One of the best meets on the annual swimming schedule, especially in Olympic years, is often overlooked. Perhaps this because of the generic name, but Luxembourg’s Euro Meet that will run from January 27th-29th (Friday-Sunday) is going to be a convergence of huge talent.
The prelims-finals meet is a showcase of talent from central and eastern European countries, like Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece, and the Ukraine, but there are also a few athletes from Western Europe (France, Ireland); and one big star from down under.
Here’s a focus on some of the more interesting races of the meet, with men’s races first then women’s.
Men’s 50 Free
There isn’t a huge amount of sprint depth in this meet, but the key swimmer in this men’s 50 free is Andriy Govorov of the Ukraine. The 19-year old missed badly at the World Championships, and failed to even make it out of the prelims (22nd – 22.5). He was already about that fast again at the Ukrainian National Cup a month ago (22.6), and has been a 22.0.
Remember the discussion on how World Championship medalists in this event don’t fare too well at the following Olympics, and how swimmers frequently come from nowhere to place on podiums in this race? Govorov fits that mold perfectly.
There’s a ton of other good, young sprinters in this race, like Belgium’s Jasper Aerents, and Greeks Odyseffs Meladinis and Kristian Gkolomeev. And of course there’s the veteran Steffen Deibler (thoguh brother Markus isn’t in the 50).
Men’s 100/200 Freestyles
Australia’s Ian Thorpe moves into round 6 of his comeback, it’s time for him to put up some times. He has gotten a bit better in each meet, but he hasn’t really had a breakthrough yet. The door is open for him to make a final in this meet – especially in the 200, where he’s seeded 9th – but he’ll have to have a good swim. He doesn’t need to go the 48.5/1:48 that will earn spots on the Australian National Team, but he needs to turn the corner that we’ve already seen from Michael Klim.
He’s got some good competition in this meet, if he can make the finals. In both races, the Deibler brothers, along with Serbia’s Velimir Stjepanovic. In the 100, the sprinters mentioned above will also be racing (including Govorov). In the 200, Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or from Israel will be looking to prove that he’s making the most of his year off from Arizona.
The top of this field is dominated by the Israelis. In the shorter races (50/100), the class of the field will be Jonatan Kopelev. He’s got a shot at making a semifinal in the 100 in London. The 200 should be the best race of the three, with teenager Yakov Toumarkin battling Shapira Bar-Or and Gal Nevo.
The headliner of the men’s breaststrokers will be Hugues Duboscq, though his only top seed is in the 100. This will be his first long course action since embarking on his new training situation after Worlds, though we saw some lackluster short course at the European Championships (he didn’t finish higher than 16th in any of the three breaststrokes). His big competition will come from Dutch National Record holder Lennart Stekelenberger and Lauren Carol, who will have the power of the home-crowd behind him. Also watch out for Greece’s Panagiotis Samilidis, who was a double gold medalist (50/100) at last year’s European Junior Championships.
These two disciplines will have a lot of overlap at this meet, and will be a great, deep field. Britain’s Joe Roebuck is finally swimming well after a series of minor, but nagging, injuries have held him from lofty expectations the past few years. He will swim the 100/200 fly and the 200/400 IM. Also in attendance is Greece’s Ioannis Drymonakos, who finally got his career back on track in 2011 after a doping suspension cost him the entire 2009 season (and a European Record in the 200 fly). The best head-to-head race of the entire meet might come in the 50 fly between Govorov and Steffen Diebler.
The women’s freestyles are loaded with great battles. Great Britain’s Amy Smith is trying to break into the upper echelon of the world’s sprinting, and here she will face off against Sweden’s Ida Marko-Varga and Germany’s Silke Lippok. The subplot here is that all three swimmers are arguably the keys to their teams relay fortune in London. Lippok needs to be good again if Germany wants to hold on to a podium in the 400 free relay; Smith needs to be great for the Brits make the final in the same; and Marko-Varga could be the cog that sends the Swedes from non-qualifiers in the 400 medley in Shanghai to podium-worthy. Another Brit, Caitlin McClatchy, is also looking to kick off a great 2012 season.
Many of these same faces will show down again in the 200 free, where Lippok has to be the favorite.
Daryna Zevina, who is one of the few swimmers on the planet who might be able to challenge Missy Franklin in the 200 backstroke, will be present in Luxembourg. I’m as much interested in her 100 (where she’s trying to break the 1-minute barrier for the first time), however. She races a lot, and is gaining a lot of valuable experience despite being still young. If she wants to go the 2:04 that Missy’s going to go in London, she’s going to have to be at least 59’s in the 100.
The top sprint butterflier in this race, by far, is Israel’s Amit Ivri (with due respect to Amy Smith’s sprint abilities in the 50). She placed 5th at the 2010 European Championships in the 100, and is still only 22. She’s got Olympic final written all over her – and look for her to go something around a 58.7 to rival what the world’s best have been going early this year.
Barbara Zavadova of the Czech Republic is the big name in the 400 IM, but there’s an interesting understudy in Daryna Zevina (the backstroker mentioned above). She’s only swum the 400 IM twice in her career, but is giving it a go at this meet. With her backstroke abilities, added to a decent 200 fly and a very good 200 free, this could be a good event for her as she ages.
One swimmer who I had really hoped would make an appearance is Kirsty Coventry, who is now training in the relative quite of nearby Monaco.