Word from on deck at this weekend’s Columbus Grand Prix is that history’s greatest backstroker, Natalie Coughlin, is considering adding the 100 fly to her signature event, the 100 backstroke, for this year’s Olympics.
So far this season, Coughlin’s 100 fly from Friday evening ranks her 6th in the world, and her 100 back from Austin ranks her 16th. One would presume that the backstroke ranking will improve in tonight’s finals session (she was only a 1:02.90 in prelims), but that shows the huge difference in competitive levels between the two events. The 100 backstroke has gone through a huge transformation since Coughlin first broke a minute, and now that mark is routinely broken by teenagers.
As we discussed when the official Olympic schedule came out, the new schedule actually makes this a lot more possible. The 100 fly final comes at the beginning of the session, and the 100 back semifinal comes at the end. If she can make both events, it’s possible, but both events will have huge challenges at trials
Looking at the 100 back, even domestically the competition is becoming unbelievable. Two of the top three in the world right now are American high school swimmers (Missy Franklin and Rachel Bootsma). Another high school swimmer, Liz Pelton, is swimming incredibly well and should be well under a minute at Trials as well. Then there’s swimmers like Jenny Connolly, who made a huge surge over the summer to approach the same mark, and Olivia Smoliga.
All of those swimmers are extremely young, too. Most are still of the age (16-18) where seeing a half-second drop or more at the Olympic Trials is within reach. This is not saying that Coughlin couldn’t beat them all, but it just takes two out of a huge group to have monster swims, and the show’s over.
Now look at the 100 fly. Making this race seems entirely plausible. Dana Vollmer is the best in the world. There’s no doubts about that. But last year, without even swimming the race at a taper meet, she tied as the 2nd-fastest American. There’s some competition to make this race as well, but there the competition is Claire Donahue and Christine Magnuson. Both women are very good swimmers, but they don’t have the same terrifying youth that the backstroke group does.
Internationally, either event will have absurd competition if Coughlin wants to maintain her perfect medal streak. The 100 fly is going to take sub-57 to even take bronze (I think 4, not including Coughlin, could actually do it). From that perspective, I think a 100 back medal is more in reach. A 59.1 could very well medal in London, and Coughlin went a 59.1 last year.
The double is much more possible with the new schedule, so this seems to be a great move. So here’s the conundrum. Making the American team in the 100 fly will be a bit smoother. Making the medal stand in the 100 back once she’s there seems like a smaller hurdle.
Pending the outcome of this evening’s 100 back, I think the 100 fly double is the way to go. At the end of the day, put thy faith in Natalie. She gets to walls. It’s what she does, no matter the race.