Special thanks to our Brazlian correspondents Caio Leal and D’Artagnan Dias. Caio writes a great Portugese-Language swimming blog at http://simplesmenteesporte.wordpress.com/.
The Brazilian Confederation of Aquatic Sports (CBDA) has released the psych sheets for one of the highlights of the international swimming schedule: the Maria Lenk Trophy. The meet, which will take place starting next week (May 2nd) in Rio de Janeiro, is the final opportunity for Brazilian swimmers to qualify for this summer’s World Championships in Shanghai.
Even though the meet that we just finished was called the “World Championship Trials,” this Maria Lenk Trophy meet is considered the country’s true Naqtional Championship. The reason why this meet is such a spectacular showing (there are certainly countries that have more depth than the Brazilians) is the emphasis on the team competition. Despite 3/4 of the expected Brazilian National Team having already earned qualifying spots, you can be sure that they will all be in attendance and will all be very close to a full-taper, as their teams are paying them large sums of money to represent the squad well on exactly this stage.
The country’s biggest swimming superstar, Cesar Cielo, for example gets paid in the neighborhood of a 600 k per year salary by Flamengo (in addition to his sponsorship money). For those sort of dollars, the club expects its swimmers to show up huge with the club’s name on their caps.
Adding even more fury to the competition is the fact that many of the best swim clubs in Brazil are also associated with huge soccer clubs. Flamengo, Cesar Cielo’s club, is one of the biggest soccer clubs in the country, and won the 2009 National title in that sport. Corinthians is another huge multi-sport club with a high-profile soccer team, and Pinheiros is a club built around a top-notch volleyball program and arguably the country’s most powerful water polo squad.
In the pool, the Pinheiros have dominated the meet in recent years (especially when their squad included Cielo), but Flamengo has made a big impression this year. On paper, they’re probably the favorites, with Pinheiros and Minas (home to the country’s best (female swimmer, Fabiola Molina) hot on their heels.
But many of the top teams will be bolstered by some foreign imports. Each team is allowed to bring in two foreign swimmers, and these swimmers are effectively “mercenaries” who are paid to show up and dominate. Most teams chose to bring in female swimmers, which shows how heavily the weakness is in Brazilian women’s swimming and where teams hope to bring in a lot of points. There are also very versatile swimmers (especially those like Coventry, Berens, and Mellouli).
Flamengo – Jessica Hardy (USA) and Mireia Belmonte (ESP)
Minas – Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) and Rebecca Soni (USA)
Corinthians – Ous Mellouli (TUN) and Ricky Berens (USA)
Pinheiros – Duane da Rocha Marce (ESP)
Unisanta – Georgina Bardach (ARG) and Virginia Bardach (ARG)
Most of these are household names, including a ton of World Championships. Among the less-blatant names: Duane da Rocha is the defending European Short Course champion in the 200 back (and won a 2010 bronze as well); The Bardachs are the royal family of Argentinian swimming and Georgina is one of only two Argentinian swimming medalists ever, and her 400 IM bronze in Athens was the first in the last 70 years.
The buzz around the pool-deck is that Cesar Cielo is gunning for the all-time, textile-bests at this meet to remind some of his critics that he is still the World Record holder, and at only 24 is just now entering the prime of his athletic career. That means putting up a 21.36 50 free (Bousquet) and 47.84 100 free (van den Hoogeband).
This seems like lofty goals based on how he ended the 2010 season. But at the Trials last week, he had already sliced nearly a second off of his Namesnik Grand Prix 100 free performances only a week into a 3-week taper headed towards the Maria Lenk. After his swims at the Trials, he didn’t really look all that tired. Coming down from 8-10 thousand yards a day, and already seeing those kind of results, I wouldn’t put it out of the question for him to get very, very close to the all-time, textile bests.
Meet Schedule/Live Streaming
This meet is a little bit the opposite of what many might be used to, with the prelims taking place in the evening (5 PM US Eastern Time) and finals taking place in the morning (9 AM US Eastern Time). There is a website that live streams all Brazilian television channels, and the meet is expected to be live on TV. We will confirm the availability as the meet gets closer, but they would be online at http://www.vertvonline.org/.