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Great Scott! Weltz Tears Up The Script

Jun 29, 2012  - Craig Lord

US Olympic Trials, Omaha, Day 5 Finals:

Men's 200m Breaststroke

Californian Scott Weltz and his coach Peter Motekaitis at Marin Pirates dreamed the Olympic dream in the opening final of day 5 at the Century Link Convention Center. With the experienced hands of Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau and the building strength of Clark Burckle to contend with, Weltz, the 25-year-old was an outside shot going in to the biggest race of his life so far.

He came out as the man in the inside, an Olympic team member with a big new lifetime best of 2:09.01, fourth in the world this year. Clark Burckle took the second berth in 2:09.97, that locking out Eric Shanteau, on 2:10.05, and former world record holder Brendan Hansen, on 2:10.35.

Weltz arrived at trials with a lifetime best of 2:12.37, cracked that with a 2:10.90 in heats and then challenged that with a 2:10.99 in semis. In the heat of the moment, some melt. Weltz, a born-again swimmer compared to his days as a 2:17.60 200m man as a 22-year-old back in 2009, smoked it. 

With Kosuke Kitajima (JPN), and Olympic champion heading for a triple in London, looking on from the stands, Hansen cracked down the first lap in 29.05, just 0.14sec outside world record pace. By the half-way a blanket field was led by Burckle in 1:02.11, Hansen and Shanteau close, Weltz back in 6th on 1:03.42.

The shape shifted down the third lap as Shanteau took control of the pace on his way to turning first on 1:35.80 in lane 5. What Hansen and Burckle could not see was the surging progress of the man on the other side of Shanteau: Weltz turned just 0.08sec shy of the leader. 

Off the last wall, it soon became clear that Weltz had the most fuel left in his tank: in 33.13 he was almost a second faster on the way home than the next best in the race, Burckle, on 34.00, that not only locked out Shanteau and Hansen but gave us a glimpse of a wizardly finishing stroke, a sort of arcing lunge. Whatever it was, it did the trick.

Burckle tweeted a touching tribute to late coach Ron Ballatore: "…he taught me the 'faster finish technique' years ago when I'd endlessly pick his brain. He was one of my heroes". Something a fair few said of Ballatore.

Weltz's time is second best ever by an American. In the US, only Hansen has gone faster in a textile suit, his 2:08.50 from 2006 a world record at the time. Weltz, now 8th best ever in textile globally, stopped swimming for eight months after he graduated an beancounters cut the men's swimming programme at Aggie and threw out the swimmers and coaches.

Motekaitis stayed on, as head of the women's programme but when Weltz showed up and asked if he could get back into it, the coach asked "are you serious?"

"We sat down we had a plan. It was just me and him in training. He's the only one there to push me and give me words of encouragement," said Weltz. Motekaitis calls the partnership a team. When the swimmer lifts weights, so does the coach.

They go back a long way. "He was the only person who recruited me out of high school," said Weltz. "He turned up in a Cal cap for recruitment!" recalled Motekaitis. 

Working out on the edge of things, beyond the big programmes beyond the support network enjoyed at bigger establishments can break you, says the coach. It can make you too, he noted - and Weltz had grown mentally strong. As the coach spoke, Weltz stood in the background chatting to 1992 Olympic breaststroke champion Nelson Deibel, who has helped out a swimmer with Arena kit but not advice. "He doesn't need that from me," said Deibel with a smile.

Asked to talk about his programme, Weltz said: "My coach is Peter Motekaitis. I went to UC Davis. I was a distance swimmer, and I swam with Rick Henderson, and toward my junior year I transferred over to shorter things and started focusing on breaststroke a little more. Pete always -- our team was cut, UC Davis lost its men's swim team - so he transferred over and became the assistant coach for the women. And after I graduated, I went back to him. He helped put Haley Cope on the 2004 Olympic Team, and he asked me if I was really serious about it because he didn't want to mess around, because he puts a lot into it. I owe him a lot for that. We sat down, we had a plan from day one. He said, "We're going to do this." We started doing a lot of things differently.

"Sometimes I would joke and say, 'If you would have trained our whole team like this, we would have been way better', but we were going on different cycles, five days on, one day off, instead of doing the weekly thing, pretty hard swimming weekends. And we don't have a team, so it's just me and him in the pool. I train by myself. Sometimes the women's team is there, but they're doing their own thing, so he's the only one there to push me. He always gives me words of encouragement and basically he has a plan and we stick to it.

Would he not have been better off in a big programme, Weltz was asked. "Pete was the only person that recruited me out of high school. He obviously saw something maybe early on. You know, I always kind of wanted to go to Texas, things like that, Cal, Stanford, because you go to the big schools and train with these guys “ but, you know, when I came back and knew I would be training by myself, Pete said, 'You're going to be mentally tougher than anyone else there because you do this by yourself'."

The distance free training and the doing by himself shows up in the splits:

  • 29.85; 1:03.42; 1:35.88; 2:09.01 Weltz
  • 29.55; 1:02.11; 1:35.97; 2:09.97 Burckle
  • 29.59; 1:02.68; 1:35.80; 2:10.05 Shantey
  • 29.05; 1:02.23; 1:36.06; 2:10.25 Hansen

The world is led at 2:08.00 this year by Kitajima, a hungry man: of late it was revealed in Japan that a bad investment turned sour and the quadruple Olympic champion lost about $1m. Ouch! A great incentive to join the triple Games champions' club and keep that earning power up.  

Back in Omaha, Weltz, asked if he had thought it possible to be on the Olympic team,  said: "My coach has been saying it a lot, my dad has been saying it. Now being able to say it out loud … its pretty cool."

He had been "freaking out" all night unable to sleep well before the final but he had a left-field plan in mind, he joked: "a negative split!" Not quite - but a winning attempt.

Burckle, four years after finishing fifth at 2008 trials, said: "I just wanted to be in the race." His voice cracking with emotion, he added: "I put everything into the last lap … and relied on what was inside. It's what i did."

Weltz is a reborn breaststroke ace: back at 2008 trials he was 63rd in the 200m breaststroke and fared better (no better than 30th in all events) in the 200 and 400IM and 400m free.

Women's 200m butterfly

Cammile Adams became the second Aggie swimmer to make the Olympic team here at trials with a lifetime best of 2:06.52 ahead of Kathleen Hersey, on 2:07.72 and also on the US team for London 2012. 

The winning splits: 29.52; 1:01.30; 1:33.70; 2:06.52.

At the 50m mark, Kim Vandenberg led the way on 28.76. hersey took over at 1:00.86 by the half-way turn, Adams moving up from 7th to third on 1:01.30. By the last turn, Hersey led on 1:33.54, 0.16sec ahead of Adams, with the rest falling off the pace, Teresa Crippen just ahead of Vandenberg. Off the last wall, coach Steve Bultman's charge bolted and left the rest in her wake with a dominant 32.82 last lap. A couple of seconds more may be needed for a podium place a month from now.

Asked to describe how she felt, Adams said: "I was in my own world kind of, like always and just swam my own race. That's something Steve likes us to do. So, first 100, just felt nice and relaxed and after the third 50 I kind of swam my race from there. I don't go off Steve so much from there, I just do my own thing and last 50 came home with everything I had."

Adams spoke of the support she gets from family, including her sister Ashley and the Aggie team. "Ashley is my biggest fan and I think I'm hers, so I think it's such a bond that so many people don't get to experience," said Adams. "I'm so privileged to have that bond with somebody. Just the Aggie family in general is something that - coming from a club team I trained more or less with just a couple of other people or by myself.

"Training with 35 girls every day has been so much fun, and I think I picked the perfect school, and I can't imagine going anywhere without Ashley. It's surprising A&M was the only school we looked at going together, and I'm so thankful we both ended up choosing to come to A&M."

Of her coach she noted: "Steve is an interesting, quirky kind of guy, and he definitely has a plan for each and every athlete that comes through A&M, and each of our plans is a little bit different. He's the best coach that I've ever had, and he's so supportive, and he listens to what you want to do. Tamika has been a blessing being on the team this year as well, and he's good at doing things with "200" girls, and we do a lot of 200 pace stuff, which works for Breeja [Larson, winner of the 100m breaststroke] as well, and I'm just so thankful."

Adams breathes to the side. Why? "I started breathing to the side in the sixth grade, and we were playing around with my timing of the breathing and that sort of thing, and Scott MacFarland, he coaches for the Magnolia Aquatics Club in Texas, and it stuck. People ask if it gives me an advantage or something like that. I mean, I don't think it gives me too much of an advantage because I can't see from the other side as well, but I still saw Kathleen there on the last lap, so I don't think it hinders me, either."

Did it just feel more comfortable? "Yeah, it feels more comfortable and when I tried - we've been working on my timing of my breaths the past couple of years and it was weird - I was like, "I don't like this. Let's go back to the side."

In semi-finals:

Women's 200m breaststroke 

Olympic champion Rebecca Soni extended her lead at the helm of the world rankings in 2:21.45 (32.82; 35.74; 36.56; 36.33). Closest to her were Micah Lawrence, 2:24.12, and Andrea Kropp, on 2:24.93.

After posting the fastest heats time ever on 2:23.11, Soni's semis effort also extended to 9 the number of top 15 all-time efforts she holds, all others in that list belonging to Leisel Jones when it comes to life in a textile suit.

Asked if she now has her eye on the world record, which has stood at 2:20.12 to Annamay Pierse (CAN) since the 2009 shiny suits season, Soni said: "I can't really focus on that because I don't want to push it too early and fall back, so I just want to swim well for me, whatever that is. If that manages to be a world record, that would be amazing, but I'm not focusing on it. I'm focussed on making the team. I'm happy with the time. It's close to my best. Every time I like to get a little closer and we'll see tomorrow. I'm not thinking about times or records, I just want to see a one or two."

Women's 100m freestyle

Amanda Weir led the way to the final in 54.14, with Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt, Jessica Hardy, Dana Vollmer, Madison Kennedy and Natalie Coughlin all in the hunt for a relay berth beyond any solo spots they may earn.

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