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.


  1. Dont underestimate Zhang Lin in the 400m, he was 3 41.3 in a lzr in Rome (he later switched to the jaked to break hackett's 800m record), which was half a second faster than Park was in China. Obviously, Park's 341.5 in textile is more impressive, but I would not be surprised if Lin beats Sun in the 400m this summer, nor would I be surprised to see those three take the podium in Shanghai. Although, I personally believe that anyone going sub 340 in London is too much of a stretch.

    ps. I've been hearing it a lot, and so far I haven't really seen the hype, but why is Agnel getting so much recognition as compared to someone else of his age like Izotov, or Sun (in the 200m)

  2. ^^^ Zhang Lin also went 3:49 (or was it 3:48) in a textile at Asian Games last year. I don't know the reason for such a big drop off, but am curious to see how (or if) he rebounds this year.

    Clearly Park is the man to beat in 400 free, and I think he will beat the 3:40 mark at or even before London. Sun could be close, too.

    Biedermann was such a suit guy that I won't be convinced at all until he actually puts in something like 3:42 in a jammer. (Still kind of pissed that the Thorpe's time was beat by someone who could only go what 3:47?? without the suit the year before. Sorry.)

  3. i agree, i believe a sub 3.40, especially by more than one person, is a bit of a stretch. As for breaststroke, i wouldnt count gangloff off of the team.

  4. Definitely don't write Zhang off. He still had a fairly solid 2010 going 3.44 and getting medals at Pan Pacs but obviously didn't get his preparation right at Asian Games. He could well be in the 3.42's this year at home and faster next year when it counts. With the amount of competition in the 400 at the moment, I'm not totally convinced that the times at Asian Games can be reproduced at Worlds this year. Last year they were able to cruise the heats, I think Park went about 3.55 in the 400 heat. That won't happen in Shanghai and will take some sting out of the finals performances.
    I also think a sub 3.40 swim is still out of reach for most, but if anyone is capable it is Park. Interesting to see if Sun can keep improving or his he hits some plateaus over the next 18 months. Biedermann I wouldn't think will be competitive on the global stage, and Angel still needs to improve significantly, which he is capable of. But with the French a serious contender for gold in the 4x100 he might lean towards the 100-200 rather than 200-400 double.

    Also I hate when people think that Phelps could go a sub 3.40 swim. Definitely could not happen. He has tried this event and it didn't work out too well. You can't just jump in and do a 400 free. You would think if you could do a good 200 free and 400 IM it would happen, but it doesn't work like that. Lochte hasn't been able to do it. Tom Dolan couldn't do it. And Phelps couldn't do it.

    Lochte, Cseh and Clary are pretty clear cut in the 400m IM. LeClos could get close, he is a fighter but not sure if he is as classy as the other three.

    Speaking of classy, I dont think anyone will get past Kitajima in the breast, with Rickard, Tateishi and VD Burgh following. Mens breaststroke in the US is weak, which will hurt their medley relay, and it's hard to say people like Hansen and Moses can make it back in a big way when they've just got back!