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.
Men’s 200m Butterfly
BK - Phelps is back, and seems to be serious again. With London in sight, I expect that he'll carry that momentum through the duration. He went a 1:54.1 in this event in debatable shape, and in good shape, he's going to put up a 1:53-low or better, and that will be that.
The top 3 in the world last year, Phelps, Matsuda, and D'Arcy, all lined up next to each other last summer at Pan Pacs. It's a great demonstration of the differences in technique betwen the 3 swimmers, and after seeing that, it's hard to buy D'Arcy finishing any higher than 3rd. D'Arcy is strong and has great walls, but he has to be that way to match the efficiency of the other 2 swimmers. I actually think he'll get nipped by Wu Peng of China for a medal too.
Picks: 1) Phelps, 2) Matsuda, 3) Peng. Darkhorse: Bence Biczo from Hungary. He set the European Juniors record last year in Helsinki, and pulled off the 200 fly double at both European Juniors and the Youth Olympic Games. Chad Le Clos gets all of the youth hype in this event, but Biczo might be better than him at this point.
DR- Only 1:53-low on phelps? I'd say probably a WR or at least very close. Good chance of 1:50 or even... 1:49?
BK - Ok, maybe 1:53 was too high of a mark. 1:51 is more realistic maybe. No way he gets close to a 1:49 though.
TW - If Phelps swims 1:49 on the 200 Fly (in textile) it will go down as one of the greatest swims of all-time, in any era. One potential problem might be his shift of focus to the 100s which could hurt his stamina on the last 50m. Even so, he's as close to a lock for gold as we have in our sport.
Braden, I'll take your wildcard and raise it... to silver medalist. I'm bullish on Bence Biczo's chances. His 1:55.82 at the age of 17 compares well to Phelps' 1:54.86 at the same age (though Phelps had been 1:54.58 at 16). With this year and next to hone his skills, and being pushed by great domestic competition in the form of Laszlo Cseh, he should be primed for London.
Matsuda is putting together a nice major championship resume in the event with Olympic and World Championship Bronze, as well as 2010's fastest time. I pick him to repeat his Bronze from Beijing.
Prediction 1) Phelps 2) Biczo 3) Matsuda. Wildcard: I could go Tyler Clary here but he's not much of a 'wildcard', instead i'll opt for Poland's Marcin Cieslak. He had a prodigious junior career in Europe and now finds himself in one of the world's top training environments at the University of Florida.
BK - Wow, Biczo for silver? That would be hugely notable. Does anyone think that Le Clos will be ready to challenge by then?
TW - Le Clos deserves a lot of credit for his big wins at Commonwealth's and World SC. The ability to step up when it matters most is a valuable skill to possess, but it’s easy to forget that he only ranked 15th in the world last year LC. He's still young so clearly can make some big improvements, but I'll put my money on Biczo, who is a year younger than Le Clos.
DR - Bizco has a long way to go to get down to the level of Matsuda and company. He has no big meet experience, and I want to see him do something in Shanghai before I consider him a medalist. Le Clos, on the other hand, has stepped it up. He has the big-time experience, beating some of the biggest names in the business in Cseh, Almeida, and Wu Peng in Dubai. That counts for more than you guys give him credit for. Cieslak is also a great darkhorse, and like Bizco, he has a domestic rival to measure himself against in Pawel Korzeniowski.
Clary has a lot of untapped potential in the 200 fly. He has a lot more to show than that 1:55.7 he swam in prelims at Pan Pacs. I think he'll send a message early at Worlds to show that he's good at this event too. All of this considered, picking medalists in this event is so hard! Other than the obvious in Phelps, the only consistent force we've seen over the past few years is Matsuda. Everyone seems to jump onto the scene and not pop up again for a while.
Predictions: 1) Phelps, 2) Clary, 3) Matsuda
Phelps better win this race. His sprint training will help him get out, and he'll hold on for a world record. I expect 1:51-very low or 1:50. (It could be that he breaks the world record in Shanghai, which would pave the way for an even faster London performance.) 1:49 isn't out of the question, but I don't forsee that low - but he has proven us all wrong before! Remember 4:03 in Beijing?
If he loses... it would be the greatest upset in Olympic swimming history.
Women's 200m Free
Can anyone come close to Federica Pellegrini? And can Pellegrini get close to her world record of 1:52.96 set back in 2009?
BK - Shanghai will be a telling spot for whether or not Allison Schmitt can challenge the Italian, as will whether or not she swims for the University of Georgia next year. But where I'm looking for a possible upset is down-under, where there were two Aussie's (Kylie Palmer and Bronte Barratt) who posted 1:55's at LC Nationals. I've said it before and I'll say it again: All Australian times from 2010 must be viewed with the footnote of the long and arduous season that the Dolphins had.
I think either of those two could upset Pelligrini, though I'd take Palmer in a pinch, based partially on her successes now in short course and long course. That being said, I still think that Pellegrini wins in London (though not necessarily Shanghai). With the roll that Muffat has been on lately, she could medal, too.
Picks: 1) Pellegrini, 2) Schmitt, 3) Palmer. Darkhorse: Silke Lippok (Germany)- Lippok hasn't been getting enough play, despite matching Yannick Agnel's 5 European Jr. Championships in Budapest last year. I've recently watched some of her swims for another piece I've been working on, and this girl has potential written all over her.
TW - I can't see anyone getting past Pellegrini in the 200 Free. She has shown that she can perform in the 200 at major championships regardless of the result in the 400. In Beijing she had a disappointing 400 and bounced back to win gold in the 200, whilst in Rome she had a great 400 and backed it up with an incredible 200. I think Pellegrini has too much speed for the distance girls dropping down in distance, and too much endurance for the 100/200 swimmers. When the dust settles on the Italian's career, I think she will go down as the greatest ever female 200 Freestyler.
The battle for silver will be the real race. My pick is Camille Muffat. Winning at the World SC Champs last year should provide a great launching pad for Muffat, both this year and next. She has the most similar mix of speed and endurance to Pellegrini and she also trains with Yannick Agnel, good company to keep.
Bronze is a tough pick between Allison Schmitt, Kylie Palmer and Silke Lippok. I will take the safe option with Schmitt. 2009 World silver medalist and ranked second in the world last year is good enough to get you on this virtual podium.
Prediction - 1) Pellegrini, 2) Muffat, 3) Schmitt
Wildcard - She was my wildcard in the 100 Back, and she will be again for the 200 Free. Femke Heemskerk. The fastest 100 swimmer of all the top contenders, she is in the best form of her life right now and has already been 1:56.61 in 2011.
DR - I'm not usually one to predict upsets, but I will here. Allison Schmitt will win the 200 free in London, defeating Federica Pellegrini. Could I be wrong? Definitely. But Schmitt keeps improving, and I expect her to be in the 1:55-low range by this summer to set her up for a real run at Pellegrini by 2012. (I also predicted Pellegrini to miss the medals in the 400, so I must really not be confident in her.)
1) Schmitt, 2) Pellegrini, 3) Muffat
Muffat has looked really good lately, and I am confident she could drop more, though I am not totally sure she will this year. She and Heemskerk both have a bit to prove after not performing in this event at Europeans - especially Heemskerk, after her failure in this one in Dubai. (She might choose 200 free or 100 back because of the schedule.) The Aussies tend to be less consistent with their drops, but I agree that Palmer has the best chance to make a mark. I also like Silke Lippok, who showed some real courage to go out with Pellegrini at Europeans.
Dana Vollmer has been ranked third in the world for the past two years, but it does seem like she is shifting her focus to the shorter events - 100 free and 100 fly. Of course, she'll probably pop off a fast 200 by Shanghai. Still, I like Katie Hoff to take the second American spot and contend for a medal. Missy Franklin also has big potential in this event, and Morgan Scroggy or Dagny Knutson could also make an individual impact. Also, look for less-known swimmers like Lauren Perdue (second at NCAAs), Karlee Bispo, Chelsea Chenault, and Jasmine Tosky to have an impact relay-wise, and even someone like Ariana Kukors or Elizabeth Pelton could be a factor.
Darkhorses - Tang Yi from China. Fourth in Dubai in 1:53.09. A definite threat. Also, this event could fit into Sarah Sjostrom's Olympic program. She is known as a sprinter and flyer, but she is a really good 200 freestyler, especially short course. She really could develop into one of the best in that event as she gets older and stronger.
Women's 200m IM
Question: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie?
BK - As the defending champ in the 200 IM, you can't call Stephanie Rice a "darkhorse," but I might term her a "sleeper" instead based on her final standing in the World Rankings last year. I think that Rice repeats in this event, and in fact think that this is her best shot at gold in 2011 and 2012.
Shiwen Ye had a good swim in this at Chinese Nats last week, but not on the same scale as many of her Chinese teammates. Last year, though, she was the world's only swimmer who was able to separate from the logjam right around a 2:10.0.
The Hungarian women are also a threat too. Hosszu and Verraszto got locked up in a great battle at Euro's (Hosszu won by .01), so the potential is there that they can lop off a few tenths off if they are better able to "swim their race".
Picks- 1) Rice 2) Ye 3) Seebohm- Wildcard: Natalie Wiegersma (NZL). Weigersma got an easy path to the Olympics out of New Zealand, is young, and is very strong. Top 5 is definitely doable for her.
DR - Great points so far Braden. I think one of the big keys is Australian Trials. In countries other than America, rarely does a Trials shape the format of an Olympic race. Even if it does, no one anticipates it a year out like this.
As for the American trials, Ariana Kukors will be the favorite. How can someone that goes 2:06 not be in the mix? Even if she was wearing a jetpack, really impressive. She put up a statement of intent this weekend in Michigan with a 2:11-low 200 IM, and she said she had expected a 2:13. Basically, don't sleep on her. Caitlin Leverenz went 2:12 this weekend, and she'll be in the mix, as will former American record-holder Julia Smit, who's been 2:09.
Katie Hoff was the best in this event for so long, and she has said she would like to swim this event again, but it conflicts with the 200 free, and she has said the free has priority. Morgan Scroggy placed third nationally this summer, and Missy Franklin could be a factor if she swims it (though I could see her passing on it for other events). Also, watch out for Elizabeth Pelton, second to Smit at 2009 nationals, though she focuses more on backstrokes now; and her namesake Elizabeth Beisel, who has been in the mix for quite a few years to make a mark in the shorter IM. However, all of this said, I don't think any American other than Kukors has a legitimate medal shot right now.
Prediction: 1) Rice, 2) Kukors, 3) Ye
This will be a super tight race, but Rice has what it takes to get it done, and she has the experience of amazing Olympic successes. I picked Ye to win at Worlds in her home country this summer, but the top two will be ready to show something come London.
Darkhorse - Julia Wilkinson, Canada. Wilkinson is multi-talented and has just begun to show the world what she can do. I expect her to swim the 100 back, 200 IM, and 100 free in London, and this is her best chance to make a final and potentially challenge for a medal. And I cannot go without mentioning Kirsty Coventry. She won bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008. Pattern? In any event she swims, Coventry is dangerous.
TW - Both of you guys are putting a lot of faith in Steph Rice, a swimmer who has been plagued by injuries and 'off the field' issues for two years. If she has a year and a half of solid preparation then she will be a force in this race, but that is hardly guaranteed. Just getting on the Aussie team will be difficult enough with an improving Alicia Coutts and Pan Pacs champion Emily Seebohm to compete against.
My pick in the event is Ye Shiwen. She's backed up her strong 2010 (highlighted by her textile WR of 2:09.37) with a strong start to 2011 (2:10.11 at Chinese Nationals). She has a lethal last 100m and just needs to make sure she doesn't leave herself too much work to do at the finish. I think she wins Worlds this year in a 2:08, firmly establishing herself as the No. 1 200 IM'er in the world ahead of London.
Ariana Kukors' untapered 2:11 in Michigan serves as a reminder that despite a quietish 2010 she is still America's biggest threat. Spain's Mireia Belmonte is an intriguing prospect. She looks like her SC form of 2010 is transferring nicely across to the LC pool but she might suffer from a schedule clash, the 200 Butterfly semi finals are just two events before the 200 IM final, although that didn't seem to affect her too much in Dubai and she possesses argubaly the best Breaststroke leg of all the major medal contenders.
Hannah Miley made a good step forward last year in this event, getting into the 2:10s, although despite her improvements on the 200 Free, I think the event is too short for her and is at best an outside medal hope. I agree with Braden on his assessment of the threat posed by the Hungarian duo of Katinka Hosszu and Evelyn Verraszto.
Prediction 1) Ye Shiwen, 2) Kukors, 3) Seebohm
Wildcard - I agree with Kirsty Coventry being a darkhorse and will offer Caitlin Leverenz as my own. If the American can improve the front end of her race she will become a major player. Last year she went out in a 1:02-high at both Pan Pacs and US Nationals and then came storming back with a 36 split on the Breaststroke. If she can get out in a 1:01-high instead whilst keeping that speed on the Breaststroke, watch out!