It’s time to hand out some free relay predictions here at SwimSwam, as we continue to roll through our predictions for the 2012 US Olympic Trials. Keep in mind that the top two 100 freestylers won’t necessarily choose to swim the event individually at the Olympics, and that the coaches aren’t strictly bound by the finishing order at the Olympic Trials. With that being said, the top 6 in the finals are usually put on the squad.
There’s also the chance that top swimmers in these relays will swim a round or two to prove that they deserve a relay spot, and then scratch the final because they’re not interested in an individual spot. There’s a good chance that Phelps and Lochte will use this strategy, as they’ll have a lot of other races on their schedules.
Men’s 100 Free
Unless Michael Phelps decides that he wants to swim the 100 free individually, Nathan Adrian is the clear favorite on the men’s side. There’s a question of exactly how fast he’s going to go in this race; for those who haven’t been paying attention to where sprinting times have gone in the last nine months it will sound shocking, but he needs to be under 48 seconds in this race if he wants to medal at the Olympics – full taper or not. His training partner Graeme Moore missed his taper badly at South African Trials, so there is a small chance of an upset here if Adrian gets bit too.
Phelps is likely capable of getting under 48 at some point as well, but barring a change of course that adds this 100 free to his individual schedule, we probably won’t see him in the final, as they come right before the 200 IM Semi. (In fact, Phelps may only be good for one round – the semis of this 100 free back-up against the 200 fly final). Similarly, the debate will continue to rage about whether or not Ryan Lochte belongs on this relay; we can be confident that he’ll swim a round at Trials just to see. He’s actually more likely to swim through the semis than is Phelps, as he won’t have another event on Thursday in the meet schedule and has more to prove in the race than Phelps does.
But Lochte definitely won’t swim the final – that would put him in back-to-back-to-back races on Friday, with this 100 free sandwiched in the middle. It would almost defeat the purpose of him swimming the final.
Ricky Berens is a better lock for the American 800 free relay, but I don’t see a way that he’s left off of this 400, and I certainly believe that he can be much faster than the 48.94 he will be seeded with. He’s been going 49.0’s and 49.1’s in-season this year, and after a fired-up Charlotte Grand Prix, he must have at least a 48.5 in his tank for Trials.
The two key names to this relay are Berens’ former Texas teammates: Garrett Weber-Gale and Jimmy Feigen. They’ve gone in opposite directions the last few months; Feigen has been spectacular with a best time last weekend in Austin and seemingly having really started to develop his man-speed that most sprinters get around this age (22). Weber-Gale on the other hand, though he’s racing a lot, has struggled the last 6 months. He hasn’t been faster than a 50.54 in 2012.
But he can step up when he needs to. We can’t forget that at Worlds he was a 48.49 leading off the prelims relay (though he wasn’t as good in finals).
The Americans need at least one of those two guys to find a way to get to a 48-low on a flat-start if they want to challenge the Australians for relay gold at the Olympics.
Jason Lezak has started to lose some of his speed over the last 18-months. At 36-years old, he’s still got a decent 50, but his 100 has been tough. His 48.15 relay swim at Worlds was still better, comparatively, than his 49.0 flat-start, which shows he’s still a good relay swimmer, but even 48.15 won’t cut it for medals on the third leg. But if he can find his way onto the team, he will find his way onto the relay at least in prelims, if only because of what he showed in 2008 – chasing down the French with the fastest relay split in history.
Things are really kind of depressing for the Americans in this 100 free. We only have 8 swimmers who have been better than 49-seconds in the last two years, and many of those are just barely under (Scot Robison 48.98). Just like the 50, there’s a lot of opportunity for anyone who wants to take a relay spot, so a lot of focus should be on the young guys. But even with those, there’s not many.
Nitro’s Matt Ellis is the only teenager who will come into the meet with better than a 50 in this race, at a 49.92. Texas’ Clay Youngquist should be in that category as well, but only the last few weeks have his long course times come back in-line with what he was doing in high school.
But here’s your young darkhorse: Cal’s Tyler Messerschmidt. He had a monstrous freshman year in the sprints (along with fellow freshman Seth Stubblefield), and even though his seed times aren’t that impressive, he’ll be a major player – and here’s why: His seed times are all from 2010. Not because he plateau’ed, but because he didn’t swim long course in 2011 while he was getting ready for college.
Since the last time he’s swum a tapered long course race, he’s dropped roughly three seconds off of his best 100 free in yards, and has really moved into Nick Folker’s serious strength training at Cal (freshmen get a scaled back program until after NCAA’s). His best long course time is a 50.25. Do that math. It would be the best thing to happen to American sprinting in a long time if Messerschmidt can make the team.
There’s still quite a few veterans vying for spots. Dave Walters, coming off of a broken wrist, isn’t sure if he’s even swimming this race; he’s been a relay fixture for years though. Davis Tawater was never much of a sprinter in his pre-hiatus career, but it’s no surprise that now, training at SwimMAC, he’s going lifetime bests, including a 49.06 at last summer’s National Championships.
Matt Grevers could be a wildcard in this race – he hasn’t been as fast the last two years as it seems like maybe he should have been. But if he has a good meet, a 48-mid is in his range.
Then there’s a bunch of 50m guys, who could sneak into this 100 final if they get hot at the right time. That includes guys like SwimMAC teammates Josh Schneider, Nick Brunelli, and Cullen Jones (the latter of whom was also on the now-famous come from behind relay in Beijing). William Copeland and Anthony Ervin from Cal could get up there too. Ervin is going to be a popular pick in this race to make a relay, but we’ll have to wait and see how big his taper goes – he hasn’t had one in nearly a decade, but right now he’s not close enough it seems to make the top 6 in this event.
Below are the top 8 picks, with college/club affiliations and seed times.
1. Nathan Adrian (Cal/California Aquatics) – 48.05
2. Jimmy Feigen (Texas/Longhorn Aquatics) – 48.63
3. Ricky Berens (Texas/Trojan Swim Club) – 48.94
4. Garrett Weber-Gale (Texas/Longhorn Aquatics) – 48.49
5. Tyler Messerschmidt (Cal/California Aquatics) – 50.25
6. Jason Lezak (UCSB/Rose Bowl Aquatics) – 48.47
7. Matt Grevers (Northwestern/Tucson Ford) – 49.22
8. Scot Robison (Virginia/New South Swimming) – 48.98
Next Four Out (in no particular order): Davis Tarwater (Michigan/SwimMAC) 49.06; Dave Walters (Texas/Trojan Swim Club) 49.01; Anthony Ervin (Cal/California Aquatics) 49.61; Ryan Lochte (Florida Gators/Gator Swim Club) 48.83*;
*Lochte should well be in the top 8 in the semis, but will scratch the final if he gets there.
Women’s 100 Free
The women’s 400 free relay will have a much more optimistic tone than the men’s will, beginning with this 100 free trial. There probably won’t be the same concerns in this race as the men’s. The American women aren’t looking for a “viable” gold medal relay, rather they will be digging through a glut of talent to try and find the foursome that can pick off a Dutch relay that could be one of the best in history. That’s what it feels like for the women – they know they have the four who can win it, it’s just finding out who that is.
This race got a whole lot more complicated last weekend in Austin, when a pair of Georgia Bulldogs threw a king-sized monkey wrench into the psych sheets with best times. Allison Schmitt (training with NBAC this year) wasn’t even in the 100 free conversation a year ago, but after a 53.9 coming out of altitude training, she’s the fastest American in 2012. But an even bigger revelation the last few months is Megan Romano. She started to show signs of being a very good swimmer last summer, when she made the World University Games team. She moved into a new stratosphere at NCAA’s where she broke the 200 free National Record (if you say you saw that coming, you’re fibbing). And then in Austin, with 5 best times in 5 finals, including a 54.1 in this 100 free, she’s now ready to stamp her star on team USA.
But those are just some potential finishing pieces on what was already going to be a stout American relay. Missy Franklin may or may not swim the 100 free individually, but we can expect she’ll certainly go after this relay at least.
Natalie Coughlin is the timeless one. It would be a fool’s errand to pick against her placing in the top 6 in the final, especially with this race fairly-well separated from any of her other events. Her Cal teammate Dana Vollmer is the only other swimmer (Coughlin, Franklin, and Schmitt) who’s been under 54 in the last three years. She’s looked on-fire in 2012, but especially so in her 100 fly. I think that’s where her focus will be, which could cost her a shot individually in this 100 free if she’s not careful.
Jessica Hardy should be top 6 as well; however, since her last great freestyle swim in 2010, she has decided that she is once again interested in swimming breaststroke, so she’s back to dividing her time between the two events. At her taper meet last year (Worlds), she swam this race on a relay (the 4×100 free, to be precise). Coming off of the turn, she looked like she was going to put up an incredible time as she opened in 25.12 (second-best of the whole field). But she wasn’t able to hold it on the back-half, and ended as the slowest on the American relay. But we have to remember – that was her first time swimming freestyle at that level of a meet. Sprinting freestyle and sprinting breaststroke with a gallon of adrenaline pumping through you are two whole different animals, and now with more experience she should be able to keep herself in check a bit better on the front-half.
Lia Neal is all about potential in this race. Stepping up to her second Olympic Trials (she’s only 17, but was one of the youngest swimmers in 2008), there’s no reason to believe that she can’t step up on the blocks and pop-off a 53-mid if she wants to. She’s already been a 54.35 in Charlotte – her best time. She certainly has never looked physically out of place at these big meets on deck (she was very tall, and very strong even at 13 – and already had great underwaters), but now with four more years to develop her breakout to match, she’s scary.
Amanda Weir and Kara Lynn Joyce are always linked in my mind as very similar swimmers. They are the two pure-freestyle-sprinters in this field, they are both Olympic veterans (Weir in 2004, KLJ in 2004 and 2008), and they have both been a little up-and-down since their last Olympic appearance. (They’re also both Georgia Bulldogs). This season, Weir has been undeniably better, swimming a 54.14 in Austin that was as fast as she’s been in textile. Joyce, on the other hand, has bounced around to three different teams, before settling in Charlotte with SwimMAC just a few weeks ago. In her earliest returns, she’s gotten things turned around in her 50 (25.09 at the UltraSwim), but her 100 still isn’t there (a 55.79 to match). Her’s is a race against the clock, both in the competition pool and the practice pool, with such a late change in training.
There’s a great group of swimmers coming out of the college ranks at this year’s meet. Arizona’s Amanda Kendall seems to be doing fine after a broken hand earlier in the season (fortunately, it happened early enough for her to recover before Trials), and she had no problem stepping up to a major meet at Pan Ams and dominating. Cal’s Liv Jensen has been doing best times since wrapping up her collegiate career, which was a highly decorated one. And Maddy Schaeffer, just finishing her freshman year at Stanford, is young but hugely talented. Arizona’s Margo Geer should be a 54 at trials too, but her better bet may be in the 50 at this point.
There’s one more very young swimmer that has to be mentioned in this discussion, and that’s First Colony swimmer Simone Manuel. She’s only 15, but is the defending Junior National Champion. Swimming out of what seems to be a more traditional program, she has huge tapers (she cut seven-tenths of a second from her best time last season in the week between senior nationals and junior nationals). If history serves, we could see her slash as much as a second-and-a-half from the 55.9 she swam in Austin last weekend (that is, if she can stand up to the bright lights of Omaha).
Allison Schmitt was so good last weekend, and maybe its the recentness of that swim in my mind, but I don’t see many in this field capable of going a 53.9 so casually as she did. That makes it tempting to pick her to win – but I won’t. The win will go to Missy (a 53.6 at Nationals last summer is hard to ignore, after the long flight home). But I do think that Schmitt can challenge for an individual entry in the race, assuming this NBAC altitude plan works out. But Vollmer is just too hot right now – though Schmitt will be waiting in case anyone declines the individual entry.
Here’s my top 8 picks, with seed times.
1. Missy Franklin (Colorado Stars) – 53.63
2. Dana Vollmer (Cal/California Aquatics) – 53.94
3. Allison Schmitt (Georgia/North Baltimore) – 53.94
4. Natalie Coughlin (Cal/California Aquatics) – 53.67
5. Amanda Weir (Georgia/SwimAtlanta) – 54.14
6. Jessica Hardy (Cal/Trojan Swim Club) – 54.14
7. Megan Romano (Georgia/Athens Bulldogs) – 54.16
8. Lia Neal (Asphalt Green) – 54.35
Next Four Out (no particular order): Kara Lynn Joyce (Georgia/SwimMAC) 54.59, Amanda Kendall (LSU/Arizona) 54.75, Liv Jensen (Cal/California Aquatics) 54.90, Simone Manuel (First Colony) 55.22