Picks: Grevers v. Lacourt a Near-Record Battle in the Men’s Olympic 100 Back

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Men’s 100 Backstroke

Both the men’s and women’s 100 backstrokes should take faster times for each medal position than we saw at last year’s World Championships, and if all goes according to plan probably faster than what we saw in Beijing in 2008 as well.

Matt Grevers, the defending silver medalist and de facto “favorite” as the highest-returning swimmer from 2008, re-affirmed that status with a 52.08 at the American Olympic Trials that is the second-fastest swim in history.

But France’s Camille Lacourt is certainly capable of getting that low as well. He showed that in 2010, where he came from nowhere to challenge the 100 backstroke World Record and restore some semblance of confidence to the swimming public that a World Record might go down again after rubber suits. But there have been accusations since that rather than buckling-down and knocking off those last few tenths, Lacourt has instead been distracted by indulging in his celebrity. That’s juxtaposed to Grevers, who has eschewed opportunities to make sure he’s ready for London.

But as those in the United States can attest to, there’s something about the Olympic year (and a close battle with a countrymate for a World Championship) that can re-focus this sport’s superstars.

Those two are the creme-de-la-creme, but if either one does stumble, Japan’s Ryosuke Irie will be waiting to move up the podium from his bronze at last year’s World Championships. He can swim 52-highs all-day-long, and though he never has a huge taper, a 52.5 is not out of reach. We know that Lacourt and Grevers both are capable of being faster than that, but we also know that best times don’t always show up in Olympic finals.

Last year’s co-champion Jeremy Stravius didn’t even make the French team in this event, but his replacement Benjamin Stasulius doesn’t seem like he has the chops to get much below a 53. In his stead, American Nick Thoman, with a 52.8 at Trials, has looked outstanding already this year; even better than his 4th-place finish from Worlds last year. There’s some concern that maybe he won’t be able to get better than 53 seconds in London, given that he seemed to be at a full-taper in Omaha.

The only other swimmer in the field who seems to have the ability to get low enough for a medal is the home country’s Liam Tancock. As the defending World Champion in the 50 back, he certainly has the speed to go out as hard as anyone and put a charge into the home crowd. If he hears that roar coming off of the wall, and can recognize that it’s for him, he could hold onto a medal position. He’s spent years working on turning his 50 into a 100, but his in-season times so far this year don’t indicate that he’s necessarily made a breakthrough this year. Psychologically, though, turning first in front of a home crowd could matter for the medals.

If there were someone who might be able to make the leap it might be New Zealand’s Gareth Kean. He had a huge 2011 season to crack his country’s National Record, and seems to have enough upside to get to a 52 on a good day. Germany’s Jan-Philip Glania had a huge breakout at his National Trials to at least temporarily overtake Helge Meeuw’s spot as Germany’s top backstroker, but I think he’s about topped-out for this season; Kean had his breakout last year and should have had time to do what needs to be done to get back to the top.

A swimmer who I really thank has a chance to out-perform is Spain’s Aschwin Wildeboer. He trains under his father Paulus, who is the head coach of the elite national group in Denmark. With how well the Danish are swimming, Aschwin should be expecting a great meet as well.

Grevers seems to be an unstoppable freight-train at this point, and unless Lacourt has been doing big-time work, I don’t think he’s going to get the American. I think it takes a 52.0 to win this race, and that’s going to be Grevers. Top 8 picks below, along with best times from 2008.

1. Matt Gervers (USA) – 52.08
2. Camille Lacourt (France) – 52.75
3. Ryosuke Irie (Japan) – 52.91
4. Liam Tancock (Great Britain) – 53.16
5. Nick Thoman (USA) – 52.86
6. Gareth Kean (New Zealand) – 53.58
7. Hayden Stoeckel (Australia) – 53.73
8. Aschwin Wildeboer (Spain) – 53.78
Darkhorse: Nick Driebergen (Netherlands) – 54.20

Women’s 100 Backstroke

This women’s backstroke is a traffic-jam at the top. The youth that we’ve seen coming up through the backstroke ranks since the Beijing Olympics has been building toward this moment.

There are at least 6 women in this race who, in a vacuum, would all peak this year between 58.8 and 59.1. But Olympic races aren’t swum in a vacuum. They’re swum with head-games, they’re swum through three rounds, they’re swum on second tapers, and they’re swum with ten’s of thousands of fans in the arena and billions more at home.

It’s hard to tell how much any of these swimmers will be affected by that. That group at the top includes Missy FranklinRachel BootsmaAnastasia ZuevaJing Zhao,Aya Terakawa, and Emily Seebohm. On top of those, there’s at least two more (Mie Nielsen and Belinda Hocking) whose progression seems to imply that they can be there too. And despite age and injury, the defending silver medalist (the only medalist from 2008 who will return to defend) Kirsty Coventry can’t be counted out.

Many of these swimmers have their own challenges. Terakawa has lacked a big-time taper, not that she’ll necessarily need it with consistent 59-lows in-season. Seebohm has battled illness and injury on a freak scale, though seems again to be healthy. Bootsma wasn’t able to come close to matching her semi-final speed in the finals at US Trials, but getting into the top 8 should be doable. Zhao from China has been non-existent this year; though she’s only been a 1:01.75 in 2012, she still found her way onto the Chinese roster based on being the defending World Champion in the race.

The two who seem to be most locked-in are Zueva and Franklin. The former, a Russian, has been spectacular this season, and early returns indicate that she’s put most of her focus on the sprint 100 this season. Franklin, still only 17 years old but already the American Record holder, really wasn’t great across her times at Trials, yet this sprint backstroke still held up for one of the meet’s highlights.

Hocking has already been a 59.3 this season. Of the group, she’s the “late bloomer” in relative terms only, as she’s still just 21 years old. She wasn’t quite as good as the rest of this field as a 17 or 18 year old, but she’s been fantastic in her 20’s.

Nielsen still seems as though she’s finding her stride, but at only 15 years old, having already been a 59.6 is phenomenal.

Britain’s Gemma Spofforth is the World Record holder, but hasn’t been under a minute since 2010. Her countrymate Georgia Davies makes a better candidate to earn a home-turf final, though Lizzie Simmonds (who will only contest the 200) is the best of the three.

The best darkhorse to at least final is Germany’s Jenny Mensing. She stumbled through her first 26 years, but in 2012 alone just exploded and broke the minute barrier for the first time in her career. The week after, she was still better than she’d ever been before, but was off of her 59.8 just enough to imply that she was working her way back to a peak again.

The Canadians Julia Wilkinson and Sinead Russell could be finalists as well; however Wilkinson with a 59.8 at Trials being the first time she’d broken a minute may not be able to get low enough. Russell sat out this weekend’s Canada Cup with a small tear in her hip flexor. That was viewed as more of a precautionary measure, however, and she should be good to go in London.

Top 8 picks, with top 2012 times:

1. Missy Franklin (USA) – 58.85
2. Jing Zhao (China) – 1:01.75
3. Anastasia Zueva (Russia) – 58.97
4. Emily Seebohm (Australia) – 59.28
5. Aya Terakawa (Japan) – 59.08
6. Belinda Hocking (Australia) – 59.38
7. Mie Nielsen (Denmark) – 59.69
8. Rachel Bootsma (USA) – 59.10
Darkhorse: Jenny Mensing (Germany) – 59.85

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Jean Michel
11 years ago

Grevers for Gold ! and franklin for gold ! easy picks guys hehehehehhe have fun , stop being too serious here like BOBOGIGI ! keep it cool . the best will win anyway

11 years ago

Given that the site hasn’t factored in the trials as you’ve said they’re not particularly illuminating. For instance, they have Coughlin pegged for Silver and Grevers isn’t even in the top 8, which is also probably a result of him not participating at last year’s Worlds. Apparently they’ve made several errors too regarding certain sports if the comments below are any indication.

11 years ago

Here are some “interesting” predictions supposedly derived from scientific calculations (“The virtual medals table uses an algorithm to rank athletes and teams in each Olympic event based on recent results”), the winners in London will be:

Camille Lacourt

Anastasia Zueva

I can see how the results from US trials haven’t been factored in since this medal tracker was last updated on 11 June 2012 – however, ummm, Kasey Carlson to final in London??

bobo gigi
11 years ago

He has a little problem! Where is the arrogance? And I repeat it looks like I’m his obsession. When I ask you from which country you are you don’t want to answer. Ok no problem. Perhaps you are from another planet and you don’t want to tell us? And again if you want to choice only american winners in London no problem. The only thing I have written was that you were very optimistic for american swimming and sometimes a little outside of the realities.

bobo gigi
Reply to  bobo gigi
11 years ago

Excuse me, outside the realities. My english continues to improve.

Jean Michel
11 years ago

Dear BOBOGIGI , when u will be ” able ” to let be , we will talk swimming together one day . But u don’t have the maturity yet ! I love french arrogance because i can play with it easely .
Usa Women Medley relay : it’s clearly obvious nobody comes close to Usa . It’s obvious …for months and months .

Reply to  Jean Michel
11 years ago

but in your mind US can beat other countries on 50 free, 1500 free, 4×100 free relay..

In you mind US can win golds across all freestyles, despite not having a shot at all (and on neither is overwhelming favorite like Cielo magnussen Ranomi or Sun are on their races) except 200 and 400 W and 200 M.. if he is arrogant? what are you?

11 years ago

I honestly don’t see this being a two man race as Grevers looked so solid in his swim at Trials (by far the most impressive time out of last week). Swimming head to head, at their best they’d be swimming side by side the entire way, and in this situation, the race would definitely favor the bigger and taller Grevers. However, based on how Lacourt has looked this season, in-season and otherwise, it doesn’t look like he felt that more than a 52.4 or 52.5 would have been needed to win this race. Sure deep inside he probably wanted the WR, but I don’t think he felt that that level of work was needed for such an accomplishment.

On the… Read more »

Ole 99
Reply to  john26
11 years ago

While not exactly apples to apples, no one should write off Lacourt so quickly, especially based on this past weekend. Lacourt was a 54 flat in prelims at Paris. Three weeks out from trials, Grevers only posted a 54.6. I think its going to be a heck of a race between Grevers, Lacourt, and Irie.

11 years ago

Good backstroke commentary Braden, you are well informed. If Gareth Kean has done the work in the pool he will definitely be one to watch. Grevers vs Lacourt battle will be amazing. On current form I think you have the top three correct however it’s the Olympics and the beautiful thing is, any of the top 8 could do something amazing on the day. And Im very excited because I will be in the stands to watch it unfold.

Reply to  DanAbel
11 years ago

How lucky you are!
I’m envious

11 years ago

Tough to say who will win, I think it could be more than a two-man race. Too bad Grevers didnt decide to swim for the Netherlands as Pieter van den Hoogenband was trying to convince him to do, with him on backstroke their medley relay could have won gold. Im glad that he made the team for the US and he will have a great olympics.
Camille Lacourt 52.75 this year, 52.44 last year, that is probably due to his many advertising, he probably didnt train as hard, but I think he learned his leason last year. I can see him winning gold, dont forget that Camille swam the 52.11 in an outside pool which I think is harder… Read more »

Reply to  Milo
11 years ago

“Too bad Grevers didnt decide to swim for the Netherlands as Pieter van den Hoogenband was trying to convince him to do, with him on backstroke their medley relay could have won gold.”

What are you talking about? With what swimmers?? And when?

Reply to  JackedAndTan
11 years ago

Grevers is a first generation Dutch-American, and before Athens he seriously considered swimming for the Netherlands, and discussed it with Van den Hoogenband. If he had, they would have a relay lineup of Grevers, Stekelenberg, Verlinden, and Verschuren.

Reply to  JackedAndTan
11 years ago

Well this was just a fun hypothesis, dont take it too seriously, but Matts parents are Dutch I think, so he could have swam for them if he decided to, but he didnt.
Just for fun add Grevers back 52.08 Lennart Stekelenburgs breast split 1:00.42 Joeri Verlindens fly split 51.40 and Sebastiaan Verschurens free split 47.32 together, now that would be a fast relay, but still even with Bastiaan Lijesen they will battle for a medal in London.

bobo gigi
Reply to  Milo
11 years ago

A medal for Netherlands in the men’s 400 medley relay? Absolutely no chance. Perhaps an olympic final but it will be tough. For me USA, Japan and Australia are by far ahead of the other teams.

Reply to  bobo gigi
11 years ago

Bobo if you take the best times of each 4 from JPN BRA GER and FRA all of them are no more than a second apart: JPN, BRA, GER and FRA, in this order

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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