Last week, we posted a link to the psych sheets for the 2011 FINA World Youth Championships that begin tomorrow in Lima, Peru (thank goodness, finally a big meet that’s taking place in the Western Hemisphere). Click here to see those.
Keep in mind that ages used on psych sheets at the FINA Youth World Championships are based solely on the year of birthd. So, if a male is listed as 17, that just means that he’s in his last year of eligibility for the Youth World Championships, not that he is necessarily actually 17.
This meet, even moreso than the Universiade and the Jr. National Championships, will be host to some of the world’s brightest young swimmers. Of course, we know looking historically at this meet that not all. For every Tyler Clary, Maria Belmonte, and Danila Izotov (both FINA Youth Champions with two individual gold medals), there’s a Yoris Grandjean (a Belgian double sprint champion in 2006 who has never cracked the top-35 in the World Rankings).
Let’s take a look at the top 10 races to watch for our next superstars, or next superflops, at the 2011 edition:
1. Kanako Watanabe – Watanabe entered the 2011 FINA World Championships as the 3rd-best 200 breaststroker in the world in 2011, and emerged in exactly the same position afterwards. The caveat to that was that she didn’t earn a spot at the meet. The 14-year old took the world by storm when she swam a 2:23.9 at the Japan Open in May. Unfortunately, this was after the selection meet took place in April, so she couldn’t Remember how American Amanda Beard took the world by storm in 1996 when she scored silver in this event at the Atlanta Olympics, teddy-bear in tow? It’s a whole different era of swimming now, but at the same age, Watanabe is already almost two-seconds faster than Beard was. She’ll also be entered in the 50 and 100 breaststrokes, as well as the 100 backstroke.
2. Men’s 200 fly – Joe Schooling lives and trains in the United States at the Bolles School, but competes internationally for Singapore. If he was an American, he would stand as the 3rd-fastest 16 year old American in this event ever. He is the only 1995-born swimmer, the youngest group at this event, ranked in the top 12, and thus is the only gold-medal candidate who will have the chance to defend the title in Morocco oin 2013. Ahead of him are another pair of 1:58’s in Kenta Hirai of Japan and Andrey Tambovskiy of Russia, and seeded just behind in 4th is the top-ranked American Seth Stubblefield.
3. Zevina vs. Sheridan in the 200 back – There are a lot of great, young, female 200 backstrokers in the world. If you will recall, 7 out of the 8 finalists at the World Championships were born in the 90’s, including 16-year old Daryna Zevina of the Ukraine. She placed 4th, but crushed the National Record, in that meet, and she’s one of the few swimmers who have hopped on a plane and jetted from China to Peru for these Youth World Swimming Championships. But a darkhorse in this race is the 16-year old Australian Mikkayla Sheridan. Sheridan was shut out of Shanghai by the World #2 and #3 ranked swimmers (Belinda Hocking and Meagan Nay), but is one of only 24 swimmers in the world to go under 2:10 in this race this year. It will be exciting to see what kind of time she can put up her to challenge Zevina, as she might be the only one in this field capable of doing so.
4. Diversity in the men’s 50 free – The men’s 50 free could be the most diverse final in the entire meet. Headlined by Aitor Martinez Rodriguez of Spain (22.64) and Cameron McEvoy of Australia (22.76), the top 13 seeds in this race all hail from diffeerent countries. For those who want to talk about the increasing diversity of the world of swimming, this race is a great representation of that. What will be even stranger is the lack of an American challenger – the US’ Harrison Wagner and Kyle Darmody (younger brother of Kip) are seeded 25th and 35th, respectively. Amongst countries with higher-seeded swimmers – Lithuania, Argentina (x2), Trinidad & Tobago, Greece, Croatia, and Latvia. The combined medal total for those 6 countries at the previous Youth World Championships – two.
5. Vanessa Mohr – Vanessa Mohr is the best of a bright young generation of South Africans who are trying to lead the country back to its swimming heyday in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. She will have some tough decisions to make in the coming years, with controversy swirling about whether or not Swimming South Africa is supporting its elite swimmers, fueled by the comments of Gerhard Zandberg at South African Nationals last week. In a vaccuum of all of that mess, though, is the youngest Worlds semi-finalist in the 50 fly (she placed 15th), and near-the same accomplishment when she tied for 17th in prelims of the 100 fly prelims. If she continues to receive quality coaching, she’s got a very similar build and stroke to (100 fly World Record holder) Sarah Sjostrom at the same age.
6. Lia Neal/Bronte Campbell – The United States’ Lia Neal showed up at US Junior Nationals just long enough last week to fire a warning shot over the bow with a 1:58.2 in the 200 free, which was two seconds better than her career-best. Meanwhile, we didn’t see her compete in either the 50 or the 100 (that we thought were her better events), because she was saving those swims for Lima. She seems to be hitting/holding her taper very well, and she could do some serious damage to the world rankings in her two swims. The answer to Neal will be Australia’s Bronte Campbell, who is the top seed in both sprint freestyles. These two 16-year olds should have a couple of great duels.
7. Chantal van Landeghem – This Canadian has speed to burn, in every form or fashion. She will be swimming all three of the “power” 50’s (sans breaststroke), as well as the 100 free and 100 back. She’s Missy-Franklin-like in stature, at 6’1, and reports are that she’s planning on coming to the US for her college swimming (and will be a top-5 recruit in the class of 2012 in all likelihood). Don’t be surprised if she comes home with 5 individual medals from this meet, which would be a new meet record.
8. Olivia Smoliga – The United States women have a great group of young backstrokers; this is well documented. But most of that group, while eligible for this meet by age, chose not to attend after very busy summers of international travel. That leaves the load on the back of Olivia Smoliga, who is poised to add her name to that elite group. She’ll be the 2nd-seed in the women’s 100, her best race, and will be surrounded in the final by other great young swimmers we’ve mentioned, including Zevina, Sheridan, and van Landeghem. Zevina has easily the fastest time of the group (1:00.05), but a better-Smoliga could make it a competitive battle.
9. Maclin Davis – The United States’ Maclin “Paul” Davis, a 17-year old out of Tennessee, flies way under the radar, even domestically. Only 5 Americans have ever been faster in the 100 fly at that age, and two of them are Ian Crocker and Michael Phelps. He is the top seed in the men’s 100 fly (53.65 – he was a 53.2 at Nationals), which is only one of three individual events (out of 34) where the Americans hold that honor (Chelsea Chenault in the 200 free and Evan Pinion in the 800 free are the other two). Davis should be one of the rising stars of USA Swimming, so don’t miss out on his swims. He’s one of the rare high school swimmers who’s actually better long course than short course.For those curious, this class of 2012 senior already has a 47.1 in short course yards in the 100 fly.
10. Andrea Mitchell D’Arrigo – This young Italian is one of my favorite “to watch” swimmers in the meet. He’s only 15, and already has a 1:50.23 to his name in the 200 freestyle. That’s a huge time for a swimmer that young, and Italy has shown in recent years that they certainly have the capability to train and develop these great young swimmers. He will also swim the 400, where he’s got a best of 3:55.23.