2019 INTERNATIONAL SWIMMING LEAGUE – EUROPEAN DERBY
- Saturday, November 23 – Sunday, November 24, 2019
- 5:00-7:00 PM Local Time (12:00 noon – 2:00 PM, U.S. Eastern Time)
- London Aquatics Centre – London, England
- Short Course Meters (SCM) format
- European franchises: Aqua Centurions, Energy Standard, Iron, London Roar
It’s time for the European Derby – we preview each team for strengths and weaknesses, focusing in on the all-important skins and relay races.
- Full roster
- Strengths: sprint free, butterfly, men’s backstroke
- Weaknesses: women’s breaststroke, men’s IM, women’s distance free
Skins & Relays
For the women, Energy Standard has yet to lose a skin race – they’ve gone 1-2 in both of their group matches. In projecting the future, though, that also means we haven’t seen Sarah Sjostrom or Femke Heemskerk swim a meaninful round 3 – every match so far has been the two of them in a glorified cool down swim with no bearing on team points. They’ve both been 23s in round 1. Sjostrom has hovered around the 24-second barrier in round 2 and Heemskerk has been consistently 24.5. But in the final, they’ve been straight 25s. It’s not clear how much faster they could go in a more meaningful final, but they’ll almost certainly need to be faster in round 3 this time around with three other top-tier competitors in the field.
On the men’s side, Florent Manaudou and Ben Proud did the same thing in Indy, stacking the final and cruising to the 1-2, but Proud was bumped out in Naples. Neither appears to hold their speed very well through three rounds, but they do have the raw speed to advance early. The men’s field looks really deep in London with no Dressel-like favorite, so we’d expect both Manaudou and Proud to have good chances to make round 2, but probably not the endurance to win the thing by round 3.
Energy Standard is extremely deep in the relays – high finishes from both A and B teams is what powered their massive group match victories. They’ll hit a much tougher opponent in London, though: the London Roar. Energy Standard is behind only London in four of the five relays heading into this meet, and focus should probably be on trying to steal one or two of those from the Roar. Meanwhile, ENS can rely on its superior depth to try to keep its B relays in the top five, maybe occasionally knocking off another team’s A relay to move into the top four.
The aforementioned women’s skins swimmers are good all the way up to the 200, so Energy Standard is fairly set in the freestyles. Their men aren’t so rangy, but the team is still decent up to 100.
Energy Standard has butterfly king and queen Chad le Clos and Sjostrom. Le Clos has the league’s fastest 100 fly (among European teams), and in the 200 is the fastest active swimmer in London with Milak absent for Iron. Sjostrom’s name is a little misleading, though. While she’s generally hard to beat in sprint fly in long course, she actually lost the 100 in Naples and comes in with a slower season time than London’s McKeon by three tenths, so her fly points will require a tough battle.
Where will they struggle? Women’s breaststroke hasn’t been great so far, with a lot of 7th or 8th place finishes in group meets. And men’s breaststroke was a strength, but probably takes a moderate step backwards, moving from a somewhat-thin Group A to a European field that features Adam Peaty, Kirill Prigoda and Vladimir Morozov along with Aqua Centurions’ tough returners from Group A.
Energy Standard went 6th/8th and 5th/7th in the women’s 400 free in their two group meets – definitely not a strength. They’ve also struggled in the men’s IMs, and adding a tough Iron team to the mix only hurts them worse there.
- Full roster
- Strengths: skins, 50-through-200 freestyles, backstrokes, relays, men’s breaststroke
- Weaknesses: IMs, men’s butterfly
Skins & Relays
London has had an entrant into the women’s skin finals in every meet so far. Emma McKeon starred the first time around, and nearly knocked off the undefeated Kromowidjojo. But the second meet, early speed was at more of a premium, and the 200-based McKeon fell off early, leaving Cate Cambell to make the final. We’d expect the European derby to be more like that second meet, with five elite options (McKeon/Campbell, Sjostrom/Heemskerk for Energy, and Kromowidjojo for Iron) fighting for four spots in round 1. Still, one of these two should make the semis and have a fighting chance at the final.
But the Roar will have to switch up both of their men’s entrants. Kyle Chalmers was a dominant force through the latter two rounds and won the skins in Budapest. But he and Lewisville semifinalist Cameron McEvoy are absent. They do add Duncan Scott, who fills the Chalmers role pretty well. Scott isn’t an ideal pure 50 guy, but is outstanding in the 100 and 200. If he can make it through the first round with Manaudou, Proud, Morozov & co., he should really surge by the super-sprinters in the latter rounds.
London is loaded in the relays – they currently hold the ISL’s fastest time in four of the five relays. (Those times all include Chalmers and McEvoy, but don’t include Scott). They have the three fastest swims in the women’s 4×100 free relay, meaning even their B team has been faster than any other team’s A relay so far this year. Not quite as deep as Energy Standard, London has the option to try to split its talent a little bit to move up their B teams, but it’s probably more important to pile up as many relay wins as possible, especially with their Australian standouts absent.
London has been really, really good at a lot of things. They hold the fastest times in the ISL this year among European teams in both 100 frees (Campbell and McKeon actually hold the three fastest swims overall and Chalmers lead the men). They have the two fastest men’s 200 freestylers coming into the meet. They’ve dominated the backstrokes – Minna Atherton and Guilherme Guido each own the fastest times in the ISL this year in the 50, 100 and 200.
Adam Peaty has the league’s best 50 and 100 breast times, he elevates the medley relay and London has solid depth behind him, plus the league’s best 200 breaststroker in Matthew Wilson. Meanwhile McKeon has the league’s best 100 fly time.
If London is going to struggle anywhere, it’s probably the IMs. On the men’s side, they were no higher than 4th in any IM event. The women have been hit or miss, but adding Siobhan-Marie O’Connor gives them the potential to turn this weakness into a true strength. The men’s butterflys haven’t been good. They were 8th in all six men’s fly races between the Group B meets, with a highest finish of 4th. Adding Scott could help, though, depending on how many events he can take on. They cover the women’s fly races decently well with their strong sprint roster, but the 200 has been an ongoing problem.
- Full roster
- Strengths: top skins entrants, IMs, sprint breaststroke
- Weaknesses: relay depth, men’s butterfly, freestyle depth
Skins & Relays
Iron has two-time skin winner Ranomi Kromowidjojo on the women’s side. She dominated a tough Group B, beating McKeon in one final and Cate Campbell in another. Kromowidjojo also has the league’s fastest time in the opening round (23.71 from Budapest) and the two fastest round 3 times (24.28 in Budapest; 24.46 in Lewisville) by a longshot. She’s got to be considered the favorite, though there are really five excellent women in this European Derby skin race who could knock each other out of the running in any round.
Vladimir Morozov crushed everyone in Lewisville, going 21.3/21.2/22.2 and admitting his strategy was to take a little off of his opening round to save up for the next two. In Budapest, he got a little too excited in a faster field, blasting a 20.90 in round 1 – that’s faster than anyone has opened in the ISL this year. He paid the price, too, dropping to 21.7 and 22.5 and losing to Chalmers. There’s a good argument that if Morozov can pace himself better, he’s the favorite, especially with Chalmers gone. Scott is the same kind of swimmer as Chalmers, and provides a similar late-round threat, so Morozov is going to have to be strategically sound to get the win. Still, we’d see Morozov in the final, with Sebastian Szabo probably only an upset hopeful to make the top four.
Iron’s roster is centered around IMers and more distance-oriented swimmers, so their relays struggle a bit. Especially in a meet with two deep sprint rosters (Energy Standard and London) at the top, there’s a good chance Iron’s top relay finishes behind both entrants from the top teams. Fortunately, they have enough elite top-end swimmers to probably outscore the Aqua Centurions, who also have relay depth issues.
Iron has a number of standouts. Kromowidjojo and Morozov have the best 50 free times in the league this year among European teams. Alia Atkinson is probably the best breastroker in the European meet on the women’s side – she won the 50 in both Group B meets, and was 1st and 2nd in the 100. Morozov is also one of the top men’s sprint breaststrokers, though he’s probably not going to beat Peaty.
Katinka Hosszu leads all European ISL teams this season in the 200 IM, 400 IM and 200 fly, and she’s been a multi-event powerhouse, though without huge relay impact. Hosszu leads an elite IM group that is also strong on the men’s side with Gunnar Bentz and Adam Telegdy.
Losing Kristof Milak is a big blow the team’s butterfly races – he was the ISL leader in the 200 fly. Szabo remains one of the league’s best 50 flyers, and Kira Toussaint slots in as a great backstroke addition. But despite the presence of Kromowidjojo and Morozov, this team is probably going to struggle in the 50/100/200 freestyles in a very sprint-heavy European field.
- Full roster
- Strengths: men’s breaststroke, men’s freestyles
- Weaknesses: IMs, relay depth, women’s freestyles
Skins & Relays
On the women’s side, the Aqua Centurions have tried four different women in the skin race and have yet to beat a single swimmer from any opposing team. Larissa Oliveira and Silvia di Pietro were 7th/8th in Indy and Lidon Munoz and Federica Pellegrini 7th/8th in Naples. As the skins field gets even tougher among the European teams, we wouldn’t expect many points for the Centurions here.
The men got a big boost when Kristian Gkolomeev arrived in Budapest. He made the second round there, and Santo Condorelli made round 2 in Lewisville. Condorelli is absent this weekend, but the Aqua Centurions add 23-year-old Russian Vladislav Grinev, who fills in nicely. This field is probably deeper than the Group A field, though, so the Aqua Centurions are probably happy if they sneak one of these two into the second round.
The Aqua Centurions are much stronger in the men’s relays than they are in the women’s relays. With how stacked this European meet is with women’s sprinters, it’s going to be hard for the Aqua Centurions to do much in the relays. They’ll have a better shot with the men, where their medley actually beat Energy Standard to win the Naples meet. They’re also pretty decent in the mixed free relay, where their top-end sprinters can really shine, and where the top teams might be saving their best swimmers to rest up for the skins races.
The individual races are really tough sledding for the Aqua Centurions, who only had two appearances in our “Top Swims of ISL” list last week.
Those both come in the men’s breaststrokes, where the Aqua Centurions are quite good. Nicolo Martinenghi and Fabio Scozzoli combined for back-to-back 1-2s of the 50 breast in Group A, and chipped in three more top-3 finishes in the 100. That strength gets hurt a little by the presence of Peaty, who should knock both Italians down in the 50 and 100, but it’ll still be a good point-scoring haul for the Aqua Centurions and a weapon for their men’s medley relays.
The men’s free group is also pretty solid, though they didn’t seem to swim up to potential in the Group meets. Gkolomeev, Condorelli and Breno Correia cover the 50-through-200 very well. Correia won the 200 in both Group A meets, and Poul Zellman was second in Indy.
The IMs have been disastrous. The Aqua Centurion women have been 7th and 8th (the worst finish possible) in all four IM swims so far this season – they have yet to beat anyone. The men have been 8th in three of four swims, though Philip Heintz has been a strong force at the top.
As mentioned in the women’s skins portions, the freestyles in general haven’t been kind to the Aqua Centurion women, and they probably just have to hope Federica Pellegrini can come up with a high finish in the 200 and/or 100, because their depth isn’t going to provide a lot of points.
- London Roar
- Energy Standard
- Aqua Centurions
At home, London is going to be very hard to beat, though losing Chalmers and McEvoy could cost them big in the skins race. Scott seems like a very solid fill-in, but it’s hard to say how he’ll respond to the format until we see him swim in it.
Energy Standard probably needs some crafty lineup maneuvering to get a win – for example, if London stacks their top relays and Energy Standard is able to take advantage of very questionable depth for Iron and the Aqua Centurions by splitting their relays and putting two into the top four of several relay events. It would take that, plus some major upsets – in particular, blocking London’s swimmers out of the skins finals – to swing the meet.
The Aqua Centurions are about as safe a fourth-place pick as can be. Iron swam awesome in their home Budapest meet, and it’s not out of the question that they could track down Energy Standard for second, though again, it would take some major swings, and maybe a relay DQ or two.
As usual, the skins races will turn the meet. We see five top-tier contenders on the women’s side:
- Campbell (London)
- McKeon (London)
- Sjostrom (Energy)
- Heemskerk (Energy)
- Kromowidjojo (Iron)
Four of the five are probably making the second round, and one very good swimmer will be left out. The race to avoid 3rd and 5th places will be key for team points.
On the men’s side, things could be really, really close, with a lot of contenders:
- Manaudou (Energy)
- Proud (Energy)
- Morozov (Iron)
- Scott (London)
- Gkolomeev (Aqua)
- Grinev (Aqua)
- Szabo (Iron)
You’re probably going to see most of the top names having to go all-out in round 1 just to make the cut. Based on their group swims, Manaudou (Energy, 21.2s in both opening rounds) and Morozov (Iron, 20.9/21.3 in round 1s) should be able to make the cut. It’s probably some combination of Scott (London, career-best 21.5), Proud (Energy, 21.5/21.5 in round 1s), Gkolomeev (Aqua, 21.5 in round 1), Condorelli (Aqua, career-best 21.4) or Szabo (Iron, 21.4/21.5 in round 1s) who will get in. From there, all bets are off for these super-sprinters. Morozov has held his speed best, and Scott is a good candidate to do so, if he makes the first cut.