SANTA CLARA -- Cal graduate Nathan Adrian picked apart his 100-meter freestyle race Friday at the Santa Clara Arena Grand Prix.
Bad start. Even worse finish.
"A little sloppy at certain points," said Adrian, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the event.
Just think when he gets it together. Adrian, the Bremerton, Wash., swimmer who made a splash at the London Games, dominated a star-studded field to win the event with a meet-record time of 48.08 seconds.
Adrian's performance highlighted the day at the George F. Haines International Swim Center, where some of the sport's biggest names competed. The men's and women's 100 freestyle finals featured winners of a total of 25 Olympic gold medals.
But it was a woman who failed to advance to the London Games who won the women's 100 in an upset. Megan Romano, a Georgia junior, chased down Olympic great Natalie Coughlin to win in 54.16 -- just off her personal best. Coughlin, 30, led until the final four strokes to finish second, and 2012 Olympic sensation Missy Franklin was third.
No one challenged Adrian. Ryan Lochte was second in 49.53, and Conor Dwyer took third in 49.55. In an event usually won by hundredths of seconds Adrian's victory amounted to a rout.
Canada's Brent Hayden held the former meet record of 48.44 since 2009, underscoring how impressive Adrian performed on a warm, windy evening.
But few swimmers this weekend are worried about their times as they prepare for the national championships, June 25-29, in Indianapolis. America's top swimmers are looking to qualify for the 2013 World Championships this summer in Barcelona.
Adrian, 24, hopes to advance to Spain, but he's already thinking about the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Adrian, who trains in Berkeley with some of the world's best sprinters such as Anthony Ervin, said everything he does is geared toward another Olympic appearance.
The three-time Olympic medalist put the London Games in the rearview mirror just weeks after it ended. His medals are hidden in a closet.
"They only come out when I speak somewhere," Adrian said.
It seemed Romano came out of nowhere to stun two of the world's biggest names in women's swimming. The race featured the past and future for Cal -- Coughlin and incoming freshman Franklin. Coughlin is a 12-time Olympic medalist, and Franklin won five medals -- four gold -- in London last summer.
All that hardware didn't intimidate Romano, who narrowly missed the Olympics by finishing seventh in the 200-meter freestyle (the top six finishers qualified for the relay).
"I'm used to it," she said of swimming next to such stars.
Romano, 22, usually takes off fast but is chased down by her more-decorated opponents.
This time Coughlin, the oldest swimmer in the final, built a good lead halfway through. But Romano was just too strong. She said her fast finish will add confidence as Romano tries to qualify for the world championships in an individual event.
Lochte, the longtime rival or Michael Phelps, fared better in the 100 butterfly with a winning time of 52.29.
"We're on track," his Florida coach Gregg Troy said.
Lochte said it was the first time he swam with a racing suit this season. It was the difference of "swimming uphill and downhill. I felt like I was swimming downhill" Friday.
Lochte has returned to the pool in the past six weeks so he's not sure if he will be ready to qualify for any events at the world championships. But his training has been strong, and he's enjoying himself again,
"I told everyone once I stop having fun I'll quit swimming," Lochte said. "That's what life should be all about, having fun."
Connor Jaeger won the men's 400 freestyle to follow up his victory Thursday in the 800 freestyle. Maryland teen Gillian Ryan won the women's 400 freestyle in a tight but slow race with a time of 4:11.83. Stanford's Maya Dirado was fourth, and Walnut Creek's Chelsea Chenault was sixth after taking an early lead.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.