Bet on Beisel

Jun 27, 2016

The indefatigable Gator, Elizabeth Beisel, qualified for her third U.S. Olympic Team tonight… Disregard her time. She’s going to be a player in Rio… 

The Trials aren’t about times. They’re about place. As in 1st or 2nd – those are the only two spots that matter in Omaha. Or 3rd through 6th if your event happens to be the 100 or 200 free, but for bad asses like Elizabeth Beisel, relay tickets have never really been an option. She swims the 400 IM and the 200 back, and at the last two Olympics she’s competed in both of them. Four years ago in London, she raced to a pair of medals – silver in her IM; bronze in her back.

Now she’s a three-time Olympian. She nabbed the second spot in the 400 IM behind Maya Dirado. If you look only at her time, it would seem that this is her swan song, a gasping third trip to the Games at age 23, no longer at the top of her game. If you don’t know the background she’s not really a story at all. Her time tonight was 4:36.81, eons off her personal best of 4:31.27, and probably not good enough to make the final in Rio.

Throw out the time. It doesn’t matter, and it’s not representative of what’s in store.

See, word is that Beisel was very sick in the days leading up to Omaha. She was facing the nightmare scenario of every swimmer at this meet. Instead of feeling fresh and rested and invincible on your taper, Beisel was just trying to get well. And keep her head together. Have you ever been rocked by an illness right before a major meet? It doesn’t get much more disheartening. It’s not just your body either; it’s a head fuck too. It takes some serious mental strength to overcome that and still stand up and find a way to get your hand on the wall first or second.

Here’s some more word out of the Besiel camp: Before that unfortunately timed illness, she was looking like a beast. She was looking better than ever. Indeed, just a month ago she dropped a 4:33.55 in the IM, unshaved and pre-taper, at the Atlanta Classic. Big things were in store, and they still are. Because once you make the Team, your time at Trials is meaningless. She’ll arrive in Rio with little pressure, off the radar, without the weight of expectations. This will be her third Games, a cap to a great career, but NBC cameras won’t be following her every move.

It’s a scenario that recalls a certain all-time upset from sixteen years ago. Back in 2000, Misty Hyman was in much the same position. Everyone paying attention knew that she had a monster swim about to burst from her. At the Trials in Indianapolis, Misty merely made the team. She posted a decent time (2:09.27), but it was nowhere near what she knew was in the tank. She’d been sick in the lead up to Indy, and like Beisel, the mission there was just getting that ticket to ride. She did. And in Sydney, well, you know the story

As a committed disciple of horse racing, I’m constantly drawn to the handicapping of major races. If you study the past performances closely enough, if you know what to look for, know your history, if you maybe have a hot tip or two, you can learn how to pick winners at long odds. In horse racing parlance, Beisel ought to be the wise-guy pick in Rio. She’ll be the value play; an oddsmaker would probably list her at around 10-1 on the morning line. I’d take those odds.

Right now, her time from the Atlanta Classic ranks her 4th in the world, just ahead of Dirado’s winning time of 4:33.73 in Omaha, and just a tenth behind Great Britain’s Hannah Miley and Spain’s Mireia Belmonte in the 2nd and 3rd spots. At the top of the current world rankings is Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, three and a half seconds ahead of everyone else, at 4:29.89.

Let’s just say I have a passionate rooting interest.

In London, Beisel was the best swimmer in field, bound for gold, until China’s Ye Shiwen came home faster than Ryan Lochte over the last 100 meters and posted a world record of 4:28.43 that many found hard to stomach. In the years since Beisel continued to post a series of 4:31s, often without much fanfare. It’s been her plateau number for five years now. It’s time for a breakthrough.

It’s been apparent that the breakthrough is coming. Here’s betting it arrives in Rio, when a healthy, peaking Elizabeth Beisel steps back up on the blocks for a third Olympic final in the 400 IM.

I have my bet.