|"It's all coming together nicely", Yannick Agnel has taken his first victim in the 200 freestyle and the race hasn't even started yet.|
Michael Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman have decided to drop the 200 free from their London schedule to allow Phelps to concentrate on the 4 x 100 freestyle relay.
The move comes as a surprise given how important the 200 free has been to Phelps over the years, and the strong chance Phelps had to medal. One of his greatest ever swims came at Worlds in 2006 when he broke Ian Thorpe's then world record with a stunning 1:43.86... a time that has not been touched since in a textile suit, at least not yet.
This decisions really shakes up both the 200 free individual and the 4 x 100 free relay events:
Yannick Agnel and Ryan Lochte become the clear favourites now, with Paul Biedermann, Park Tae Hwan and Sun Yang close behind. Phelps' withdrawal also offers an intriguing opportunity for Ricky Berens who now has his moment in the spotlight (for sporting reasons rather than suit malfunctions).
I can't help but think this news gives a real shot in the arm to the non-US challengers. If you had asked them who they would rather face between Phelps and Lochte, my money would have been on them saying Lochte. Even though Lochte has been better over the last few years, Phelps at his best is still 0.6 seconds faster than any of the current crop of freestylers have ever been before in textile. I would also suggest that the fear factor they had facing up to the American challenge has just been halved. Fear factor down = Belief level up.
Current Prediction - 1) Lochte 2) Agnel 3) Sun Yang
4 x 100 free relay
Phelps now has a completely clear second day in London with just the relay coming at the very end of the day (he may also be required to swim the prelims). This undoubtedly helps the US team's cause, but by how much?
Australia will still go in as overwhelming favourites in the relay. How much faster will this extra rest make Phelps? Assuming he leads off, could we see him get down to the 47.5-47.7 range? He swam 48.0 to lead off in Shanghai and I can see him improving on that time, but not to the extent that could a) challenge Magnussen, or b) make up the deficit to Australia. Looking at the race with heavily tinted US spectacles, you might argue that if the US can stay closer to the Australians they could reel them in on the last legs... but I wouldn't agree.
Whatever the end result of this intriguing decision is, it absolutely shows how much importance the US are putting on the men's 4 x 100 free relay.
Current Prediction - 1) Australia 2) USA 3) France