Saturday, 26 March 2011

Swimming at the 2012 Olympic Games - Day 2 (Women's Events) Roundtable

With the recent announcement of an unchanged Olympic Schedule for London 2012, what better time to go through some of the talking points. I sat down with two esteemed swim bloggers, Braden Keith of The Swimmers Circle(BK) and David Rieder of (DR) to hack, dig, crawl, and otherwise muddle our way through the Olympic Schedule.

2012 Olympics Day Two Roundtable – Women's Events

Women’s 100m Backstroke

Which of the Brits will finish higher: Spofforth or Simmonds? Can Coughlin still do it in the long course version of the 100 back, and more significantly can she keep her Olympic medals streak alive? Which of the young American backstrokers has the best chance at making the team in this race?

BK - While most of the swimming world is expanding its borders to every make and manner of country, this 100 backstroke is bucking the trend and narrowing in to the super powers. As I see it, only 5 countries have the chance at finalists - the USA, Australia, the UK, Japan, and China. This will be sort of the "cold war" of the 2012 Olympics, with 5 of the world's superpowers going at it.

Seebohm got so good at such a young age, it's hard to remember that she's only going to barely be 20 at London. Franklin just keeps getting faster, and faster, and faster. We won't get to see her in this race in Shanghai, which is unfortunate, but she's already been a 59.5 this year! At 15! Incredible! Another 18 months, and there's no telling where she'll be. I hate to say it, but I think Coughlin's streak ends here...if she can even make a top-2 spot at trials. She wasn't in the greatest shape yet in Irvine, but I just don't think she can match the 58 that it's going to take to medal.

Predictions - 1) Seebohm 2) Zhing 3) Franklin

Wildcard - Rachel Bootsma - Just crushed Natalie Coughlin's US 17-18 Age Group backstroke record in yards, and still has another year of high school left.

TW - In keeping with the cold war theme, I'll include Zueva from Russia as a potential finalist.

Spofforth remains GB's no.1 (on the 100m). I get the feeling both Simmonds and Spofforth are going to have a shaky 2011, but get it together in time for London.

Missy Franklin might just be the star of these Olympics. She made 59.5 look easy at the Indy Grand Prix.

Japan's Aya Terakawa is for real. As is compatriot Shiho Sakai as well as China's Zhao Jing and Gao Chang. So hard to not pick one of these for the podium. Maybe they'll prove me wrong and make it an Asian 1-2-3.

Predictions 1) Franklin 2) Spofforth 3) Seebohm

Wildcard - Femke Heemskerk. One of the leading lights in the 100m Free, Heemskerk just set a new Dutch National record in this event with a 1:00.03. She's taking great chunks off her 100 time each year, and oh yeah... she just so happens to train every day with Camille Lacourt in Marseille. Watch out.

DR - Spofforth, Simmonds, and especially Zueva have not been on fire lately but have serious potential and should be factors. The four Asian swimmers are scary, especially Zhao Jing. As is usual, the Chinese will have an edge this summer at Worlds in their home country. Zhao's 58 this summer should be too much for me to overlook for London, but I stupidly am doing so anyway.

Prediction: 1) Seebohm, 2) Franklin, 3) Coughlin

Will be a great battle at U.S. trials with Coughlin, Franklin, Pelton, and maybe a few others (Bootsma?); really tough to leave one out. I could see all three at 58s by then. In six months, Coughlin got from a 18 months off to 59.7, so I don't doubt her. For the same reason, she has a knack for getting Olympic medals, and she will fight hard to stay on the medal stand in her signature event. Will also be an interesting battle for the second spot in Australia, where maybe Hocking can get to 59-mid.

Neither of you mentioned the woman who won silver in the last two Olympics - Kirsty Coventry. She will always be a factor in any race she swims, but we don't know how much of a setback her year off was. Julia Wilkinson from Canada and Jenny Mensing from Germany are good darkhorses that could sneak into the final if someone else makes a mistake.

Women's 100 Breast

Will Rebecca Soni still be the undisputed breaststroke queen in London, or can Leisel Jones defend her Olympic title in the 100? Will Jessica Hardy be able to make the U.S. team, and if she is cleared to swim, will she be a factor? Can anyone make the step-up to the level of Jones and Soni?

DR - I see Soni being well out in front by London. I think she'll take down Hardy's world record at the Olympics, if not before. Jones could be under 1:05 as well, but she won't be able to get down as low as Soni. Hardy has the talent to go under 1:04 as well, but I think she won't put enough focus on breaststroke to get that low. She will definitely compete in the 100 breast at Trials and should make the team. Will go in as a definite possibility for a medal.

Yuliya Efimova has been a consistent talent for a while, and I see her in the 1:05-mid/high range by 2012. Another easy choice for a medal. Also watch for Japan's Satomi Suzuki and whatever two Chinese swimmers are in the event; they could be scary outside shots.

Darkhorse No. 1: Leiston Pickett - Been mostly a 50 swimmer so far, but with Australia no longer selecting swimmers for non-Olympic events, she has to step up for the 100. Already has shown her speed but still waiting to see how she develops as a 100 swimmer.

Darkhorse No. 2: Jillian Tyler - Finally broke through with her first NCAA title after finishing second to Soni in 2009 and completely out of the money last year. Has to help her confidence going into face the likes of Annamay Pierse nationally in Canada. Good shot to claim that second spot and get on the team.

TW - I agree with David, its hard to look past Soni at this point. She has become such a consistent performer. Hardy's best hope is probably a bronze at this stage and I think she will be focused more on the 50/100 Free than the Breaststroke.

Its easy to forget that Efimova is still just 18 years-old and she's the one swimmer I see with a realistic chance of bridging the gap to Soni and Jones.

After her performance at NCAA's last year I thought Annie Chandler would step up more than she did long course, although there is still time for her. Its going to be tough to overhaul Hardy though.

Prediction 1) Soni 2) Jones 3) Efimova

Wildcard - Ruta Meilutyte - A 14-year-old Lithuanian prodigy who moved to England and started training at Plymouth Leander (Achieng Ajulu-Bushell's former club). At the Luxembourg open this year she swam 1:08.87 to set a new national record. London might come too soon for her, but it wouldn't be the first time a youngster made an impact in the Women's Breaststroke events (Amanda Beard won 3 medals at the Atlanta Olympics at 14 years old).

BK - If someone's going to beat Soni in London, it's going to be Hardy. I think that she's the only swimmer who's young/talented enough to match Soni in the 100. But she seems to be viewing this as sort of a bonus, and lately has preferred to focus on the sprint freestyles.

If there's a shot at Leisel Jones knocking off Soni, it's that she is considering dropping the 200 breaststroke from her schedule at the World Championships to focus on just the sprints. That extra focus on the sprint distance (though the 200 might be added back for London) could give her a little push (though I personally feel like breaststroke is the stroke where this "distance focus" has the smallest effect).

Prediction 1) Soni, 2) Jones, 3) Hardy. If Hardy doesn't swim this event (or any events), I like Katsoulis to take the bronze.

Since David brought up Jillian Tyler, I'll take the opportunity to mention the other swimmer who took the NCAA by storm (and even knocked Tyler off in the 200): Texas A&M's Breeja Larson. It would be absurd for a swimmer who has only been a member of USA-Swimming for 3 years to qualify for an Olympic team, wouldn't it? Especially one who's never been better than a 1:12 in the 100m breaststroke? Maybe not. Larson's learning curve has been unbelievable (she's dropped 4 yards seconds in the last year and hasn't shown any signs of slowing down), and her 58.5 from NCAA's converts to a 1:07-low in meters. Not to put undue pressure on a swimmer in the infancy of her career, but the whole world should have at least a corner of one eye on what Larson does this summer.

DR - I want to drop one more point about Hardy. You guys mention her focus - if she has to appeal to swim in London AFTER Trials, will she be able to regain her focus on swimming in time (assuming she wins the appeal)?

One more darkhorse to mention. The silver medalist in the 1996 Olympics and 2003 World Champs, and the fourth place finisher in the 2004 Olympics. Yep, Amanda Beard. She shocked everyone at U.S. Nationals when she finished second in the 200 breast to make Pan Pacs. At Pan Pacs, she took fifth in both breasts and made the team for Shanghai. All after nine months of training. What can she do with two more years under her belt?

Women's 400 Free

The two British swimmers really stepped up in Beijing, but can they repeat that performance in London? Will Pellegrini make up for her extremely disappointing final in Beijing? How about Hoff?

DR - Pellegrini and Adlington are right now the top contenders, with the Americans (Hoff/Sutton) right behind. Camille Muffat from France won World Short Course in the 200 and will be looking to extend her range upwards, but she will have domestic competition from Ophielle-Cyrielle Ettienne and Coralie Balmy if she even wants to swim it in Shanghai or London. The Chinese are always scary outside threats.

Hoff and Sutton go in as the favorites for U.S. Trials since they are the two swimming the event in Shanghai. However, Kate Ziegler has looked awesome lately and will be in the mix, as will new NCAA record-holder Allison Schmitt. Dagny Knutson could also be in the hunt for that spot if she gains upward momentum in Fullerton.

The Australians have a solid group of freestylers, led by Commonwealth 200 free champion and World Short Course 400 free silver medalist Kylie Palmer. Bronte Barratt has won the last two Aussie titles in the event, and Katie Goldman and Blair Evans took 2-3 behind Sutton at Pan Pacs.

I already mentioned the French domestic competition. However, I need to bring up 2004 Olympic Champ Laure Manaudou. She is apparently progressing in her comeback at Auburn, but I think her chances in her new career lie mainly in the shorter events - 100 back and maybe 200 free/200 back. A lot more still to develop for Manaudou.

Prediction (UPSET ALERT!) - 1) Sutton, 2) Adlington, 3) Hoff

BK - Very tough race to call. Sutton is building momentum quickly, and she could be unstoppable by the Olympics. I think it will be a very tight race, and I think all the turmoil Pellegrini is going through - including attempting all the freestyles from 100 up to 800 could be enough to deprive her of another Olympic 400 free medal.

I don't think Sutton will be ready to win this 400 free, and has a much better shot in the 800. She's been making a lot of progress on her turns, but Rebecca Adlington looked incredible at GB Nationals. This race should be between Adlington and Pellegrini. Adlington probably wins it in Shanghai while Pellegrini is still settling into her new training routine, but London will be a much more interesting race. It's hard to pick between the two of them, because we don't know how the Italian will react to her new training grounds. But for now, I've gotta take Adlington.

The bronze will go to an American, but which one is going to be interesting. Hoff and Sutton have to be the front-runners at this point, but Allison Schmitt just broke the NCAA Record in the 500 free and Kate Ziegler was on fire last summer. Dagny Knutson will also have a lot of drop to go now that she's settled into her new digs in Fullerton. But I think Sutton has the most tools and the most easily definable path to improvement, and takes bronze.

Prediction 1) Adlington 2) Pellegrini 3) Sutton - Darkhorse: Joanne Jackson - It's easy to forget about her after the bizarre string of illnesses she's had since Beijing, but her time out of the pool will keep her driven for London now that she's healthy.

TW – Nice Jackson pick as a darkhorse, however, I have to disagree with your point about Sutton having a better shot at the 800. I think at this stage you have to consider her to have a stronger 400 than 800, as much as that goes against the logical argument about coming down in distance from Open Water. The 400 seems to suit both her speed and endurance just right. I think she represents America’s best hope in this event.

After her victorious 2009 and fast start to 2010, Pellegrini was looking like only she could beat herself. Adlington’s 4:02.84 has really shaken this event up though. An anonymous commenter on my blog also made an interesting point when saying they believed Adlington’s 4:00.79 in a LZR was a better swim than Pellegrini’s 3:59.15 in a Jaked suit. Adlington has the benefit of a home crowd on her side (which she thrived on when Manchester held the World Short Course Champs in 2008), she is putting together some good major competition victories over 400m (Olympics, Europeans, Commonwealths) and looks to be managing the huge expectations put on her shoulders much better these days.

Camille Muffat is the other swimmer that I think can shake this event up. She is showing some great speed over 100 and 200 Free and she could be a swimmer who could get out to a decent lead over the first half of the race. Pellegrini, and possibly Schmitt and Hoff, are the only swimmers that could look to match Muffat’s speed at this stage.

Prediction 1) Adlington 2) Pellegrini 3) Sutton. I’m not sure how happy I am picking Pellegrini for silver, I have a feeling she will either win gold or not medal at all. Wildcard – Yiwen Shao. The 16 year-old dominated last year's Asian Games, winning by over 3 seconds in her first international competition. With a major title under her belt already and a home World Championships approaching she could launch herself into the upper echelons of this event.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Championnats de France - March 23-27

Following in the wake of recent major competitions in Britain and Holland, France is the next country to show their hand.

Alongside the big names of French swimming, there will be a number of non-French stars competing in Strasbourg including: Inge Dekker, Femke Heemskerk, Jeanette Ottesen, Kim Vandenburg, Lotte Friis, Bradley Ally, Mads Glaesner, Aschwin Wildeboer & Igor Borysik.

Entry List - HERE
Event List - HERE
Results - HERE

Finals will be broadcast on French Eurosport.

UPDATE - This meet is FAST. On Day One - Yannick Agnel just swam 3:43.85 in the 400m Free. 13th all-time. Camille Lacourt, comme d'habitude, just swam 52.44 on the 100m Back, only 6 men have ever swam quicker(including his effort last year), none in textile.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

New Vote: Who Will Win The 400m Freestyle at this Year's World Championships?

If the 200m Freestyle is the most stacked event with storylines on the men's side, for the women it is surely the 400m Freestyle.

The event includes the most popular swimmers, male or female, of two major European nations, Rebecca Adlington and Federica Pellegrini. Two high-profile American women with two contrasting backgrounds. A young Chinese contingent with no apparent ceiling to their talent. France's major medal hopes on the women's side and a couple of Australian's putting together some impressive major competition results.

The Main Contenders

Rebecca Adlington - Double Olympic Champion from Beijing. European and Commonwealth Champion last year. Has just swam the event's fastest time since the suit laws were changed.

Federica Pellegrini - Only woman ever to swim under 4:00 long course and reigning World Champion. Had consistency issues last year and is now training with Laure Manaudou's former coach.

Chloe Sutton - The former open water swimmer has transitioned seamlessly to the pool. Has improved many technical aspects. Can keep pace with anyone else in the world between the flags.

Katie Hoff - Last year's World Short-Course Champion has returned to her best form after a post-Beijing dip. The best start and turns of anyone in the event.

Camille Muffat - Multi-talented 21-year old, has been improving steadily over the last few years. Looks set for a break-out in 2011.

Coralie Balmy - 8th on the all-time list. Underperformed at European's last year and has subsequently changed coaches. No shortage of talent.

Li Xuanxu - Just 17 years old. 6th at the World SC Championships which was also her LC world ranking last year. Watch out for the Chinese at a home World Championships.

Yiwen Shao - 16 year-old dominated last year's Asian Games winning by over 3 seconds in her first international competition. Watch out for the Chinese at a home World Championships.

Bronte Barratt - 8th in the world last year, but just 0.1 seconds shy of 4th. Has been on the international scene for some time, but is still just 22 years old.

Kylie Palmer - Strong performances in the major competition's last year. Silver medalist behind Hoff in Dubai. Beat the likes of Pellegrini, Sutton, Balmy and Li Xuanxu. Also won silver at the Commonwealth Games behind Adlington.

Other - Plenty of other hopefuls in this event, including the likes of Jaz Carlin, Ophelie-Cyrielle Etiene, Blair Evans, Lotte Friis, Mireia Belmonte (although the event clashes with 200m IM), Erika Villaecija plus any unknown talents poised for a breakthrough (looking at you China).

Cast your vote now. If clicking vote isn't enough, make the case for your pick in the comment section below.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Swimming at the 2012 Olympic Games - Day 2 (Men's Events) Roundtable

With the recent announcement of an unchanged Olympic Schedule for London 2012, what better time to go through some of the talking points. I sat down with two esteemed swim bloggers, Braden Keith of The Swimmers Circle(BK) and David Rieder of (DR) to hack, dig, crawl, and otherwise muddle our way through the Olympic Schedule.

To catch up on the previous discussions:
Swimming at the 2012 Olympic Games - Day 1 (Men's Events) Roundtable
Swimming at the 2012 Olympic Games - Day 1 (Women's Events) Roundtable

2012 Olympics Day Two Roundtable – Part I (Men's Events)

200m Freestyle

On paper, defending champion Michael Phelps and WR Holder/World Champ Paul Biedermann are the favorites, but can they win? How will this event fit into Lochte's program?

BK - If Lochte chases 8 golds, then he's going to have his two biggest challenges, unfortunately, on the same day with the 200 free and later the 100 back. Personally, I think he's going to focus on 7, and drops the 100 back, which makes the 200 free much more feasible.

We see that Phelps is serious about his training again. Bob Bowman is happy with how he's been training (and he wouldn’t have said that if he didn't mean it), so I feel much more comfortable picking him for a medal than I would have done a few week ago. I think that the top 3 are fairly safe picks in Lochte, Park, and Phelps (in any particular order), but I'm still convinced that Biedermann has shown enough sparks to be in there. This is a touch pick, because there's about 5 guys I want to give medals to.

Agnel and Sun are getting much, much better, but those top 3 just aren't going anywhere yet. The youngsters will have to wait their turn in this race.

Prediction - 1) Lochte 2) Park 3) Phelps - Wildcard: Robbie Renwick (GB). He was the Commonwealth champ, and the coaches in the UK have really hit something special with their female mid-distance swimmers, it's only a matter of time until that trickles over to the men's side.

TW- Renwick? With all the stars in this event I was not expecting that. I think making the final is the best he can hope for. A Semi final is more likely. I also think the top 3 are far from safe picks!

Without doubt this is swimming's Hollywood event. There are so many story lines; Lochte v Phelps. Phelps v Biedermann. Biedermann v Agnel. East v West etc. Now we can add some Ian Thorpe hype to that list.

Thorpe will only swim this event if he knows for sure he has a shot at a medal, otherwise it makes no sense for his legacy to be 'just' a finalist.

As hard as I try to make the argument for the other guys, at 100% I don't see Phelps losing. I also think the entire field will be split by fractions, making predictions extremely hard. The talent this event has is mind blowing: Biedermann, Agnel, Izotov, Lobintsev, Mellouli, all of these guys have a great shot at finishing in the top three.

Prediction (ask me in a few weeks and it will have changed again) - 1) Phelps 2) Lochte 3) Park - Wildcard - Sun Yang. Yes he is a 1500m specialist, but so was Grant Hackett who had no problems dropping down to 200. Agnel could just as easily take this spot.

DR - Ok you guys covered most of the bases. I'll start with the predictions: 1) Phelps 2) Lochte 3) Park. All the guys you mentioned will be in the mix - so basically the entire final will probably be 1:45 or better. Darkhorses: Sebaastian Verschuren - been steadily improving since surprisingly making the final in Rome. Thomas Fraser-Holmes - I picked this guy for Commonwealths where he bombed the final but ended up posting a 1:47.0 leading off the relay. Not as young as Agnel or Izotov but he's coming up as well. (Put him, Thorpe, and Monk on a relay and you have a solid bronze medal!)

BK - I know Renwick is a bit out of left field, but hey, that's the beauty of a wildcard pick! I think that it would be a wildly successful outing for him if he can place top 6...which is what I'm pegging him for.

Fraser-Holmes is still a great upset pick for a medal, David, especially if the Australian team can settle in. There were a million things that could've affected his performance at the Commonwealth Games, and here's to hoping that Thorpe, at the very least, reinvigorates that program.

TW - I still can't see either Renwick or Fraser-Holmes having a serious impact on this event. Verschuren I rate highly and was close to listing him as a potential medalist, although he still needs to drop a chunk of time to contend.

Who's your Russian? Danila '1:43.9 wearing only legs' Izotov, or Nikita 'Mr. Consistenski' Lobintsev.

BK - Both are going to be awesome. At the moment, I've gotta say Lobintsev, but Izotov is still just a baby.

Men’s 100m Back

DR – I want to make a point about Lochte's potential 200 free/100 back double. At a meet like Worlds, where the two events are about an hour or more apart, he could handle it. At the Olympics, the two finals are separated by just the women's 100 back final. No medal ceremony, no semis, etc. Would pretty much require him to run from the pool (200 free) back to the ready room for the 100 back. No warm-down, no media, no nothing. In this situation, he would not be able to make the U.S. team; Grevers, Plummer, and Thoman are too good to lose to someone coming straight from a 200 free final.

TW- That would be brutal, but perhaps that is going to be Lochte's super human feat in London. Not winning 8 Golds, which has been done before, but to do an insane double like this one.

Grevers is the pick of the US backstrokers, but Lochte can beat the other guys. I've been impressed with Plummer's consistency since he broke through last year but can he get down to 52 low? I've heard a lot about how great Nick Thoman is/is going to be, but he hasn't convinced me long course (in jammers) yet. Let’s see what he does in Shanghai.

Clearly right now there isn't even a debate about who the favourite is for this event. Camille Lacourt is well clear. It’s because of Lacourt that I don't see Lochte going for this race. I hope Tancock can come through in front of a home crowd, but he will face some seriously tough opposition from the likes of Ryosuke Irie and Junya Koga. Aaron Peirsol's retirement definitely helps his chances though.

Prediction - 1) Camille Lacourt 2) Matt Grevers 3) Liam Tancock. Wildcard - Helge Meeuw. This was between Meeuw and Stanislav Donets, but I'm going with the German record holder. He's been away from the international scene for a little while and became a dad. It’s never been a question of talent with Meeuw, it was always consistency. Rome 2009 showed what he can do when he's on top form.

BK - Camille Lacourt looks really good in this race. He's at the head of a very impressive French backstroking group, and I can't see who touches him.

Grevers had a temporary lapse last summer, but he'll be back. If anyone can get close to LaCourt, it's going to be Grevers, but he needs to improve that consistency. The fact that Busch is leaving the Arizona program adds a wrench into finding that consistency, so we'll have to wait and see how he gets on with the new coaching staff. The good news is that he won't be swimming in Shanghai, so he'll have that extra time to settle in to the new training routines before having to face the world.

Tancock seems to be still maturing as a "swimmer" versus just an "athlete" relying on pure talent and fast-twitch muscle. This is very encouraging for him.

I'll pick the same top 3 as Tom: 1)Lacourt 2) Grevers 3) Tancock. My upset is Jeremy Stravius. As I said, the french are deep on the backstrokes, and them earning two medals would not surprise me one bit.

DR - I've marvelled many times the last few years at France's meteoric rise in backstroke since Beijing. Their best backstroker at that point was 55-low, and only that kept them out of the medley relay final.

Grevers trains mostly with Rick DeMont (same as Magnuson and for the most part Alexandrov), so he shouldn't be too much affected by the change. I think DeMont will stay at Arizona through 2012 or else Grevers will follow him. Agree with Braden's points on Tancock, though he is still looking for more consistency.

Tom mentioned Koga and Irie as possibilities, and the Russians Vyatchanin and Donets could be in the mix. Australia has Delaney and Stoeckel or possibly some young gun who can break into the mix, as well as Meeuw of Germany. Here's my wildcard: Aschwin Wildeboer. Former WR-holder, but he was fairly mediocre on the long course scene last year before he turned up with a real nice showing in Dubai. Not sure where he'll be in London, but he could be in the mix.

I'll be real original and pick the same top three: 1) Lacourt 2) Grevers 3) Tancock.

Men's 4 x 100m Relay

Does France's victory in Dubai prove that they are finally done with underperforming in the 4 x 100m Free relay? What impact will Ian Thorpe have on the Australian team?

TW - Winning a world title should help the confidence of the French team, but make no mistake, they were a fortunate to win in Dubai. The Russian's should have won the race, and had Danila Izotov got anywhere close to what he is capable of, they would have. The US team was missing Phelps and had an underperforming Nathan Adrian leading off. That won't happen in London.

For France or Russia to win the following needs to happen:

France - Alain Bernard to swim at full potential (probably leading off), continued improvement from Yannick Agnel as well as Fred Bousquet/William Meynard/Amaury Leveaux to make a step forward.

Russia - Their hopes could rest on an 18-year-old Siberian/Californian, Vlad Morozov. The Russian's have excellent depth in the 100m Free but by 2012, Morozov could be the star of the team. If he is in the Top 3 in the world when London rolls around they could go in as favourites.

As hard as I try to make a case for Russia and France to win this race, I just can't see them beating the US in London. Nathan Adrian is emerging as one of the best sprinters in the world, Phelps is getting faster and Jason Lezak isn't getting slower. It's not a bad position to be in when Ryan Lochte is your weakest link. The supporting cast of Garrett Weber-Gale, Josh Schneider, David Walters, Matt Grevers, Jimmy Feigen etc. doesn't hurt.

Prediction. 1) USA 2) Russia 3) France.

Wildcard - Australia. Ian Thorpe will strengthen the Australian team. I think he can get down to 48-low and his return should spur the other guys on. Sullivan has the talent to be the best in the world but if he continues to be injury plagued, their chances will be slim. James Magnussen and Kyle Richardson are both improving nicely.

BK - That's the beauty of the American relay. While Russia and France have to depend on this teenager and that teenager to continue development at a meteoric pace, the US is stacked. The Americans' big question mark is how long Lezak can hang on to this level, but the beauty there is that if he doesn't, they still have any number of guys to back him up that can be strong parts of a Championship relay.

Prediction  1) USA 2) Russia 3) France

Wildcard: Brazil. We all know about Cielo. If they keep sending their young sprinters to work with Brett Hawke at Auburn, good things will happen for this relay. That is, if their national federation will pull their you-know-whats out of their you-know-wheres.

DR - same prediction 1) USA, 2) Russia, 3) France

Brazil and Australia seem like the fourth and fifth best teams going in, so I'll have to go with real darkhorses - South Africa - 3/4 guys from the 2004 gold medal team coming back (Schoeman, Ferns, Townsend), and Graeme Moore and Gideon Louw are both on the rise. Don't think they'll medal but they aren't nobodies. Germany - Paul Biedermann and Steffen and Markus Deibler is a good place to start. Benjamin Starke will be a factor again this year. Also might have some young talent who can really make a mark on relays.

Big-time Darkhorse:  Belgium! I did a virtual top-three for the 400 free relay back in January, and the Belgians (Timmers, Aerents, Surgeloose, deKoninck) were second to the French (ahead of the USA). Definite potential to see some 48s this year, and from there, anything's possible. By "anything," I mean they could make the final with a great swim.

USA will definitely have Phelps, Lochte, and Adrian in London, and we'll see if Lezak can hold onto that last spot. Matt Grevers should be back on the team for London, and he could drop a nasty split. Garrett Weber-Gale has a chance to get on that team, as does American record-holder Dave Walters. Outside chances include: Berens, Robison, Jones, Schneider, McGill, Feigen, Hill, Brunelli, Savulich (probably someone else big I'm leaving off!)

For France, Bernard, Gilot, and Agnel seem like probabilities, and Bousquet or Meynard could get the last spot. Leveaux you never know. For Russia, Morozov will be the star. (I'd put them third without him.) Grechin, Lagunov, Izotov, Lobintsev, Sukhorukov, Fesikov all with chances.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Swimming at the 2012 Olympic Games - Day 1 (Women's Events) Roundtable

With the recent announcement of an unchanged Olympic Schedule for London 2012, what better time to go through some of the talking points. I sat down with two esteemed swim bloggers, Braden Keith of The Swimmers Circle(BK) and David Rieder of (DR) to hack, dig, crawl, and otherwise muddle our way through the Olympic Schedule.

2012 Olympics Day One Roundtable – Part II (Women's Events)

Women’s 100m Butterfly

DR - I’ll go with: 1) Sarah Sjostrum, 2) Christine Magnuson, 3) Fran Halsall, but totally wide open. Aussies will have a deep battle to qualify (Coutts, Schipper, Trickett, Galvez, Kukla), Chinese (Zige and Jiao) will be strong, Sweden’s Alshammar, Brits Halsall and Gandy, Americans Magnuson and Vollmer (or whoever)… well, you get the picture. Darkhorse: Jeanette Ottesen
Gandy’s also had some major consistency issues, but she’s starting to get those straightened out.

BK – The women’s events are really going to be hard to pick on day 1, a lot harder than the men’s. I suspect that there will be a lot less parity in our picks than we saw on the men’s side.
Sjostrom has GOTTA be the favorite. 57.3 in the same week that she turns 17? Unreal! Magnuson and Vollmer hung right with her (in a virtual meet sense) last season, but Sjostrom has only the sky as her ceiling in this race. Beyond that, things get a little murkier in my mind. Stephanie Rice has looked as good as ever coming back from her surgery, and if she wants to (though I’m not sure she will) she could take a run at a medal here. The two Americans are very strong, though Vollmer left me wanting just a little after her performances last year.

BK Predictions1) Sarah Sjostrom 2) Dana Vollmer 3) Yolane Kukla. Outside smoker pick would be Amit Ivri from Israel. It seems like every time she gets in the water, she’s near a personal best time. She’s really more of a 50 butterflier, but as she ages (she’s only 21) she’ll get stronger in the 100.

Is Kukla still too young to compete for Olympic medals? Unlike someone like Missy Franklin, is she going to hit a plateau because of her smaller stature?

TW - The women’s 100 Fly is brilliantly open. The Olympic final will likely have representatives from all corners of the globe. America’s Top 2 looks set (Vollmer & Magnuson) but Natalie Coughlin can never be counted out. The Australian trials for this event will be hotly contested, Yolane Kukla is rightfully getting a lot of buzz but I think we’ll need to wait for 2011 to pan out before we can really see where she will be in 2012. Is it possible to have a ‘sophomore slump’ in swimming? Schipper, Galvez and Guehrer always seem to get a spot on the team between them, and then you have Coutts and Seebohm who can really fly and have no schedule clash (unlike Steph Rice). Above all of them I like Trickett’s chances of coming back and making a big impact in the event she dominated in 2008.

I agree with all the reasons for Sjostrom doing well and she will be right there, along with Britain’s Fran Halsall. At a home Olympics I think we will see some swimmers rise to the occasion, and others unfortunately suffer from the pressure. Halsall’s certainly one I think will step up another level in front of the home crowd.

TW Prediction - 1) Trickett 2) Sjostrom 3) Halsall (GB’s first medal on Day 1). Wildcard – I like the Amit Ivri pick, but I am going with China’s Liu Zige. She defines wildcard perfectly, highly unpredictable but capable of beating them all.

Women’s 400m IM

Will Britain get their first Gold on Day One through Hannah Miley and how important is a good swim from Miley for the British team’s morale? Can Mireia Belmonte turn her SC form into LC dominance? Will the Chinese turn this event red?

BK - Based on recent comments from the new British Chief, it seems like the hopes and expectations of the British program have been more heavily weighted on Rebecca Adlington’s capable shoulders, than Miley’s, though an outperformance always lifts teams spirits.
Belmonte hasn’t been bad in long course, though not as explosive as she was in Dubai. I think she’s got the goods to swim long course -anyone with that kind of strength and endurance can figure things out long course-and I really hope she medals in this event.

BK Prediction - 1) Hannah Miley 2) Stephanie Rice 3) Katinka Hosszu. Wilcard – Kirsty Coventry. It’s easy to forget about her due to her long layoff, but if she even attempts this event at age 29, she’s got to be in the medal discussion.

What about the collegiate superstars-Julia Smit, Caitlin Leverenz, Elizabeth Beisel, and Katinka Hosszu? Which, if any, of the four do you guys think has the best shot at a medal? Hosszu’s got the history of the 2009 World Championship on her resume, but the rest are definitely making names for themselves.
DR - I see two groups of swimmers in this event. There are the standbys, Rice and Coventry and world champ Hosszu. Rice and Coventry are wildcards that did not swim internationally this year, so it will be interesting to see how they come back. Hosszu did not excel for the year after her world title, but she has come back nicely this college season.

Meanwhile, there are the relative newcomers. Hannah Miley swam very well to win European champs, as did Elizabeth Beisel at Pan Pacs and Yi Shiwen from China at Asian Games. All of them could win. Belmonte I still want to see swim long course before I declare anything, but she could definitely be in the mix. I see Beisel as clearly the top American in the event right now; she’s was impressive all of last year and has looked great in her first year at Florida. The other Americans -Leverenz and Smit are the top contenders right now- will be a factor as well.
This is wide open between 7 or so swimmers. I’ll pick: 1) Miley, 2) Beisel, 3) Rice. Pains me to leave Hosszu out, but I think those four are above the rest. Yi Shiwen (like all her teammates) scares me.

TW - I thought Hannah Miley’s win at European’s last year was one the best swims of 2010. She annihilated the red hot favourite Hosszu in-front of the Hungarian’s home crowd. My only nagging concern is that she doesn’t leave herself too much to do on the Breaststroke leg. She needs to stay within 1.0 to 1.5 seconds back of world class Fly and Back swimmers such as Hosszu, Rice, Beisel, Coventry etc. otherwise I’m not sure she will be able to overhaul the field. On Breaststroke her biggest challenge will come from Leverenz although the American needs to improve her backstroke to really challenge for the title.

British Swimming is far tougher mentally than it was a decade ago. It seemed like we used to turn up at major competitions hoping to do well, rather than believing we would do well. That mentality is starting to change and there is real self-belief, especially amongst the women. Despite the improvement in this field, I think Miley’s performance on Day One will be huge for Britain’s mental state. If Miley makes the final but doesn’t medal I think it will have a big deflating effect on team morale which will be hard to lift. On the flip side, should Miley come away with a medal (dare I say gold) watch out for huge performances from the rest of the team. Adlington will be the pinpoint of the nation’s (and media’s) focus, which unfortunately in this country can reach ridiculous levels of hype. You only need to look at England’s performances in the Football (Soccer) World Cups of the last 45 years to see what a negative effect the media’s pressure in Britain is capable of.

TW Prediction – 1) Ye Shiwen – strong in Fly, Back and Breast, world class on Freestyle. Her finishing speed should play well in major finals 2) Hannah Miley – has a great last 200m, needs to improve her Fly 3) Elizabeth Beisel – Fourth in 2008 aged 15, has the ability to blow the field away on the Backstroke. Mireia Belmonte is my wildcard pick. As she proved in Dubai she can beat the best in the world, but until she proves her LC form she can’t be considered a sure-fire medal contender.

BK – Very valid point about the British media…from what I glean off of it from overseas, it can be beyond ridiculous. If football (soccer) was a 10 on the scale of media attention, where would you put swimming at the moment?

TW - Football is a 10 on the media scale 365 days a year, unfortunately swimming probably rates about a 3 (which is still an improvement on the pre-Adlington & Beijing days). Athletics (Track and Field) is probably around 5 or 6, with a number of competitions televised live.

Women’s 4 x 100m Free Relay

China will surely be there (especially with the young Tang Yi on their roster), but can they catch the USA and the Dutch? Will the Netherlands be healthy long enough to win a relay that they seem to be strong favorites in? And can Libby Trickett added on to the Aussie team dramatically improve their chances at a medal?

BK - The Dutch are scary good when healthy, and are the defending champs. Kromowidjojo gives them the significant edge of having the singular best freestyler in the world. But man, have they had problems keeping that relay together. Veldhuis is aging and is now a mother, Dekker has been in-and-out of competition due to shoulder problems,, and Kromowidjojo had meningitis (though unlike the other two, that hopefully won’t be a recurring issue). My prediction is that the Netherlands will have to replace at least one of those first two for 2012, and their success will depend on that.

The Americans have a lot of young sprinters, as well as Jessica Hardy, who is continuing to develop her freestyle speed. I think they’re much improved from 2008, and are good for silver.

BK Predictions: 1) The Netherlands 2) USA 3) Germany. Germany is my wildcard pick here as well-Don’t have much depth past the top four, but with a healthy Britta Steffen, they probably have a 53-low and three 54-lows on this relay.

TW - I can’t see anyone getting past the Dutch in this event. Ranomi Kromowidjojo was undoubtedly the best sprint Freestyler last year and Femke Heemskerk has started 2011 off on fire. The scary part is how much stronger the supporting cast will become in time for London. Marleen Veldhuis and Inge Dekker now have clear paths ahead of them after their interruptions. Hinkelein Schreuder has pure speed in abundance and offers much needed competition and depth. I’m predicting Gold and a new World Record for the Dutch quartet.

USA has excellent depth and can call upon the likes of Coughlin, Vollmer, Hardy, Weir and Joyce. Missy Franklin could be spectacular when London rolls around and could be the difference between the US winning silver or possibly missing the medals. Trickett’s return is huge for Australia and their chances rest on how strong she is in London.

TW Prediction - 1) Holland 2) USA 3) Australia. Obvious wildcard given their depth but relative unknown nature – China.

DR - Tom, I disagree with your statement that the Dutch are unstoppable. Kromowidjojo and Heemskerk are on a roll, but Veldhuis and Dekker still have a ways to go to return to their 2009 form. The big drawback to the Dutch – compared to the French/Russian men’s 400 free relays and all American relays – is their lack of options. Schreuder seems more and more like a short course sprinter and much better at 50s in long course. If they end up using her, I think they could be in trouble.

The Americans, conversely, have numerous options. Coughlin, Vollmer, Hardy, Joyce, and Weir represent a strong core, Franklin is on fire, and Hoff, Scroggy, and Schmitt are unproven on this stage. Someone like Liv Jensen or Lia Neal could come out of the woodwork to surprise. But regardless, it should take 54-low (or better) flat start to get on this foursome.

We pretty much know who will be on the Dutch team. We think we know who will be on the American team. We have no clue about the Aussies. Trickett did not look outstanding at the Summer Swim Series, but she has time. Kukla, Coutts, and Seebohm all swam great last year, and Campbell will try to make a comeback after a disappointing couple of years. Galvez, Guehrer, Foster, Stubbins, and Barratt all have realistic shots. Unlike the Americans, it is not very clear how fast it will take to make the final team for this relay.

DR Prediction - 1) Netherlands, 2) USA, 3) Australia, but I think USA has a chance to win gold – about time too! – and the Germans and especially the Chinese are looming as darkhorses. Sweden is pretty good, with Sjostrum, Alshammar, and Lillhage. The French could also be a factor – Muffat has looked good as far down as the 100, and if Laure Manaudou’s comeback gets moving, she could be a boost to this one. British have some star power but need to find a bit more depth. The Canadians and New Zealand have teams that could final.

Thoughts from the British Championships

The British Championships are over for another year. During the marathon 8 day competition we were treated to a mixed bag of performances, some great, some shocking (and quite a few disappointing). British swimmers will have another chance in June to make the team and expect that to be a much faster competition. Let's get to the talking points...

Top Swim - Rebecca Adlington - 4:02.84 - 400m Free - Truly world class. For a detailed analysis of the race cast your eyes over this. Now it's time to see how the rest of the world react to the fastest 400 Free since the suit law changes.

Honourable Mention - Keri-Anne Payne - 16:06.67 - 1500m Free - A British record which moves Payne up to 20th all-time in the event. Despite the record, she is not a lock to swim the event in Shanghai as it's not an Olympic event. Fortunately her probable qualification in the 4 x200m Free relay should open the door.

Top Swimmer - Rebecca Adlington - Proved once again that she is the only British swimmer right now who can strike fear into her international opponents. Still the only British swimmer likely to go into 2012 as a gold medal favourite.

Honourable Mention - Ellen Gandy - Gandy is having a tremendous start to 2011, just as she did in 2010. The World Championships will be a big moment for her as she attempts to make the breakthrough in a global competition (in Beijing and Rome she was 15th in the 200m Fly). She currently owns four of the top five 200m Fly times in the world this year and if she can get down to anywhere near her British Record of 2:04.83 then she will likely come home a medalist from Shanghai.

Best Comeback - David Davies - As Davies himself admitted post-race, 15:06 in the 1500m isn't going to set the world alight, but it shows a huge improvement from last year. Training back in Cardiff seems to be paying off for the welshman. For now, both the 1500m and Open Water events remain options for 2012. Special mention to the victory celebration, flinging his cap high into the air when he finished... a kind of victory water bomb.

Honourable Mention - Fran Halsall - Just weeks on from ankle surgery, Halsall booked her ticket for Shanghai. Her times were nothing special for a swimmer of Halsall's quality, but qualification was the only goal. With these trials being so early in the year, there should be enough time for Halsall to get back to full fitness in time for Worlds.

Surprise - Jack Marriott - Heard of him? No? Neither had the majority of British Swimming. A student at Oxford University, his only swim of note had been winning the 50m Fly at the British University Champs last month. He turned up in Manchester and smoked a 24.33 to win the 50m Fly in only his second long course race in the event. Its not a time that will strike fear into the world's best, but it does show serious raw talent. Apparently he is in discussions with university powerhouse Loughborough to start training with them.

Trivia Question - Name the US team member, currently swimming at SwimMac, who also swam at Oxford University last year?

Honourable Mention - Steph Proud - You can point towards her performance at US Short Course Champs last winter where she won the 200m Back, but beating Elizabeth Simmonds over 200m Back is still an upset. While Simmonds was well off her best form in Manchester, Proud stepped up when she needed to and will have a chance to prove herself again at Worlds.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

2eme Meeting National de Natation - Montpellier

Some of France and Spain's top swimmers are on display in Montpellier ahead of their respective national championships. Look out for the likes of Camille Lacourt, Fabien Gilot, Rafa Munoz Perez & Mireia Belmonte as well as some top French and Spanish youngsters.

Results - HERE

Friday, 11 March 2011

Amsterdam Swim Cup - 11- 13 March

Highly coveted World Championship spots are up for grabs at the Amsterdam Swim Cup this weekend. Expect some fast swimming from Holland's finest.

Results & Startlists - HERE

UPDATE - Femke Heemskerk has broken the Dutch 100m Back record in this morning's heats with her time of 1:00.03. Inge Dekker has also qualified for Shanghai with a 57.62 100m Fly.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Pellegrini Responds, 3:57.59 - 400 SCM Free

Clearly outraged at the attention Rebecca Adlington garnered from her 4:02.84 400 LCM Free on Saturday night, Federica Pellegrini responded emphatically.

Yesterday she became the first Italian to break a national record since the suit law changes, winning the 400 SCM Free in a time of 3:57.59. Her 100m splits were 58.99, 1:00.61, 59.17 and 58.82. Not bad for someone in heavy training. Back in December Pellegrini won Bronze in Dubai with a time of 3:59.52, behind Katie Hoff's winning time of 3:57.07.

Worryingly for the rest of the world, it looks like working with Philippe Lucas is already paying dividends.

Italian National Team Championship Results - Here (In the two day meet, she also won the 800m Free in 8:21.24 on Day One)

(Hat tip to Paul Dudley (@paulduds) for the info)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A Closer Look At Rebecca Adlington's 4:02.84 400m Free

Is Adlington the best 400m Freestyler in the world?

This is not a question of looking at the 2011 world rankings, clearly she leads the rest of the world with such a strong time early in the year. More pressing is whether we should now consider her as the strongest 400m Freestyler in the world? Last week the unanimous choice would have been Federica Pellegrini, the reigning world champion and the fastest in the world last year on a 4:03.12. Adlington's time last year of 4:04.55 was a little way back.

Things changed on Saturday night though. Adlington's time of 4:02.84 gives her the fastest time since the suit laws were changed and even improved upon her gold medal winning time from the Beijing final (although she was slightly faster in the Olympic heats, 4:02.24).

The big question will be how Pellegrini responds. It has been a turbulent few years for the Italian with the death of her coach Alberto Castagnetti, leaving his successor Stefano Morini and joining Phillipe Lucas, the former coach of her arch-rival Laure Manaudou. Having a stable training environment is crucial for any swimmer, especially one who has demonstrated a level of mental fragility over the years. Last year saw a number of 'Did Not Finishes' for the Italian in major meets. She now has a new marker to aim for.

There are also a number of other challengers in the event. Over in America Katie Hoff and Kate Ziegler have returned to their best form and Chloe Sutton is putting together a number of eye-catching 400m swims. Sutton importantly is trending upwards in the event and we have yet to see her at her full potential. All three women swam 4:06 untapered at the Indianapolis Grand Prix this weekend, which bodes extremely well for 2011. France has a strong trio of swimmers with Camille Muffat, Coralie Balmy and Ophelie-Cyrille-Etienne. Australia are always strong and have a number of women knocking on the door of the top of the world rankings and China has some super-talented youngsters emerging, led by Yiwen Shao.

Perfect Pacing? 

Adlington's swim had almost exactly the same splits as her Olympic final in 2008. Both swims were out in 59 seconds, 2:01 at the halfway point, and a final 100 under 60 seconds. The only difference was a slightly stronger third 100m last night.

So does this represent the perfect pacing for Adlington, or would she benefit from being out faster in the first 200m? When she comes up against her main rival Federica Pellegrini this summer you can guarantee that the Italian will be out fast, likely in the 1:58 to 1:59 range. Pellegrini went out too slowly in Beijing and could never get back on terms. She clearly didn't swim to her strengths, a mistake she won't make again at a major competition.

In Rome, Adlington was out in 2:00 compared to Pellegrini's 1:59, and the Italian controlled the race from there (in a Jaked suit) to finish in 3:59.15 to Adlington's 4:00.79 (in a Speedo LZR) . Without the mental and physical aid of the suit I don't think Pellegrini will have the same confidence if she is challenged on the third or fourth 100m, and that represents Adlington's chance for victory.

In Shanghai I hope Adlington can get out slightly faster, around the 2:00-low mark, and then set about overhauling Pellegrini and the rest of the field, a competence she is highly skilled in.

Just how fast will her 800m Free be on Friday Evening?

Being faster than her 400 winning time, can she possibly get close to her World Record of 8:14.10? And if not, how about Janet Evans' iconic former World Record of 8:16.22?

I think 8:16 is a real possibility. She swam 8:23 last month at the British University Championships, helped slightly by the fact she was racing men and had someone to chase. Fully tapered and in this kind of form, a 7 second drop would be substantial, but not impossible. More realistic though would be something around 8:20.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

British Championships - 5-12 March 2011

Results - HERE

Live Timing - HERE

Video Highlights - HERE

The draft programme/psych sheet has been released for the British Championships. Taking place earlier than most other countries, the week-long British Champs will run from 5-12 March in Manchester.

The Event Schedule can be found - Here

The selection policy for Worlds can be found - Here

Thursday, 3 March 2011

11. Schwimmfest des SV Halle

The majority of Germany's top swimmers will be competing in Halle this weekend in the 11. Schwimmfest des SV Halle (LCM).

This competition will should mark the highly expected 2011 debut for Britta Steffen. Steffen has been forced to pull out of several competitions this year, so hopefully she will make the starting blocks this weekend. She is due to swim her specialist events, the 50m and 100m Free, as well as the more unusual events, the 200m and 400m Free.

Psych Sheet - Here

Results (should appear) - Here

Indianapolis Swimming Grand Prix

The Indy Grand Prix starts today. Its another All-Star affair with leading swimmers from USA (Phelps, Lochte, Clary, Lezak, Shanteau, Vanderkaay, Grevers, Thoman, Hoff, Sutton, Franklin, Vollmer, Hardy, Ziegler, Smit) and Internationally (Kitajima, Mellouli, Rogan, Morningstar, Poon).

Results - HERE

Psych Sheet - HERE

Thursday, March 3
200 Free
100 Breast
100 Butterfly
400 IM
400 Free Relay

Friday March 4
200 Fly
50 Free
100 Back
400 Free
200 Breast
800 Free Relay

Saturday, March 5
800 Free (W)
200 IM
200 Back
100 Free
1500 Free (M)
400 Medley Relay


Live video by Ustream

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Swimming at the 2012 Olympic Games - Day 1 Roundtable

With the recent announcement of an unchanged Olympic Schedule for London 2012, what better time to go through some of the talking points with two esteemed swim bloggers, Braden Keith of The Swimmers Circle (BK) and David Rieder ( (DR). We start with the Men's events on Day One.

2012 Olympics Day One Roundtable

Men's 400m IM - With the same schedule as 2008 released, will Michael Phelps now reconsider his decision to drop the 400m IM from his list of events?

- I think the chances of Phelps swimming the 400m IM have increased slightly, although I remain sceptical that he will take the event on. He doesn't need to go for 8 events again and whilst Bob Bowman might have been able to persuade him to keep swimming it in 2008, I don't think he can this time around. If he's training for the 100m Free I just can't see him going for the 400 IM. The 400 Free on the other hand...

TW Prediction
- Lochte, Clary, Cseh (If Mellouli didn't have the 400m Free, i'd pick him for Bronze). Wildcard - Chaoseng Huang, silver medalist at the Asian Games, just 16 years old and 1.90m tall. I'm taking him over the 1.69m tall, 20 year old gold medalist Yuya Horihata.

BK - I think you nailed it on the head, Tom. At this point, Phelps no longer has to prove his versatility by competing in the whole kitchen sink at the Olympics. It seems as though his goal now is to pick some very specific "pet" events, and prove to the world that he can beat any swimmer in the world in any specific event, rather than before when he had to prove that he could beat EVERY swimmer in EVERY event. With that sort of paradigm shift, the 400 IM is the natural event to drop.

BK Prediction - Lochte, Clary, Verraszto (the only swimmer near the top of the pile who actually DROPPED time after taking off the wetsuit). Wildcard: Chad le Clos-Like Tom's pick, this is another baby on the international scene. He's already huge, and has a frame that looks like it can handle a lot more muscle still.

DR - I think he made the decision to do it at Pan Pacs mostly because he saw an opening.. Now, there is no such motivation. Lochte and Clary have been 1-2 in the world the past two years. Anyone's pick for 1-2 in Shanghai and London. If this race wasn't the first of the meet, I'd give Clary a slight chance to beat Lochte in 16 months. But Lochte will be fresh and ready to go. I think both will beat Phelps' WR at either Trials, London, or both, and they should re-establish the US 1-2 tradition in the event. Dolan and Namesnik went 1-2 in 1996, Dolan and Vendt in 2000, and Phelps and Vendt in 2004. Cseh catching Lochte in 2008 shook things up obviously.

Now, it gets tricky. Someone else could (unlikely though) sneak into the top two. We saw the coming-out party of Conor Dwyer at SECs, 3:37 400 IM, which is a couple tenths of Lochte's best time. In December - when Dwyer had swam the race once ever - a coach told me he thinks Dwyer will make the team in the 400 IM. And on top of that, Robert Margalis, the perennial bridesmaid, won short course Nationals in a 3:40, pretty solid. Could be more up in the air than last time, where second-place Lochte went nearly 8 seconds faster than third-place Margalis.

DR Prediction - Tom is right that Mellouli would be a huge threat if it did not conflict with the 400 IM. As for Cseh, he struggled at this point in the last Olympic cycle too - lost European Short Course Champs, 5th at Worlds. He might be too good not to medal. Could be a tight race to qualify for Hungary too, with the likes of Verraszto and Gergo Kis. As for darkhorses, I too was thinking of Chad Le Clos, and also Israel's Gal Nevo and Brazil's Thiago Pereira have to be considered threats. To throw a name out: if Italy's Alessio Boggiatto is still swimming, he has finished fourth in the last three Olympics - no joke, it must be fate - and he was World Champ in 2001. Blast from the past!

Men's 400m Free - What role will World record-holder Paul Biedermann have in the race? Can Park Tae Hwan defend? How will the Chinese fit in? Will any Americans be ready to race the 400 and go for medals in London? Will anyone be under 3:40?

DR - To respond to Tom's post, I doubt Phelps steps up here. With such a rushed preparation, he needs to focus on 100s and 200s. Shame he never got the chance to show the world what he can do, and I think he would have gone sub-3:40 in Beijing.

I watched him race Cochrane and Rob Hurley in the 400 in Santa Clara in June 2009 (his second meet post-Beijing). Two bodylength lead at the 200, out in 1:51.0. Bodylength at the 350. Wins by a fingernail, 3:48.0. Hasn't swum it since. 

Biedermann is going to have to focus on the 200 for a chance at an Olympic medal. Just can't see him making a mark in the 400 long course anymore with the Asian guys and even Mellouli at full force.

DR Prediction 1) Park in a World Record; 2) Sun Yang, possibly also under 3:40, and 3) Agnel - he scares me.

Other established contenders: Zhang Lin, Peter Vanderkaay/Charlie Houchin/other Americans, Ryan Cochrane, Nikita Lobintsev. Darkhorses: Hurley/Ryan Napoleon - any Australians, Sebastian Rouault, Takeshi Matsuda (yes, he swims 400 free)

BK - If there's an American that can step up in the 400 free, I think that it's Peter Vanderkaay. He was good, though not awesome, in 2010, but he's now training in Gainesville. I can only imagine what working with Lochte day-in and day-out is going to do for his times.

Cochrane is another interesting name. He's going to be more dangerous in the longer distance, but he showed some potential in this race at Pan-Pacs.

Biedermann is still in this race. He proved in the World Cup and Dubai that he is not just a "suit swimmer" as he has been so harshly criticized in recent years. Don't think Agnel is ready yet in 2012, but I'm ready to just about hand him the Rio gold medal already.

BK Prediction: 1) Park; 2) Paul Biedermann; 3) Yang Sun With an upset special of Ryan Cochrane.

DR - A 400 long course is a different animal than short course. I have utmost (well almost) confidence in Biedermann's abilities to be in the hunt in the 200. I feel like that distance background (miles, 800s, etc.) are essential to be a factor against some of these other guys. I've also heard his focus is now on the 200...

TW - I see Biedermann making the final, but missing the medals as it stands right now. I think his heart lies in the 200 and the 'glamour' battles he faces in that event. One thing I will say for Biedermann, he is a great racer, if the final is a cagey affair and he has a chance in the last 100m I wouldn't bet against him.

Interesting fact - Apart from the boycotted 1980 games, there has never been an Olympic Top 3 in the 400m Free that hasn't included either an American or an Australian. I would say at this stage, that its looking more than likely we will see history being made in London. Right now I see it as a battle between Park Tae-Hwan, Sun Yang and Oussama Mellouli and I believe one, if not all three, will be sub-3:40 by 2012. Agnel is a scary prospect, but like Biedermann, I feel his speed makes him more suitable for the 200. What a great advert for the global reach of swimming to have a podium consisting only of athletes from Asia and Africa.

Its not looking like such a strong event for USA (or Australia). Peter Vanderkaay is a tremendous swimmer but he has a lot of ground to make up on the leading guys in the event. One possible source of hope for USA is my wildcard pick Conor Dwyer (assuming Lochte and Clary make the US team on the 400m IM). If he can translate his Short Course Yards swimming into Long Course Meters he could be a classic American Olympic contender who seemingly (to the non-American world) comes from nowhere.

TW Prediction - 1. Sun Yang (scary how good he could be next year), 2. Park Tae-Hwan, 3. Oussama Mellouli. Wildcard - Conor Dwyer.

BK - That's a great factoid Tom. I wonder if that has anything to do with the American paradigm shift where everyone wants to be an IM'er. The swimmers who previously would've had the mentality to do that middle-distance freestyle now instead all want to be IM'ers like Michael Phelps.

Men's 100m Breaststroke - In 2010, there's little doubt that Kitajima was the best breaststroker in the world. But by London 2012, he will be almost 30, and his countrymate Ryo Tateishi will just be hitting his prime. Is there any chance that Tateishi knocks him off? And what about the American situation. How much will Shanteau benefit from battling with Kitajima every day at Trojan, and what sort of potential does Alexandrov have in the long course pool? Does this leave Gangloff as the odd man out? And can Brenton Rickard get back on his form from 2009 after what was an admittedly off-the-wall season for the Aussies?

BK - I want to believe that Kitajima will have a dropoff, but he certainly didn't show it last year. Trojan seems to be the KINGS of breaststroke right now, and so I think Shanteau will have a lot of improvement between now and London. The second spot will be down to Alexandrov and Gangloff...I've gotta take a peaking Alexandrov over a declining Gangloff for the other spot in this race.

I think that Rickard needs to take his focus off of Shanghai, and use the first part of this year to really settle himself down. Between the mess in India, and the 47 or so Championship meets the Australians had, he was never able to hit his training cycles at the right intervals. If he can really take a long-term view of this training year, I think he'll be fine for London.

BK Prediction - 1) Kosuke Kitajima, 2) Ryo Tateishi (the heir apparent), and 3) Eric Shanteau. Darkhorse: Igor Borysik from the Ukraine...that national program is really starting to pull things together.

TW - I made a vow a few years ago to never doubt Kitajima in any race of importance, and you know what, it's worked out pretty well for me so far. He is the greatest breaststroker of all time and I expect him to sweep to victory in the 100m.

I love the Tateishi pick for silver. I'm not sure if the wider world realizes yet, but Japan has more depth in Men's Breaststroke than any other nation. Domestic competition only improves a nation's chances, so I can definitely see a Japan 1-2 in both the 100 and 200 Breast. Whether it is Tateishi or Naoya Tomita/Yuta Suenaga/Takuro Fujii is another story. The one threat I see to the Japanese dominance comes from Alexander Dale Oen. He didn't race with the techsuits in '09 and returned to form with a bang last year.

TW Predictions - 1. Kitajima. 2. Tateishi. 3. Dale Oen. Wildcard - Brendan Hansen. Whilst it hasn't been confirmed, by all accounts Hansen is back in training. Whilst Ed Moses has officially announced his return, in a long course pool Hansen is the one man that can get close to Kitajima's level.

BK - Dale Oen did have a good season last year, and maybe he will be bolstered by the fact that he was never spoiled by the tech suits. He's still capable of going lifetime bests, unlike much of his competition, and maybe this will keep him motivated. Does anyone know what Oen's current training situation is like?

Japan really has developed some incredible depth. Tateishi is young, and already had one of the best times in the world last year. Remembering that this meet is a year out, it seems hard that anyone at the top of the rankings (this is an aging group of breaststrokers, worldwide) will be able to catch him.

So Tom, what DO you see happening with the USA breaststrokers, besides obviously Hansen getting into the top two? Which of the other three do you see joining him, or do you think it will be an all-comeback squad of Moses and Hansen?

TW - USA Men's Breaststroke is seen as a weakness, but at the end of the day you still had the 8th (Gangloff), 9th (Alexandrov) and 11th (Shanteau) fastest guys in the world last year. You also have uber-talents Ed Moses and Brendan Hansen returning so its not all doom and gloom. It certainly should be strong enough to see you through in the 4 x 100 Medley relay.

If I had to pick the two US guys in the 100m at this point I would say Hansen and Alexandrov. Kind of a mix between an old head and a new talent. Hansen was incredible at his best and Alexandrov has a bright future ahead of him. I can see the Ed Moses comeback ending in a national final, but not much more than that. Shanteau I'd pick for the 200 and Gangloff is the odd man out. 

DR - Unless you guys want to read novellas every night, let me respond! First of all: you guys need to look at the history of Tateishi. Always performs well in the spring meets, including Nationals, but never when it matters. At Pan Pacs, 1:00.09 in prelims; fourth in finals, with a time that would have won silver. Ninth in Rome, nowhere near his season best. You get the picture. Also a really small guy, and suits/taper do very little for him. Japan does have some stellar depth, but this is going to be an extremely tight race, and I can't imagine one country picking up two medals. And Suenaga announced his retirement yesterday, FYI. Something about not enjoying being obliterated by Kitajima.

Borysik is similar - inconsistent, and he's never had a big performance when it matters. Wildcard/darkhorse a good spot for him, but many others like him.

My prediction: 1) Dale Oen, 2) Kitajima, 3) van der Burgh

I am surprised neither of you has mentioned van der Burgh (1:00.10 at Commonwealth Games - big meet). He has far more explosive power than anyone in the field (perfect contrast with Tatieshi actually). As for Dale Oen, he missed the short course season with some sort of injury, forget what, but he's back at it. I honestly believe that this pick is not just that I don't want Kitajima to be the first to three-peat (Phelps' flys are a few days later).

Rickard (and Spenger) will be in the mix, as will both Americans. If Hansen has enough time, he has the capabilities to get to the level of Kitajima. Moses is unfulfilled potential. Of the three guys on the scene right now, only Alexandrov may be able to keep up with Hansen and Moses if they were to have a full preparation. He is still on the rise too. That said, never count out Shanteau or Gangloff. In late May, I told Chris DeSantis I didn't think Gangloff would be top-two this year. He proceeded to bust out a 1:00.7 at Paris Open and win bronze (ahead of Tatieshi) at Pan Pacs and make me look stupid. Will be tight - others like Marcus Titus also in the mix. I do think it will take under 1:00 to make the U.S. team.

No one talks about Hugues Duboscq either - is he a darkhorse, or do we just think he should be a dinosaur? Real darkhorses include Fabio Scozolli, Felipe Silva, and Daniel Gyurta - two 50 guys and a 200 guy. This is a very wide open event, and I could see times going out the window in the final. If that happens, it comes down to racing and pure guts - which is how someone like Brendan Hansen could win.

BK - But can we really pigeon-hole Tateishi into what he is when he's still only 21? All young swimmers have those consistency issues, but as he matures, I think he'll clear up some of those issues and perform better. I thought about van der Burgh. I thought, and thought, and thought. When I was going through swimmers in my head to pick for the top 3, his name kept popping up in my head, but I couldn't bring myself to pick him long course.

Duboscq is going to be almost 31 by then...and unlike Kitajima, he seems to be going the wrong direction.

DR - Who won bronze in Rome in the 100 breast as the youngest in the field? Right... Yeah I tend to forget about Duboscq - then he does something good.