Monday, 30 April 2012

Where does Team USA stand heading into London 2012? Freestyle Edition

We have now seen Olympic Trials in the majority of leading swimming nations, with Germany's  trials still to come May 9 - 14. There will be some noteworthy swimming events coming up over the next couple of months, but in terms of Olympic selection the attention will soon shift firmly to the US trials in Omaha in late June.

As hard as it is to say as a non-American, I can't help but feel like the Olympic trials so far in the other nations have been a support act for the main headliner... and in true rock star style, they are making us wait.

Here is a breakdown of where I see the US standing in each event, and how their stock has risen U+2191.svg/taken a fall U+2193.svg or stayed the same since Shanghai. First off, we take a look at the Freestyle events.

50m Free

Men U+2191.svg Nathan Adrian remains USA's best bet for a medal in this event and outside of Cesar Cielo's 21.38 from the Maria Lenk Trophy, won't have seen anything too concerning so far this year. Fred Bousquet won't be there which is also a plus, but Bruno Fratus' emergence just about cancels that out. Behind Adrian they have comeback kid Anthony Ervin, established guys such as Garrett Weber Gale, Jason Lezak and Cullen Jones, as well as a group of young sprinters who they will look to make a step forward (particularly Josh Schneider and Jimmy Feigen).
Women = No real change. Jessica Hardy,who finished 8th in Shanghai, was the top ranked American in 2011. A spot in the final with an extremely slim medal chance still appears to be on the cards at this point. The challenge to break into the upper echelons of the event has become harder with Fran Halsall and Ranomi Kromowidjojo joining Therese Alshammer in the 24.1s this year. The reason for the = sign and not the dreaded downward arrow is simple... Dara Torres. Until we see what shape Torres is in, the jury remains tantalisingly out.

100m Free

Men U+2193.svg The US men have been well and truly 'Magnussened'. Before Shanghai, Nathan Adrian was one of the favourites for gold, but is currently barely clinging to his place in the medal discussion. Australian's Magnussen and Roberts as well as Cesar Cielo, Brent Hayden and even Yannick Agnel all have the edge at this point in time. Realistically, Adrian needs to show up with a sub-48 second swim in Omaha to get back into the frame.

Women U+2193.svg Missy Franklin is the unknown quantity in the 100m Free right now for the US. She swam an impressive 53.63 last summer, but has since seen Ranomi Kromowidjojo (52.75) and Sarah Sjostrom (53.05) move well clear in the rankings. It remains to be seen what Franklin and/or Natalie Coughlin et al can do, but the rest of the world, particularly Europe, has taken big strides forward during and since Shanghai.

200m Free

Men = Tough event to grade. On the plus side for the US, we haven't seen any further progression from either Sun Yang or Park Tae-Hwan so far in 2012. However, Yannick Agnel's 1:44.42 from French Trials represents the biggest threat to US dominance since 2009. Agnel's time was 0.02 seconds quicker than Ryan Lochte's winning time from Shanghai, and while Lochte and Phelps are still favourites in the event, Agnel has a great shot at playing spoiler. We're also waiting to see what sort of form Paul Biedermann is in at German trials next week.
Women = Another tough grade to give. On the one hand, Camille Muffat's textile best time of 1:54.87, closely followed by Sarah Sjostrom's 1:55.23 have moved the event forward this year. However, neither time seems out of reach of Missy Franklin (1:55.06 last year) or even Allison Schmitt (1:55.83 untapered in January). Federica Pellegrini is still to show her strongest hand in 2012 and can't be discounted.

400m Free

Men U+2191.svg This may raise some eyebrows given that the US have been relatively weak in this event in recent years, but the door has been left ajar by Yannick Agnel's decision not to compete the 400m Free. Only Sun Yang has been quicker than Peter Vanderkaay's time from the Shanghai final this year, and if Vanderkaay improves in his second year in Florida he could pose an even greater challenge to Sun Yang, Park Tae-Hwan and Paul Biedermann for a medal. The US will also look to Matt McLean, Charlie Houchin or Michael Klueh to get into the reckoning for a top 8 spot in London.

Women U+2193.svg The 400m Free has really kicked into gear so far this year. Camille Muffat set a new textile best time of 4:01.13, Rebecca Adlington continues to improve her textile best and is now down to 4:02.35 and Kylie Palmer has also lowered her best to 4:03.40. Added to that group, we are still yet to see a 100% Federica Pellegrini or Lotte Friis this year. The American women have depth, but they need to improve considerably to challenge for a medal. Allison Schmitt's 4:05.90 and Katie Hoff's 4:07.00 untapered swims  are good signs, but still not in the same league as the women listed above. It may take a swim of 4:04 or 4:05 to have a chance of making the final in London.

800m Free

Women U+2191.svg There is better news for the US women in the 800m Free. Although Rebecca Adlington is faster than she was last year and Lotte Friis is still expected to be her main competition, the 800 Free hasn't seen the level of improvement that the 400m Free has. Chloe Sutton has been 8:26 already this year and Kate Ziegler's bronze medal time(8:23.36) from Shanghai has only been bettered by Adlington (8:18.54) and China's Xin Xin (8:22.76) this year. At to the mix some young Americans (Gillian Ryan, Katie Ledecky) who could take big strides this year and the Americans medal prospects still seem strong in this event.

1500m Free

Men = The US qualified two men for the 1500m final in Shanghai, but neither Chad La Tourette (5th, 14:52.36) or Peter Vanderkaay (6th, 15:00.47) could get close to the medal podium. This year has seen Park Tae Hwan swim 14:47, the emergence of Britain's Daniel Fogg (14:55) and China's Hao Yun (14:58), and the return to form of David Davies (15:00). On the plus side for the US, they have good depth in this event with several men knocking on the 15 minute barrier last year (Andrew Gemmell, Sean Ryan, Arthur Frayler, Evan Pinion, Michael Klueh, Mike McBroom, Ryan Feeley) who could be primed for a breakthrough this year.


  1. This is such a good idea!

    I mostly agree with everything excluding w50free. Going into Shanghai I saw the 50free as an extremely open event where it seemed like no one was faster than 24.4 and so many people were close to that time and I could've easily seen Hardy drop down and taken an unexpected medal.

    I think what has developed over the last year is that clear favorites have developed in this event. Halsall, Kromowidjojo, Veldhuis and Alshammar have all put up times over half a second faster than the fastest Americans. Additionally, the field has gotten denser with swimmers like Campbell x 2, Sjostrom, Herasemenia, Ottesen all with more reliable stocks than Hardy.


    Coming out of Shanghai Franklin's stocks were over the roof being so far ahead in all of her events (including the 100free), but what we have seen is many women catching up and surpassing her times from Shanghai worlds in the freestyle events. At the moment, I think she has a good shot at a medal in the 100, but she is by no means the favorite. I still feel that she is the favorite int he 200free, but its not like 9 months ago where i pretty much couldn't see anyone coming close to her.


    Yannick Agnel has to be a significant threat to Lochte and Phelps. Last year he dropped from 145.4 to 144.9 with relatively imperfect preparation, and lagged progress in the 400free. That same drop through taper would put him under in the 143s which would make him a significant threat. Seeing as Yannick and Muffat are training partners, if she drops similar times, she will definitely push Franklin even if she improves by a second.

    1. John26,

      I agree with all points you raised, especially the Yannick Agnel threat. Agnel took the smart move and ditch the 400 (where he'd only be fighting for bronze anyway) and focus on 100-200. In the long run, I can even see Agnel be serious competitor for Magnussen in the 100.

  2. I Think you are expecting too much from Vanderkaay

    1 second of improvement does not even raise a small eyebrow on Yang.

    Yang will probably go below 3:40 and dash ahead of the field with Park coming on something about 3:40 3:41.

    He maybe a threat to Bieldermann, but not for the other 2.

  3. I also think Missy is still fave in the 200free. Muffat's textile best is only abt 0.2s faster... Dont count her out yet in the 100 free. Her 53.63 best last year was an unrested swim. I believe she is a 52high in the 100free at best. I cant say the same for coughlin. I think coughlin will @ least make the 400free relay and hopefully secure a spot in the 100back as well... Jus to say smthn abt the relays. Missy is like Lochte in women's 800free relay. She'l substantially increase the US chances of reclaiming olympic gold from the aussies..

    1. without Franklin, the aussies would have definitely won women 4x200 free last year.
      so yes, with Franklin in London, The AUS chance of retaining their gold is slim, although they're still within fighting chance

  4. Katie Hoff will have to be at her very best to get an individual spot for the 200free.. She's likely to to get a spot in the 400free but a medal will be a long shot (outside the 800free where USA will be favourites). I dont know if Hoff will attempt to qualify for the IM's as well...

  5. The only point I don't agree with is the women's 100 free. Franklin is going to drop a very fast time in trials and the relay will be strong. Also, betting against Coughlin as a racer has historically been a bad idea. Agree with the rest of this.

    Wild relay predictions: I think the US men will take silver in the 4x100, but I think the race will be a bit closer than it appears on paper at this point. Both Adrian and Phelps are going to be sub 48 capable at trials and others could easily step up. I think they will win the 4x200 in a more emphatic fashion than Shanghai as third-man Berens is going to impress this year. The US women will also win silver in the 4x100 behind the Dutch but again, it's not going to be the blow out it appears to be. The US women will romp in the 4x200, though. Schmitt and Franklin are both going to be 1:54 from a flat start at trials.

    1. I think the US is the favorite in women 4x200 but I don't think they are going to romp.

      Remember that in Shanghai, all four australians underperformed in that relay (that is, they all swam slower than during their trials). Based on their trials forms, they should have won that relay, even with Franklin in the race. And I believe the aussies made tactical error by not swimming the in form Coutts.

      This year, they even had greater depth in the women 200 free at their trials (and that is without Rice swimming, who I believe can swim a 1:56 flat start in London).

      in Beijing, the US was also predicted to romp in women 4x200, but many forgot that the Aussies had such great depth in the 200 free.

      I'm not sure who else in the US will swim will be able to swim 1:56 flat start (apart from Franklin and Schmitt). Romano?

      Many prediction is that the women 4x200 will be closer than you predicted.

    2. We shall see. who performs under extreme racing. In 2010 USA had 2 chances to get on the 2011 team -Nats & or Pacs. Then they had 12 months to hone their races.

      Now it is one chance & only 4 weeks to hone .

      Normally thy do well & are deep enough to cover for 'failures'. 2012 is trickier than 2008 trials imo.

  6. Natalie Coughlin and Katie Hoff are also 1.56s swimmers in the 200free (flat start). With Franklin and Schmitt the Americans will be hard to beat in the 800free relay..

    1. Coughlin was not even in the 800 FRR last year, and she has not swum 200 free for how many years?
      Especially this year, where she is, without a shadow of a doubt, putting everything in the training towards defending 100 back, do you really think she or the selectors will get her to swim 800 FRR?
      I don't think so.

      And Katie Hoff has never swum 1:56 in textile. Her textile PB is actually 1:57.50 from 2010.

    2. I should that I still consider USA as the favorite in women 4x200 due to Schmitt and Franklin, but AUS is going to give them a run of its money due to tehir great depth.

  7. Bring on the medley edition!

  8. Katie Hoff went 1.56.98 in the 200free in 2007.. Lets give Katie some credit.. She will be 1.56mid at least at trials, that'l be enough for a relay spot. Writing off Natalie coughlin in an olympic year has always been a bad idea.. She'l definitely qualify for 100back and 100free individual and will be considered in for the medley and 400FRR. If she decides to swim 200free, she'l go 1.56 no doubt.. I however think she should drop 200IM and 100fly from her schedule where medal chances will be incredibly slim for her in london. I'm predicting the US women will sweep the relays this time around thanx to the Missy factor.

  9. Two (not so) dark horses in the women's 200 free:

    Dagny Knutson. People have written her off a bit because her stratospheric prospects from two years ago have seemingly dimmed a bit. However, her previously chaotic training situation has been stable for a while now and she'll definitely benefit from the traditional "Florida taper". She dropped a very respectable relay split in Shanghai, way faster than most people expected. I would not be surprised to see her put in an impressive, career-restoring swim in Omaha.

    Megan Romano. Broke the American record this year in SCY. She's been swimming lights-out all year and seems to get faster in every swim. She's a bit unproven in LCM, but she's a big meet swimmer and very strong between the flags. No guarantees, but I think 1:56 high is possible for her individually in Omaha.

  10. In the women's 200 free it'l probably take a 1.57low for a relay spot. It appears Franklin and Schmitt will secure the individual spots. I'm predicting a 1.54mid for Franklin and a 1.55low for Schmitt.

  11. My olympics prediction for the 200free events:
    1.Michael Phelps 1.42.99
    2.Ryan Lochte 1.43.84
    3.Yannick Agnel 1.44.13

    1.Missy Franklin 1.54.00
    2.Camille Muffat 1.54.47
    3.Fred Pellegrini 1.54.81

    1. the 200 men free textile wr is 1.43.86 from 2007, even if i am fan of michael phelps , i don think he will swim the time you predict .

  12. I believe Phelps will be much closer to his 1.42.96 PB than the 1.43.86textile time. He'l definitely be pushed all the way by Lochte, Agnel, Park I'd love to see him go under 1.43.. Its not an unrealistic target.

    1. Blah blah. You have to give a reason for your 'belief'. Swimming is not a piggy bank - the more work /effort you put in does not necessarily improve things.

      There is an X point that even champions reach -otherwise they would be improving ad infinitem .

      Agnel I think has yet to reach this X point in the 200.

  13. Phelps swam 1.42.96 in a Lazer and he was at his best. Recent indications in his perfomance (1.45.6 untapered) show he is back to his Beijng form... So i BELIEVE that at his best in london he'l be very close to that(1.42.96). My 1.42.99 prediction stands.. Am looking forward to USA trials.. Phelps will be the man to beat in the 200free

    1. Untapered means different things . It could be that his preps are all shorter race pace stuff now as against a heavy mixed workload.

      Many older professionals train this way . So comparing a 2012 March swim to a 2008 is just that -a comparison . Until you know te data input you cn't do the modelling.

      The 1.42.9 is a LZR & as yet Phelps has not got near it . Magnussen has prety much got Sulivans/Bernardts 100 LZR time ( in a high pressure meet).

      Phelps needs to actually do it not just have you say he can do it. No one has stopped him from the 1.42.9 -he simply has not been able to yet.

  14. There is no greater platform than olympics for Phelps to show his best(in textile). The 1.44.79 from shanghai was a decent swim by his high standards... London will be a different story

  15. Dana Vollmer may very well be the 4th swimmer on the 800free relay.. Her 1.58mid untapered is a good indication of her ability in the 200free... Its interesting to see hw fast she'l go at trials.. Franklin/Schmitt/Hoff/Vollmer quartert will be unstoppable in London... A world record is on the cards.