Swimmer Nathan Adrian describes sprinting as being catlike. You eat, take naps, and lounge all day. When it's time to flip the switch, you have to move fast.
Apparently, the cats had a hard time waking up Wednesday night.
In a slow race across the board, Adrian beat a vaunted field in the 100-meter freestyle at the 2014 National Championships at Irvine with a time of 48.24 seconds. Earlier in the day, Adrian said that he hoped to be in the 47-second range for the final.
Ryan Lochte finished second despite qualifying for the final by six-tenths of a second. Jimmy Feigen and Conor Dwyer rounded out the top four, while Michael Phelps finished seventh after missing the turn wall after 50 meters.
"I don't think any of us have quite figured it out," Adrian said after the race. "That was a little bit slower than most of us expected it to be. Fortunately, I think I just did a little less bad than everyone else. ... We know as a whole that group of eight guys is much faster than what we showed in the pool tonight."
After the prelims Wednesday morning, the majority of the swimmers were in the warm-down pool for longer than usual, trying to recover. Prelims are generally easy, but in this event, taking it easy meant not qualifying.
Of the eight swimmers to make the finals, seven were Olympians. Six have won a gold medal in a freestyle event.
Adrian, though, remained the favorite after earning the best overall time in prelims. He has won the last three 100-meter free national titles, and also won gold in the event in London.
"It was kind of weird looking at the heat sheet this morning," Adrian said after prelims. "I generally have a pretty good grasp of what it's going to take and what it's going to feel like to make a final heat, but this morning I didn't have as much of an idea."
The attention around the event increased with Phelps, of course. After returning from a brief retirement in April, the nationals are his biggest event since the 2012 Olympics. The 100 free is not something he usually trains for — rather, it was an event Phelps could succeed in purely because of the rigorous training he did for other events. Of his 18 Olympic gold medals, he never won the 100 freestyle.
"It always used to be something he did on endurance, right?" Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, said Tuesday. "Now, we're doing it on crab cakes."
Phelps finished third in the prelims, but then missed the wall on the turn in the final. He didn't make excuses after the race, but the nationals are outside and the light and wind changed between the prelims and the finals.
"I'm really interested to see what the replay looks like, because when I came to the wall, I felt like I had set myself up for a good one, just based on where I was in comparison to Nathan," Phelps said. "I thought I had the right distance to hit the wall, and when I literally took a couple kicks, I was barely past the flags. I knew there was very little chance I was going to run anybody down."
After the race, Adrian, sore and tired, said he was going to sit and recover for the next couple days. The cat returns to his natural state, hoping to flip the switch a little faster next time around.
In the women's 100 free, Missy Franklin edged out Simone Manuel, 53.43 seconds to 53.66. Franklin also finished first in the event last year. … Katie Ledecky dominated the 800 freestyle final, winning by more than six seconds despite finishing five seconds slower than her own world-record time. … Camille Adams won the women's 200 butterfly, and Tom Shields won the same event on the men's side. … Connor Jaeger won the men's 1,500 free by more than five seconds.