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 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 Predictions – 1) 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.