Note: Pan Pacs rules allow each country to enter as many swimmers as they want in prelims, but only two can swim in the A-final and a third in the B final. Keep that in mind as we will not pick more than two swimmers for a country in our top 6 picks.
The men’s 100 fly is a mish-mash of somewhat oddball storylines, starting at the top. What’s interesting about this event is that the very top-tier athletes are racing both against each other and against a high-profile absentee for momentum heading into next summer’s worlds.
When Michael Phelps came out of retirement, his impending rematch with South Africa’s Chad le Clos immediately became one of the most-hyped stories in swimming. Le Clos has become the reigning king of butterfly the world over in Phelps’ absence, with his dominant streak even overlapping Phelps career just slightly as Le Clos beat out Phelps for the 200 fly crown in London just days before Phelps officially hung up the goggles.
Unfortunately, the rematch will have to wait until next summer’s World Championships. Le Clos is sitting out of Pan Pacs for a South African federation that focused mostly on Commonwealth Games and left most of its stars home for Pan Pacs. Still, Phelps leads Le Clos by a tenth in the world ranks here, and his performance in Australia will go a long way in determining who should be favored heading into next summer’s Worlds in Kazan, Russia.
Besides the ‘Phelps-comeback’ and ‘Le Clos-absence’ storylines, one of the biggest narratives to watch here is the rise of Tom Shields. The American was pegged as a short-course-only swimmer, often doubted and ignored in international predictions, but he broke out with a huge U.S. National Championship meet, beating Phelps in the 100 to cap off a sweep of the 100 and 200 flys. With the big breakout behind him, now is the time for Shields to show that he can repeat that kind of performance, and perhaps prove he’s got even more speed to show.
In addition to Phelps and Shields, Ryan Lochte, Tim Phillips and Matt Ellis will be competing for the possible two American A-finals spots. Lochte had a very solid nationals after an injury-plagued summer, and should only get better as he gets healthier. Phillips and Ellis are NCAA stars with big-time sprinting ability, and might be just a few years behind Shields-like breakouts of their own.
Then there’s the Australian delegation. This one’s another crew that’s hard to read. 25-year-old Chris Wright was the national champ back in April and sits 20th in the world with his 52.16, but Tommaso D’Orsogna was just a tick behind in that race (52.21) and had a great Commonwealth Games. But the highest finisher in Glasgow was 20-year-old Jayden Hadler, who went 52.42. It’s hard to tell exactly how tapered that trio was for Commonwealths, but considering none went a season-best, it’s likely they’ve got more up their sleeve for Pan Pacs in their home nation.
Japan’s Takuro Fujii won bronze in this event back in 2010, and at 29 is putting together some of his best swimming. His teammate Hirofumi Ikebata is another medal threat, ranking 12th in the world this year. Venezuela’s Albert Subirats is an American-based Venezuelan, training with Auburn’s vaunted sprint group. Brazil enters all-around star Thiago Pereira, but also keep an eye out for 34-year-old Nicholas Santos. Santos won silver in the 50 fly four years ago and has some of the best pure speed of the group. This will be his major focus event of the week since Pan Pacs eliminated the 50s stroke this season.
Pick-6: My Top Six Predictions (With Season-Bests)
- Tom Shields (USA) – 51.29
- Michael Phelps (USA) – 51.17
- Takuro Fujii (JPN) – 51.84
- Chris Wright (AUS) – 52.16
- Hirofumi Ikebata (JPN) – 51.89
- Albert Subirats (VEN) – 52.26
The 200 fly is a bit of a different crew. For the Americans, you lose guys like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, both focusing on sprint races in the later parts of their careers. Meanwhile Australia hasn’t entered anybody, including Commonwealth Games bronze medalist Grant Irvine, currently ranked #10 in the world.
That leaves the door open for Japan, which has one of the world’s strongest and deepest groups in this event. Daiya Seto sits second in the world with his 1:54.70, just a a tenth back of Chad le Clos, also absent in this event. Japan also enters two more top-5-ranked flyers: Masato Sakai and Kenta Hirai, both relative youngsters at 19 and 20, respectively. But the country’s top seed is 2010 bronze medalist Takeshi Matsuda, entered at 1:53.21. But the 3-time Olympian Matsuda is 30, and hasn’t broken 1:56.9 yet in 2014, so it’s safe to say Seto, Sakai and Hirai are probably the favorites to nab the 2 A-finals spots and the 1 B heat lane for Japan.
Tom Shields once again heads the American group after his breakout Nationals in Irvine. He’ll team with Tyler Clary, one of the few swimmers as red-hot as Shields at Nationals, plus young IM-ing sensation Chase Kalisz.
Leonardo de Deus is Brazil’s lone entrant, but has a great chance at a finals slot, holding the 10th-fastest time in the world for 2014. Other names to watch are Canada’s Mack Darragh, third at Canadian Nationals and just 20 years old, along with his teammate Evan White, bound for the Michigan Wolverine program that shaped Clary into a star. South Africa won’t be represented by le Clos, Sebastien Rousseau or NCAA champ Dylan Bosch, but will send out University of Arizona star Micheal Meyer.
China also enters just one athlete, the youngest swimmer in the race. Haobo Wei is just 18, but is seeded 11th in the psych sheets.
Pick-6: My Top Six Predictions (With Season-Bests)
- Daiya Seto (JPN) – 1:54.70
- Tom Shields (USA) – 1:55.09
- Masato Sakai (JPN) – 1:55.15
- Leonardo de Deus (BRA) – 1:56.21
- Tyler Clary (USA) – 1:56.00
- Michael Meyer (RSA) – 1:59.67