What would Herb Brooks have said?
Scott Weltz fielded that question after his surprising victory in the 200-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Brooks, who died in 2003, knew something about upsets from coaching the 1980 U.S. hockey team that stunned the Soviet Union. And Brooks was listed as Weltz's sports hero in his old bio in a UC-Davis swimming press guide.
Weltz imagined it might be something like a line from “Miracle,” the movie Weltz watches before going to meets.
“I love that speech he gives, and he would probably say something like that,” Weltz said. “You know, what did he say? ‘Play them 10 times, they might beat you nine. But not tonight. Not this time.'”
Friday night was Weltz's one time.
People before the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials had predicted there would be surprises and upsets. I just don't recall anybody going out on a limb and saying Scott Weltz would pull off one of them — not with Brendan Hansen, Eric Shanteau and Clark Burckle in the other lanes for the 200 breaststroke.
Just like few would have forecast gold for that 1980 U.S. hockey team.
The only coach who recruited Weltz was Peter Motekaitis at UC-Davis. The school thought so much of its men's swimming program that it dropped it the season after Weltz graduated. He still chose to stay around and train at his alma mater, rather than head somewhere like Texas or Cal or Stanford to be with the best.
“Pete said, ‘You're going to be mentally tougher than anyone else there (at the U.S. Trials) because you do this by yourself,'” Weltz said.
Maybe that's what carried Weltz, 25, down the stretch in the 200 breaststroke. Maybe he liked being the underdog. Maybe he watched “Miracle” one too many times.
Whatever the case, he represented the little guy afterward, even wearing a UC-Davis T-shirt into his press conference, where he was asked how he could still support a school that axed its program and left many former teammates and friends without a place to swim.
“I think I do it for them, in part,” Weltz said. “I do it just so people remember. I'm still swimming, we're still around, Pete is still coaching women ... so even though they tried to get rid of us, we're a little more difficult to get rid of than they thought.”
Some other final dives into the pool as the last U.S. Trials swimmers leave Omaha:
• If Weltz was the surprise on the men's side, Breeja Larson would be the pick among the women. Larson was the No. 6 seed in the women's 100 breaststroke, with a qualifying time three seconds slower than Rebecca Soni — yet she beat Soni in the final.
Footnote: Larson didn't start swimming competitively until age 17.
• The race to remember was the women's 100 freestyle final. Jessica Hardy and Missy Franklin went 1-2, but the gap between Hardy in first and Natalie Coughlin in sixth was just .48 of a second. And the Saturday night crowd appreciated what it was watching.
• Organizers got what they wanted with sellouts Friday night (14,103) and Saturday night (14,335), but most impressive might have been some of the crowds for morning sessions as total attendance hit a record 167,048. There were 14,033 on hand for prelims Saturday morning.
• It was going to be hard to top 2008 as far as new touches, but I liked the LED medal stand rising from below floor level. Elizabeth Beisel, winner of the women's 400 IM, almost looked startled as she was rising to see a cheering crowd the first night, even though she knew it was coming.
• Michael Phelps saluted Ryan Lochte after his rival swam three races during the Saturday night program. Lochte won the 200 backstroke, went head-to-head with Phelps in the 200 IM final and then did a semifinal heat in the 100 butterfly.
“He's tough,” Phelps said. “You saw that tonight. He got up and raced three very challenging races, and did them well.”
Phelps tried it once back in 2004 — and then never again. “I would never sign up for it,” he said. “That was eight years ago. I'm glad I don't have to do that again.”
• Along with jamming those three events into a 60-minute stretch, Lochte had to come out for the 200 backstroke medal ceremony. Instead of making a beeline for the door, he got caught up doing an unnecessary interview with on-deck host Summer Sanders, and even stopped and signed a few autographs before getting back to work.
“It's a little bit of a weakness sometimes,” said Gregg Troy, the University of Florida and U.S. men's coach. “He's got to learn to say no once in awhile a little better.”
Troy, however, added that it's admirable what Lochte does, especially when it comes to kids and autographs.
“At some point in life, someone didn't give him one, and he's always said he would never want to be that,” Troy said.
• Troy saw no problem with zero world records and only three American marks falling at the 2012 U.S. Trials. He called it “fake” looking back at the nine world records and 17 American records that fell in 2008 before the performance-enhancing suits were banned.
“This is real,” Troy said. “I personally like the situation that everyone doesn't break records all the time because it makes the ones you do break special, and they're supposed to be special.”
• Colorado Stars coach Todd Schmitz knows Franklin better than anybody, so he was asked to pinpoint the last time he saw the 17-year-old phenom really fail. Schmitz almost immediately pointed to a 200 freestyle prelim at Junior Nationals in 2009, when her time was ninth and she missed the final.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Schmitz said. “She looked at me and tears were welling up in her eyes, and I said, ‘Well, you got the 100 back in 20 minutes. This is what separates the good swimmers from the great swimmers. Can you leave that race there and go after that 100 back?'”
Schmitz said Franklin not only nailed the 100 back, she came back that night and went 1:58 in the 200 free consolations.
“Blew up the Junior National record,” he said. “The entire finals heat of eight girls was not in the ready room, they all were standing on the pool deck watching Missy and going, ‘Oh ... my ... God!'”
• Best wishes to USA Swimming personnel as they return home to Colorado Springs. The wildfires that affected parts of the city and threatened others were on the minds of many during their stay in Omaha, and several were allowed to return home during the U.S. Trials or kept in touch with evacuating families.
A nice touch came Saturday night when two fans not only held up the following sign but made it on the JumboTron and drew applause from the CenturyLink Center crowd: “Thank You Colorado Firefighters.”
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