,” Anderson said. “We want people to have the best experience they can, so we’ll fit them in anywhere we can.”

Anderson recommended fans come early because of crowd space, especially during finals sessions.

Tickets can be purchased at the entrance to the pool for $5 for a preliminary session and $10 for a finals session. Fans can also purchase an all-session pass for $30, which will allow them to attend all sessions during the meet’s four days.

The format of the meet will mimic the swimming schedule for the upcoming Beijing Olympics, with preliminaries being held at night and finals for the same events held the following morning. Athletes must compete in the preliminaries to be eligible for the finals.

Preliminary warm-ups will begin Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m., with the meet beginning at 4:30 p.m. Finals warm-ups will begin Saturday, Sunday and Monday at 7:30 a.m., with the meet beginning at 9 a.m. The top 24 swimmers in each event will advance to finals.

Event times have not been set yet, but a list of events for each day of competition can be found here.

Anderson said the 100-free and 200-butterfly races will be “things you’re going to want to see.” The 100-free race will feature top U.S. swimmers Natalie Coughlin and Katie Hoff, as well four-time Olympian Dara Torres, on the women’s side. Phelps will swim in the 200-fly, an event in which he broke the world record at last year’s Grand Prix.

Anderson urged fans to attend the finals sessions, despite their early start times.

“Finals are going to be high-intensity,” he said. “That’s where it all is. That’s where it’s all going to go down.”

With the quality of competition and the major media outlets covering the meet, people from all over the world will be watching Columbia as a precursor to this summer’s qualifying trials and the Olympic Games themselves.

“It’s an experience not many people get to have, and we’re honored to participate in it,” Anderson said.

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