OMAHA, Neb. — Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau were the favorites.
The race was a different matter.
In another major breaststroke upset, Scott Weltz won the 200 meters at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials Friday night, leaving Hansen and Shanteau with only one individual event at the London Games.
On a night when Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps were focused on getting through semifinal races, Nathan Adrian won the 100 freestyle and Cullen Jones claimed the second spot for London, while Natalie Coughlin barely kept alive her last chance to make it back to the Olympics.
But the men’s 200 breast was the real stunner, just as shocking as the women’s 100 breast, which was won by Breeja Larson over Rebecca Soni and Jessica Hardy. At least Soni got second place, still good enough for a do-over in the Olympics.
Neither Hansen nor Shanteau were as fortunate.
“My whole body was kind of tingling and I was like, ‘I’m feeling it and something is different, this is the time,’” Weltz said. “I was smiling behind the blocks, I wasn’t nervous. I felt great going into it.”
Clark Burckle claimed the second spot on the Olympic team, another big surprise. Shanteau finished third and Hansen faded to fourth, the two of them forced to settle for only swimming the 100 breast in London after going 1-2 in that event at the trials.
“I think you guys are as surprised as I am,” Hansen said. “I can’t believe Eric and I are not swimming the 200.”
The 25-year-old Weltz moved up on the third lap and surged to the finish to win in 2 minutes, 9.01 seconds. Burckle was next in 2:09.97, edging Shanteau with the touch.
“When I turned at the wall, I saw I wasn’t a body length and a half behind, I was like, ‘I’ve only got to make up a maybe a half-body length. I can do this,’” Weltz said. “From then on, it was like a freight train going forward.”
Shanteau, who competed in the 200 breast at Beijing after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, considers the longer event his better race and thought the 100 was just a bonus. Now, it’s his only Olympic race, which is why he was especially distraught when he looked up at the board and saw that Burckle got him by eight-hundredths of a second.
Shanteau took off his cap and goggles and hung on the lane rope, his head dropping back against the wall he didn’t get to quite fast enough.
Hansen finished in 2:10.25.
“I didn’t think Weltz had it in him,” Hansen said. “He swam like a big-time swimmer.”
Hansen got an ugly reminder of his performance at the 2008 trials, when he went in as the 200 favorite and couldn’t hold it together on the final lap. He followed with a disappointing performance in Beijing, which led him to retire from the sport in disgust. He returned after a more than two-year layoff and seemed on course for redemption after winning the 100 breast.
“I’m disappointed by my performance,” Hansen said. “The whole time I thought I was right on pace. When I turned it on with 150 to go, I thought, ‘Uh oh, been here before.’”
Adrian was a big favorite in the 100 free, and this race went as expected. The 23-year-old native of Washington state led at the flip and never let up on the return lap, winning clearly in 48.10, the fourth-fastest time in the world this year.
“The first 15 meters I said to myself, ‘I think can do this, I might have put myself in a good spot,’” Adrian said.
The real battle was for the second individual spot. Jones went out strong, as always, and managed to hold on in an outside lane to touch in 48.46, giving the first African-American ever to win an Olympic swimming gold a chance to add to his collection in London.
Matt Grevers was next (48.55), followed by Ricky Berens (48.80), which assures them of spots in the pool for the 400 free relay. Jimmy Feigen and 2008 Olympic relay star Jason Lezak are also on the team after finishing fifth and sixth. Lezak was fortunate to be in the field at all, putting up the ninth-fastest time in the semifinals but getting in when Lochte scratched.
“He’s somebody definitely good to have on the team,” said Phelps, remembering how Lezak bailed out his bid for eight gold medals with a brilliant anchor leg in 2008. “We are going to have to do a lot of work for that relay. This is some kind of start. Having the experience that Jason has, hopefully he can help some of the younger guys get up.”
Coughlin hung on in her bid to make it back to a third Olympics and take a shot at tying Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres as the most decorated female Olympians in U.S. history.
Coughlin won six medals in Beijing and she has 11 overall, one shy of Thompson and Torres. But there may not be a chance to tie them in London.
Having already missed out in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, Coughlin is down to her final realistic chance in the 100 freestyle. She barely got out of the semifinals, finishing sixth in her heat but seventh overall to qualify for Saturday night’s final. Amanda Weir was the fastest qualifier in 54.14, followed by Missy Franklin (54.19) and Allison Schmitt (54.23).
With a loaded final that also included Dana Vollmer and Jessica Hardy, Coughlin looks like a longshot for an individual berth in London. She’ll need to finish in the top six of the eight-woman final to earn consideration for the 400 free relay team.
“Life will go on,” Coughlin said. “That’s why you don’t see me freaking out.”
On a busy night. Lochte cruised through the semis of the 200 backstroke with the fastest time at 1:55.73. Tyler Clary was next (1:55.88) in what looks like a two-man race. Only one other qualifier for the final was within 3 seconds of the leaders.
Lochte returned less than an hour later for the semifinals of the 200 individual medley, which was Phelps’ only event of the night. Racing side-by-side again, Lochte was top qualifier again with the fastest time in the world this year (1:55.51), while Phelps was about a body length behind (1:56.66).
“I knew he kind of took off, so I was like I probably should save something for tomorrow,” Phelps said. “I kind of shut it down once the race was kind of over.”
They will be right next to each other again Saturday night in the finals, their final showdown on the trials. They’ve each won a head-to-head meeting, a tantalizing glimpse of what awaits at the meet that really matters in London.
“Those were pretty solid swims,” said Lochte, who will have only about a 20-minute break between races in the finals. “I’m up for that challenge. It’s something I’ve been doing for four years now: challenging myself. I’m definitely ready.”
In the night’s other final, Cammile Adams pulled away to win the 200 butterfly in 2:06.52. Kathleen Hersey claimed the second Olympic berth (2:07.72), more than a second ahead of third-place finisher Kim Vandenberg.
Teresa Crippen, sister of the late Fran Crippen, was fourth. She had hoped to make the Olympics to help carry on the dream of her brother, who died in an open-water race in 2010.