The Chinese swimmers are once again dominating the swimming at the second edition of the Youth Olympic Games, led mainly by their two freestylers Yu Hexin and Shen Duo. Yu we posted about earlier breaking the Junior World Record in the 50 free, but he’s also the top seed into the finals of the boys’ 50 fly.
While Yu is a contender of the future, his female counterpart Shen Duo is a contender now. She swam a 1:56.12 to win the girls’ 200 free, which puts her almost on the same level of another 17-year old: American Katie Ledecky.
The question arising from China’s success in two editions of this meet, however, is whether (1) China can build those swimmers into international success stories. Of the swimmers on China’s 2010 Youth Olympic Games team, only three would go on to make the country’s Olympic Team in 2012, and only two went on to make their World Championship team in 2013.
Those two were both women: Bai Anqi and the biggest success story Tang Yi (who won bronze at the regular Olympics in 2012 in the 100 free).
For a team that won the Youth Olympics medal table with 11 golds to put only a quarter of its roster onto the World Championship team a year later has to be a disappointment, both for the Chinese and for the visionaries behind these Youth Olympics.
While more-and-more swimming power countries (Russia, Brazil, Germany) are treating this as a premier meet for their teenage swimmers, the success of swimmers like Yu and Shen will continue to tell the story of this meet’s legacy for China. Duo and Yu both look like they’ve got great staying power, as does 100 fly winner Li Zhuhao – having been 52.94. All three have the size to continue to develop, much like China’s superstar swimmer Sun Yang. In the official meet program, Li is listed at 6’1, Yu is listed at 6’3, and Duo is listed at 5’11. Yi Tang, by example, is 5’9.
In the men’s 200m breaststroke final, the stock of (2) Venezuelan Carlos Claverie just went through the roof. He finished 2nd in the 200 breaststroke in 2:11.74 after a bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke in 1:01.56. Claverie is committed to swim at Louisville next year in the American collegiate system, following in the footsteps of many talented Venezuelan prospects of the past.
Those 100 and 200 meter times convert to 53.65 and 1:55.08, respectively. Louisville is a program that has had very good success in developing breaststrokers in the past, including an NCAA Champion in the 200 Carlos Almeida. Claverie will have one year to battle with Thomas Dahlia and Addison Bray as the Cardinals’ ace breaststroker, and then when he’s a sophomore in the 2015-2016 season, it will be his time to shine.
If the results of this meet are any indicator, he looks ready.
The Americans have already won two golds at this year’s Youth Olympics to go with one bronze. With two days to go still, that surpasses their championship tally from 2010.
What they don’t have, however, (3) is a single boys’ medal in 2014: exactly where they sat at the end of the inaugural 2010 event. This feels unusual that the women’s team is so far outperforming the men’s team, given that as compared to the women’s squad, the top American 17 or 18 year old male swimmers should be less likely to be swimming on the Pan Pacs team instead of the Youth Olympics team.
If the Americans want to have a better showing at this meet in future years, they’re either going to have to reconsider their selection procedures or encourage more voluntary participation from top juniors.
Best chances for medals on Thursday include Clara Smiddy in the girls’ 50 back, an PJ Ransford in the boys’ 800 free.
The Brazilians (4) were probably cost a medal, and maybe even a gold medal, but at least a swim in what was to be their best relay, according to an “administrative oversight.” According to Brazil’s Blog do Coach, meet officials claimed that no one from the Brazilian delegation confirmed the team’s participation an hour before the race, as required by rules. On Wednesday morning, the unaware Brazilians protested the scratch, and an arbitration panel headed by American Carol Zaleski denied the protest.
The team of Vitor Guaralado, Andreas Mickosz, Luiz Altamir, and Matheus Santana, most especially with their powerful back half, was, on paper, at least capable of surpassing the 3:40.68 done by the Australians for bronze.
The Americans were the slowest qualifier in prelims, but the Brazilian scratch and a DQ for China meant that they pushed through to finals anyway. The Americans scratched the final, leaving only a 7-team battle. Remember that only 16 nations were even eligible to send enough male swimmers to make single-gender relays: the 16 highest finishers at last year’s World Championships.
The movement of talented 14-year olds, what seems to be a golden class of star power in women’s swimming, isn’t limited to just the United States. (5) 14-year old Gabrielle Fa’amausili from New Zealand raced to the top seed in the girls’ 50 back qualifications with a 28.78. She was a Junior World Champion last year at just 13, and passed on the Pan Pac Championships this year to race the Youth Olympics instead.
New Zealand is taking some care with her development, and not pushing the young swimmer too far ahead of the curve too early, but she’s clearly a star-in-the-making.
And finally Ruta Meilutyte won her 2nd gold medal of the meet, taking the girls’ 100 breaststroke in 1:05.39. That’s the same event in which she won gold at the 2012 London Olympic Games. That is significant because Meilutyte (6) is the only Olympic medalist swimming at this year’s Youth Olympic Games, perhaps hoping to push a trend for other young stars around the world.
While she’s done it in the opposite order of most swimmers who will eventually occupy the list, Meilutyte now becomes the first swimmer to win Olympic gold and Youth Olympic gold in the same event. The only other swimmer to win golds in any event at both the Olympics and Youth Olympics so far is South Africa’s Chad le Clos. He won the 200 IM gold in Singapore in 2010 and the 200 fly gold in London in 2012.