Ready or not, it’s time for the show. The 2010 Short Course World Championships in Dubai get underway late Tuesday night (American time, Wendesday morning local Dubai time), and the anticipation is flowing. Here are some notes and storylines to watch on Day 1 of the Championship.
- Diminished Distress from Distance Events – At this meet, there will only be “semi-final” heats of 50 and 100 meter events. This means swimmers who are loaded with 200 meter distances are not put at as much of a competitive disadvantage from fatigue as they would be in the long course version of the World Championships. 400 meter races have prelims and finals, just like long course, and the 800 and 1500 freestyles have only timed finals, versus prelims-finals at most long course format championships. This, combined with the availability of 50-meter races (and the 100 IM) means that swimmers like Ryan Lochte are able to rack up some serious medal totals despite having more strenuous races like the 200 IM on their event schedule.
- Get ‘Em to Dubai – There are two developing situations to keep an eye on with regard to swimmers making it to the meet, which is something not normally considered at this level of swimming. First, will the Israeli contingent be able to get their visas in time to make the first day of the meet? Second, will American backstroker David Plummer be able to escape the historic Minneapolis snowstorm that caused him to miss the Team USA flight to Dubai in time to make the preliminary heats of the men’s 100 backstroke? Both of these are interesting situations that will at the very least affect who finals, and probably at least a few medals. (Update: Things are rounding into form. Both David Plummer and the Israeli National Team have arrived for Dubai and are in the midst of (or have completed) their first workouts).
- The First Medal Event – The men’s 200 free will be the first medal event, and will rock the natatorium as one of the most wide-open fields in the whole meet. Lochte seems to be the favorite, but there’s still a touch of uncertainty surrounding how he will swim based on his performance at short course nationals just over a week ago. Germany’s Paul Biedermann, France’s Yannick Agnel, and Russia’s Daniil Izotov also look to have a say in how this race turns out.
- The Men’s 400 Free Relay – This is a race that the US men have dominated in recent years despite sometimes not looking as strong on paper. This is again the case in Dubai, as the Russian and French contingents are bringing their full relay squads that seem as though they might be favored even against a full-strength American relay. The USA will be without two of its anchors–Michael Phelps and Jason Lezak–and it will be interesting to see if they can pull out yet another upset win in this relay (can we really call it an upset anymore?)
- The Women’s 800 Free Relay – The Hungarians have possibly the best shot at knocking off a powerful American women’s relay in this event. The Hungarians have an extremely strong group led by Agnest Mutina, Evelyn Verraszto, and Katinka Hosszu. Just like the men, the American relay is likely hurt by the absence of two of its top swimmers (Georgia Bulldogs Allison Schmitt and Morgan Scoggy). If the Americans win this relay, they will steamroll their way to a huge medal haul. If the Hungarians build up some confidence here, they could pull in a good number of medals too.
- The Europeans You’ve Never Heard of – A major story line running through this meet will be the prominence of some European swimmers who make big waves on the Short Course World Cup scene, but are virtually invisible at long course World Championships and Olympics. This is because these swimmers specialize in short course meters races that usually play second-fiddle in the eye of the world swimming community. Powerful starts and great walls carry these swimmers and are an absolute clinic for young Americans who are swimming high school races. Thirty-two-year-old Peter Mankoc, who has long dominated the short course 100 fly and IM races on the world scene, and is the best example of this type of swimmer. In fact, Mankoc could make a serious claim to the best short course swimmer ever.
Men’s 200 freestyle
1. Ryan Lochte (USA)
2. Paul Biedermann (Germany)
3. Daniil Izatov (Russia)
Still Needs Time To Age: Yannick Agnel (France)
The Rationale: Ryan Lochte has aims on winning a lot of gold medals here and will have to start the meet out with a bang to do so. Long course, there’s no doubt he wins this, but it’s not clear if he’s yet achieved his short course stride this season. He was shaky at US Nationals, and will be looking to reverse that here. Biedermann is fantastic in short course (he had the best short course time in the world last season) and will make the medal stand here. Izatov took bronze in this event in Rome and is even better in short course. The young Russian won the event at Short Course Euro’s not too long ago, and should medal. Yannick Agnel is about a year and eight months (coincidentally, the time until the London Olympics) from being the best in the world in this event. He’s already putting up great times, but when you look at him he is clearly physically a boy swimming amongst men. He’s not quite ready for his big coming out party here, but look out in Shanghai and London.
Women’s 200 butterfly
1. Felicity Galvez (Australia)
2. Mireia Belmonte (Spain)
3. Jemma Lowe (Great Britain)
The Big Eye Roll: Liu Zige (China)
The Rationale: Galvez swam really well in this event at the Australian Short Course Championships in July and put up a mark (2:04.76) that has been everyone’s target during the World Cup series. I think that absent the US’s Elaine Breeden, this becomes a two-swimmer race between her and Mireia Belmonte. Jemma Lowe hit a big stride during last year’s (suit-aided) Short Course season. Now the Brit, one of only two competing at the meet, will have to prove that she can do it in textile too. We still haven’t heard much from the short and long course World Record holder Liu Zige since Rome, but those Chinese keep entering her in big meets. She claimed that her coach couldn’t get a visa to enter the US for Pan Pacs, seemed to indicate that the Asian Games weren’t a high enough level of competition for her, and also pulled out of several national meets. She told the press that “maybe” she would swim in Dubai. Not clear what she’s avoiding (drug tests?), but I’m not putting the bank on her showing up at this meet either.
Women’s 400 IM
1. Hannah Miley (Great Britain)
2. Shiwen Ye (China)
3. Ariana Kukors (USA)
The Head Scratch-er: Mireia Belmonte (Spain)
The Rationale: Miley has won gold in this event, her best, at every level short of a World Championship. This includes both European short course and long course, as well as the 2010 Commonwealth Games. At the 2008 SC meet, she took silver behind Kirsty Coventry (who is not swimming this meet) at only 19-years old. I can’t see any conceivable way that she loses here. It’s her time. Shiwen Ye won this event at the Beijing World Cup stop in October as well as November’s Asian Games. Her coaches seem to have hit a good technique for multiple-tapers, and if she can carry her form into a third month, she’s dangerous in this event. If not, then she could fall off of the podium. Kukors doesn’t swim much short course, but the American women are too powerful to go two events without a medal. Belmonte from Spain is slated to compete in both the 200 fly and 400 IM on day 1 in back-to-back finals (separated by six semi-final races). I can’t imagine she actually goes through with that, and I think she’s more likely to scratch this than the fly. If she swims, however, she will be in contention.
Men’s 400 Free Relay
A Sprinter Short of a Full Basket: Brazil
The Rationale: I know this is going to be an unpopular pick sliding the Americans to second. And I know that France has routinely choked this relay away on the biggest stage. But to me, it really comes down to a measure of who has sent their best relay and who hasn’t. The Russians, at full-strength, probably win this relay, but they appear (based on individual entries) to be without Evgeny Lagunov, one of their top sprinters. The French appear to be the only ones with a complete group, and I can’t see how they’ll lose this race. The Americans will swim Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian for sure, with Garrett Weber-Gale and Dave Walters likely filling in the middle. Obviously, GWG and Walters are great sprinters, but in a race that’s expected to be as tight as this, the drop-off from Phelps and Lezak (who normally are in this group) is just enough to push the Americans down to silver.
Women’s 200 Free Relay
Left in the Dark: China
The Rationale: The Hungarians are scary good in this relay when they’re all together. Led by Agnes Mutina and Evelyn Verraszto, they were the European champs in long course this year, and might be a little better in short course. Though the Americans are without Schmitt, they have a more than admirable fill-in in Darny Knutson, who looks to have a Grevers-esque bounceback from summer. The big question is who will take the forth spot along with Knutson, Dana Vollmer, and Katie Hoff. Hoff will be ready to go: having chosen to skip the 400 IM to be sure that she’s prepared for this race. Knutson could be a little fatigued not long after swimming that race. The next in line to swim this relay is 16-year old Jasmine Tosky. Though she is on a short list of the best 16-year olds ever, she’s probably still not quite ready to help an American relay to gold against this level of competition. Just as I say that, it’s possible that 15-year old Missy Franklin, who just bested Tosky at USA-S short course Nationals in this event, could take the last relay spot in finals. Tosky was faster long course, but Franklin’s size gives her an edge in shorter pools. The Swede’s, despite getting a bigger reputation in sprint events, are also very good in the 200. Then there’s those mysterious Chinese, who will medal if everyone’s in attendance; but you can never be sure about that until you see them in their suits behind the block.