Shanghai 2011: Men's Freestyle, Backstroke, and IM Picks

Now that we’re done with the women’s picks (Free/Back/IM’s | Breast/Fly/Relays), it’s time to start on the men, which usually draw a much more passionate and heated debate.

There’s still a lot of questions up in the air. With Cielo’s status in limbo (we’ve heard from “insiders” who expect him to be allowed to swim, as well as those that expect him out), the latest news that James Magnussen is probably battling pneumonia just two weeks out, and Agnel’s camp seeming to think a respiratory infection mid-year is going to greatly affect his season, the freestyles alone are going to be tough enough to pick. These picks done now could look drastically different than they did just two weeks ago, and if they were done again in another two weeks, they would again be in a third position, and not because of anything that’s happening in the water.

But we’ll take things as they stand today. For Cielo’s events (the 50 fly, 50 free, and 100 free) we’ll pretend like he’s still going, but include a 4th pick in the event that he doesn’t. Today, we’re starting with the freestyle, backstroke, and IM races.

Men’s 50 free

1. Cesar Cielo (Brazil)
2. Fred Bousquet (France)
3. Nathan Adrian (USA)
4. Alain Bernard (France)
Darkhorse: Andriy Govorov (Ukraine)

Breakdown: Cielo’s got his start figured out, and like we saw in Dubai at the Short Course World Championships, if he beats the field on the start, things are just about over. I think the controversy will affect him more in the 100 than in the 50, if at all. Bousquet has only two races, this 50 and a 100 prelim, to worry about this year, meaning that he’s been able to focus all of his effort on pure speed (with nary a concern even for his turn). He looks really solid in this 50, so I like him for silver. Adrian still hasn’t shown us all that he has in long course, even with his 21.55 from Pan Pac’s last year. For London, he looks pretty golden (so far). For Shanghai, bronze. Govorov is the youngest of the field at only 19. Consider this: he’s the same age as Vlad Morozov, who has become legend for breaking both American high school sprint free records, but is about two-tenths faster. That’s speed.

Men’s 100 free

1. Nathan Adrian (USA)
2. Fabien Gilot (France)
3. Cesar Cielo (Brazil)
4. Brent Hayden (Canada)
Darkhorse: Luca Dotto (Italy)

Breakdown: I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of heat flowing for not picking Hayden in the top three, but he hasn’t looked great this year. Sometimes that’s a sign of tough in-season training, but he’s been uncharacteristically off in-season. That might sound hypocritical, then, to put Adrian at the top, but he’s taking an entirely different tact without a qualifying meet, and with a late jump on the season after NCAA’s. Cielo’s swim is going to come down to his turn. He’s already been faster this year than he was all of last year (on purported hugely inflated training levels in Brazil as compared to Auburn), but he’s got to have his head right to hit his turn and win, and I’m not sure he will given what’s been going on. Dotto is the best of a surprising, and extremely young, Italian sprint group that’s going to get some attention in Shanghai.

Interlude:

I wasn’t all that confident in Magnussen’s chances before his illness, and though a week of light training this close isn’t the absolute worst thing that could happen, it was a nail in the coffin in my mind. Either one of the Aussies in the 50, Abood or Targett, would be a good upset candidate for bronze though. If Cielo doesn’t compete, there will be a ton of attention on the young Bruno Fratus in these sprint freestyles. If he thrives under that pressure, he could really make a name for himself.

Men’s 200 free

1. Ryan Lochte (USA)
2. Michael Phelps (USA)
3. Park Tae-Hwan (Korea)
Darkhorse: Sebastiaan Verschuren (the Netherlands)

Breakdown: Swimming in Canada two weeks ago, Michael Phelps looked great in the 100 fly, but was less impressive in the 200 free. What does that mean? In the modern era of Phelps swimming, who knows. But it’s just enough to bump Lochte ahead in these picks. In the last “honest” World Championship, in 2007, Park Tae Hwan took bronze in this race at only 17. Now, in 2007, with things trued up again, I can’t see how he finishes any lower than that. Sebastiaan Verschuren trains at one of the top clubs in the country, the former home of Femke Heemskerk, and it looks like those Dutch freestyle genes might be migrating back to the men’s side, from whom we last saw a podium in this same race in 2007 from the legendary Pieter van den Hoogenband.

Men’s 400 free

1. Park Tae-Hwan (Korea)
2. Sun Yang (China)
3. Yannick Agnel (France)
Darkhorse: Gergo Kis (Hungary)

Breakdown: Park is focusing on this event. Sun is focusing on this event. The result? Pure existential bliss. Both swimmers are young, but in this rare case, I think Park and his experience carries him to a win. Sun has the “home turf” advantage, but with Park training in Australia and living in Korea, things like time zones won’t affect him much. Agnel’s camp has all but written him off in the 400 free, but I’m not buying it. He’s got the makings of one of those strokes like Ian Thorpe’s where a mid-season week off of training with illness won’t kill him. Kis’ chances in the 800 are slightly better, but in the Olympic year, I see him changing course a bit and going down to this 400 instead of the 800.

Men’s 800 free

1. Sun Yang (China)
2. Ous Mellouli (Tunisia)
3. Ryan Cochrane (Canada)
Darkhorse: Gergo Kis (Hungary)

Breakdown: This is Yang’s race to win; he’s been in a class alone this year. Mellouli didn’t do anything in 2010, but that’s sort of his MO. He hides out, and sits back, until he’s ready to unleash, and then he releases all of that pent-up training at the precisely correct moment. Cochrane is quickly becoming one of my favorite swimmers because of his style, which is epitomized by the fact that he’s one of the only swimmers in the modern era who doesn’t swim in a cap.

Men’s 1500 free

1. Sun Yang (China)
2. Ryan Cochrane (Canada)
3. Ous Mellouli (Tunisia)
Darkhorse: Federico Colbertaldo (Italy)

Breakdown: Same top three as the 800, but I’ll give Cochrane the edge over the short course World Champ Mellouli in the 1500. Given that Sun has put so much emphasis on the 400, I think it’s just enough to keep him from the World Record for at least another year. Colbertaldo finished 4th at short course World’s, but if you remember watching that race, he had a great shot at silver about two-thirds of the way through that race. He did his best to push after Mads Glaesner, but every time he hit a turn, he lost ground. Without the disadvantage of as many turns, maybe this year he’ll have enough to hang with the lead pack.

Men’s 50 back

1. Camille Lacourt (France)
2. Liam Tancock (Great Britain)
3. Nick Thoman (USA)
Darkhorse: Gerhard Zandberg (South Africa)

Breakdown: Lacourt is the favorite here based on his near-miss experience with the World Record last year. Tancock has always been a flier in this 50, as the defending World Champion, and his improvements in the 100 hasn’t changed that. Thoman has been training at SwimMAC, with its impressive sprint crew, and I think the speed that you see in Cullen Jones and Josh Schneider will translate just enough to backstroke to give Thoman the bronze. Everyone forgets about Zhandberg amongst the great South African sprinters, even though he won bronze in this race in 2009. He looked great earlier this year at Nationals, and could be good for another medal here.

Men’s 100 back

1. Camille Lacourt (France)
2. Ryosuke Irie (Japan)
3. Liam Tancock (Great Britain)
Darkhorse: Aschwin Wildeboer (Spain)

Breakdown: Lacourt again will be challenging a World Record in this race, though I think this could be closer than it looked like it might be after 2010. Still, even with how well Irie’s been swimming this year, I think Lacourt takes the victory. Aside from the 2007 World Championships bronze he took, against a fairly shallow field, Tancock hasn’t done nearly as much in the 100 as he has in the 50, but with London in front of a home crowd as his carrot, he’s really going to be chasing this 100 hard. Wildeboer was another bronze medalist from 2009 that doesn’t get as much play as he ought. With Rafael Munoz out of the meet, he carries the banner for this Spanish team.

Men’s 200 back

1. Ryan Lochte (USA)
2. Ryosuke Irie (Japan)
3. Tyler Clary (USA)
Darkhorse: Fenglin Zhang (China)

Breakdown: Clary’s lack of competing, and Lochte’s lack of any level of sanity in his in-season training, have obscured what could be a spectacular three-man battle at World’s. Irie has the 5 fastest swims in the World this year: all at 1:54.6 or better. That includes a 1:54.0 textile-best. Still, Lochte hasn’t been at full-speed it seems in two years. If all three went 1:53’s here, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit, especially given some of the things that Clary says he’s been pulling off in practice. The Chinese men, as was evidence by Fenglin and Sun Yang, well outperformed the Chinese women at Nationals, and I think that he’s the only other one with even a chance at getting down to match those other three.

Interlude:

With Aaron Peirsol gone, the big rock of the backstroke races is suddenly not there. The combination of Lochte and Lacourt seem to have filled in that hole admirably though. When looking at the 2009 World Championship results, I was almost caught a bit off guard by the names of the medalists from 2009. Some of them are hardly talked about, despite being World Championship medalists.

Men’s 200 IM

1. Ryan Lochte (USA)
2. Michael Phelps (USA)
3. Thiago Pereira (Brazil)
Darkhorse: Markus Deibler (Germany)

Breakdown: Last year at Pan Pacs, Lochte seemed to intimidate Phelps right out of this race. If anyone can take what happened there and turn it into a positive, it’s Phelps, but he’s seemed to lost his focus on this IM and instead has been putting his full efforts into the butterflies and the 200 free. For that, I give Lochte top billing again. Pereira has looked phenomenal this year so far, and aside from one swim by Phelps, he’s got the two fastest times in the World this year in this race. He doesn’t receive as much attention as some of the other Trojan Aquatics stars, but he can legitimately contend in any of the 200 meter races, which makes him a perfect 200 IM candidate. His big advantage over the rest of the men’s field is that he’s the only one who’s an elite breaststroker, so don’t count him out until the race is over. Markus was the more impressive Deibler brother at German Nationals, and is finally moving to stand beside his brother in the international swimming limelight.

Men’s 400 IM

1. Ryan Lochte (USA)
2. Tyler Clary (USA)
3. Laszlo Cseh (Hungary)
Darkhorse: Chengxiang Wang (China)

Breakdown: Lochte was a mile ahead of the world in this event in 2010. Even if he adds time from Pan Pacs (unlikely), I don’t think that anybody’s done enough to make up the gap. I think Clary has improved, but even if he didn’t, I haven’t seen anyone who might have made the jump to catch him for silver, especially with a full year of professional training under his belt. Cseh looked great at the Mare Nostrum, and I don’t think anyone beats him for bronze. This would make an identical top three to the one we saw in Rome, and this is a threesome I’m very confident in. Sticking with the theme of Chinese men who swam very well at Nationals, Chengxiang isn’t one of the country’s bigger names, but he could possibly take off Cseh for bronze. Chengxiang quietly broke the Chinese National Record in this event this year, and is definitely trending upwards.

Interlude:

So far, I haven’t picked Phelps for a championship, but I think that’ll change in the butterfly races. I did a little better picking Americans, as compared to these same events on the women’s side, with 11 predicted medals. Check back tomorrow for the breaststroke, butterfly, and relay picks.

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Miss5

I think Bowman will unfollow you on Twitter…

nostradamus

is thiago not swimming the 400m I.M. ?

Joe Augustine

I see what you’re doing Braden, discounting Phelps a little… trying to help light that fire of his!!! 😉

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder 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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