August 06, 2015

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Michael Phelps is eager to see where he stacks up against the world at the U.S. national championships.

Kelsi Worrell got her answer Thursday night: She's suddenly emerged as an Olympic contender with the Rio Games just a year away.

With Phelps on the sideline for the opening day of the meet, Worrell grabbed the spotlight by winning the women's 100-meter butterfly with a time that would have been good enough for a bronze medal at the FINA world championships in Kazan, Russia.

Worrell kept up her breakout year by touching the wall in 57.27 seconds, which would have put her ahead of the third-place finisher at worlds, Lu Ying of China in 57.48.

''I just wanted to keep getting better and working on the little things,'' said Worrell, who won an NCAA title in March and added a Pan Am Games gold just three weeks ago. ''It's weird. I've never done two big meets back to back. It went by really fast. I felt really good. I'm excited to see what the rest of the week will bring.''

Defending Olympic champion and former world-record holder Dana Vollmer finished fourth in 58.94, though she was hardly disappointed with that performance. She has her first child just five months ago and was competing in only her second meet since returning to the pool.

''I've only been back in the water for three months, so I'll take a 58,'' she said, before hustling off to meet her husband and son, Arlen, who watched the race from a spot alongside the pool.

Vollmer won the gold medal in London, but her world record was snatched away at worlds by Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom, who broke the mark in a semifinal heat, then took it even lower (55.64) in the final.

''I knew it was coming. But when my husband told me, I didn't expect the instant tears,'' Vollmer said. ''But it also lit a fire. I like chasing people. So to have her break that record, instead of trying to fend her off, I get to chase her.''

Phelps didn't compete on the first day of the national championships, a meet he was forced to take after he was banned from the worlds as part of his punishment for his second drunken-driving arrest. He'll compete in the 200 fly on Friday, followed by the 200 individual medley and 100 fly before he's done in San Antonio.

He has made it clear he wants to put up times that would have given him gold medals if he was competing in Kazan.

Another Olympic champion, Allison Schmitt, struggled to a sixth-place showing in the 400 freestyle. She couldn't maintain her speed over the final two laps and finished more than a body length behind winner Lindsay Vrooman.

Vrooman won in 4 minutes, 7.88 seconds, while Schmitt has a lot of work to do heading into an Olympic year after posting a 4:09.59.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Schmitt took silver in the 400 free at 4:03.31, won the 200 free, and finished with five medals in all, making her one of the biggest stars of the games. But she has struggled since then, failing to qualify for the last two world championships before finally revealing that she was struggling with depression.

''I still feel confident in that event,'' said Schmitt, noting that she's improved about 9 seconds on the time she posted last summer in the 400 free. ''It's going in the right direction. But there's a lot of work to be put in over the next year.''

Other winners on Thursday were Caitlin Leverenz in the 200 individual medley, the event she captured bronze in at the London Olympics; Zane Grothe in the men's 400 free; Andrew Wilson in the men's 100 breaststroke; and Gunnar Bentz in the men's 400 IM.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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