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 TheSwimGeek.com (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.