Storylines will be colliding and diverging the next four days, a collection of plot twists involving some of the best swimmers in the world at the Janet Evans Invitational, which starts today in Long Beach.
The event will mark the debut of a 10,000-seat temporary venue, the Charter All Digital Aquatic Centre, serving as a test run for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in July. The Olympic trials -- centerpiece of the Long Beach Aquatic Festival -- are to be held July 7-14.
The different aspect about this meet, though, is that the swimmers are not on the same competitive curve. Americans, including veterans Jenny Thompson, Natalie Coughlin, Amanda Beard, Lenny Krayzelburg and Jason Lezak, will have an opportunity to give the pool a serious test before the trials.
Or, in the case of Beard, the chance to swim in off-events, those not involving her signature stroke, the breaststroke. She shares the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke.
The Australian swimmers, on the other hand, aren't concerned with the pending pressure of national trials, having already had them in March. A sizable contingent, including superstar Ian Thorpe, has been working hard, having spent a few weeks training at altitude recently at Flagstaff, Ariz.
Thorpe will be joined in Long Beach by teammates Michael Klim, Justin Norris, Todd Pearson, Sarah Ryan and Petria Thomas. Grant Hackett had also been scheduled to compete in Long Beach but returned to Australia recently, cutting short his Flagstaff sessions.
"There certainly has been an advantage training together in Flagstaff," Pearson said at a news conference Tuesday in Long Beach. "We were out to push each other, and I think we've pushed each other to new limits and hopefully new heights, come Athens. It's given us four months' preparation since the trials, and we're looking forward to the results that will come after all this hard training.
" ... I think it's going to give us an advantage, come Athens, to be so close and other teams around the world still have trials to go."
Said Thomas: "I know the racing is going to be extremely fast with a lot of the Americans leading into their Olympic trials, which are also important, and it's going to be a good measuring stick of where I am at the moment and what I might be capable of in a couple of months' time."
Among the other American athletes scheduled to compete are 2000 Olympians Lindsay Benko, Erik Vendt, Kaitlin Sandeno, Scott Tucker, Tom Malchow, Misty Hyman, Chad Carvin, Klete Keller, Staciana Stitts and Gary Hall Jr.
One particularly interesting showdown looms Friday night between Thorpe and Lezak, of the Irvine Novaquatics, in the 100-meter freestyle. At the World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, last year, Thorpe was third in a star-studded field and Lezak finished fourth. Thorpe's two other individual races in Long Beach will be the 200 and 400 freestyle.
Only two finals are scheduled for the first day, the men's and women's 800 freestyle.