COLUMBIA — The fastest race of the Missouri Grand Prix will be today at 9 a.m. And Michael Phelps won’t be involved.
The women’s 200-meter freestyle race will feature seven U.S. National Team swimmers in the top heat’s eight spots, including stars Katie Hoff, Natalie Coughlin and Kara Lynn Joyce.
Phelps will face tough competition in the men’s 200-free final in Klete Keller and Erik Vendt, and will also swim in the 400-meter IM finals.
Other top returning swimmers for the Sunday finals session include Caitlyn Leverenz and Amanda Beard in the 200-meter breaststroke and Joyce, Dara Torres and Coughlin in the 50-meter freestyle.
Hoff, the 18-year-old face of the U.S. national team, crushed the field in the 400-meter freestyle final Saturday morning in the first of two record-breaking performances. Hoff’s time bettered a 20-year-old mark by former distance swimming star Janet Evans by over a second-and-a-half. After the race, Hoff’s coach sent a text message to Evans to let her know of Hoff’s accomplishment.
“I’m really shocked to be going that fast right now,” said Hoff, who also won the 100-meter freestyle. “The race felt good... I’m still in shock.”
Hoff stressed what an honor it was to break the record of the “distance queen” Evans, who established the former record on Sept. 22, 1988, almost a year before Hoff was born. Evans’ mark was the oldest American record still standing.
Hoff’s race was actually the second record-breaking swim of the day. Earlier, in the 200-meter backstroke, Kirsty Coventry established the world record, edging the previous time by .23 seconds.
“I’ve wanted it for a long time now, so to get it, and it’s even better to get it in before the Olympics,” Coventry said. “I’m even more excited for the summer.”
Coventry, a member of Zimbabwe’s national team and the gold medalist at the Athens Olympics in the event, attributed part of her success to increased strength because of weight training.
She also said it was exciting to have a record swim without resting from her training schedule and to swim so fast in a morning race. The Beijing Olympics will also hold finals sessions in the morning.
This marks the second consecutive year that the Missouri Grand Prix has seen a world record swim. Last year, Phelps set the world record in the 200-meter butterfly.
“Obviously, fast swimming can be done in the morning,” Phelps said after winning the 200-fly final Saturday morning. “A lot of us are proving that today... And that’s the most important thing heading into the Olympics.”
Phelps, one of a handful of U.S. National Team Members wearing the new Speedo Lzr, also led the 200-meter freestyle preliminaries Saturday evening. Phelps wore a suit covering only his legs rather than the full-body Lzr he wore in pictures released last week.
“Being able to be about a half-second faster than I was last year, I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Phelps, who had been recovering from a wrist injury. “I’m happy with the suit. I felt good.”