The men’s 200 IM will see everyone’s picks with the same two on top: Phelps and Lochte. The order might be changed, but those two will be the picks for London.
But the women’s race is a whole different animal. So let’s start there.
To see all of the Race-by-Race predictions for the 2012 US Olympic Trials, check out our official Olympic Trials Page.
Women’s 200 IM
What a race. That’s all that can be said about this women’s 200 IM. This event final will be “if you have a lane, you have a chance” in the truest sense of the expression. Anybody who is good enough to make it into the final of this 200 IM is good enough to put themselves into the top two and onto the Olympic Team – and there will be a few left out in the semi-finals who will upset a lot of peoples’ brackets.
Arianna Kukors has the credibility of the World Record behind her; she’s a true IM’er in the sense that she’s got 10 trials cuts, doesn’t really blow anybody away in anything other than the IM’s. In fact, the 200 and 400 IM’s are the only events that she would be seeded in the top 10 at for trials. But she is magnificent underwater, and she doesn’t get beat on any one leg of the race. Her biggest challenge will be closing well, and now that she’s settled into more familiar training in Jacksonville, I think she’ll be more comfrotable going into the closing 50 free than she was last summer.
The opposite of her is Cal’s Caitlin Leverenz, who is the other swimmer qualified with better than a 2:10. Leverenz is sort of the anti-Kukors, in that there are three strokes where most of her competition can beat her straight-up; but it’s that 4th, the breaststroke, that is what makes her so good. There are few swimmers in the world that can match her speed on the third leg of an IM, even the other great breaststrokers like Hannah Miley. What makes Leverenz so scary is how much she’s improved the front-half of her race in the last 9 months. She’s been swimming events like the 200 fly regularly, and at Winter Nationals got her first 100 meters down to a 1:01.5, which is a full second faster than she was at Worlds. It cost her a little bit on the breaststroke leg, but she’s still faster there than anyone else. She’s the American Record holder in this race in both yards and short course meters.
There are plenty of other record holders in this race as well. Liz Pelton, like Leverenz, went a best time at Winter Nationals with a 2:10.02 that broke the 17-18 National Age Group Record. She’s in Florida now, back training with Paul Yetter who first brought her to international prominence.
Natalie Coughlin as the defending Olympic bronze medalist from 2008 has to be in the conversation, even though she got away from the race for a while. She’s best known for her backstroke, but what people forget from her earlier years is that she was one of the most versatile young swimmers we’ve ever seen in the sport in swimming.
Then there’s Elizabeth Beisel, who was a 2:10.75 in the treachery that was Summer Nationals last year, right after hopping of a cross-globe flight from Shanghai. She’s better in the 400, but can’t be counted out in this race. Katie Hoff has renewed her focus on the IM’s, after going to the middle-distance frees for a while; she won this event at ’08 Trials and set an American Record in the meanwhile. Julia Smit is one of the best we’ve ever seen in short course, but has reportedly stopped training after swimming a 2:11.55 at Winter Nationals in December (her best time of the qualifying period).
Stanford’s Maya DiRado is the best young swimmer who never gets mentioned in long course, but given her age (she only recently turned 19) and she’s still making big improvements. Don’t count her out of this battle either.
Jasmine Tosky’s versatility is unreal: as only a high schooler, she has Trials cuts in 12 of 13 events, with the 100 back possibly coming this weekend. There’s no reason to believe that she doesn’t have a 2:10 or 2:11 in her. But the question is can she make it through the semis. The 200 IM semi’s come at the end of a session that also includes the 200 free semi-final and 200 fly final, both of which are better shots for her.
Morgan Scroggy is sort of the wild-card of this race. She was spectacular in 2010 with a 2:11.25 at Nationals. It would be easy to write her off after not getting below a 2:13 last year, but her whole 2011 year was a bit of a bust, and she didn’t get a chance to really swim this 200 IM tapered. If she’s on at trials, she’s a 2:10 at least. If she’s not, she won’t make the final. That’s how close the hairs are split in this race.
Two other Bulldogs worth mentioning are Jana Mangimelli and Melanie Margalis; they both probably didn’t have the NCAA Championship meet that they were hoping for, but that shouldn’t cloud the fact that both have, in fact, gotten better in the last year, especially Mangimelli. In 2011, she put up a 2:13.8 in this race at the Santa Clara Invitational, which was presumably a pre-taper meet.
This 200 IM is really a swim-geek’s nightmare. In some events, you don’t feel so bad that the US only gets two spots, because that’s probably about all we deserve. But it’s this 200 IM where it really hurts that we have to leave someone out.
Whitney Burnett nee Myers was a finalist in 2008 as well; she hasn’t been faster than a 2:14 in the last year-plus, but she’s still got the legacy to be a solid sleeper choice.
Amanda Beard isn’t swimming this race much anymore, though she was once among the world’s best in it. Her focus will probably remain on the breaststrokes at this year’s trials. Dagny Knutson should be in this conversation, and though her recent comments indicate that she’s refocused, it’s still tough to put her in a final at this point. Kathleen Hersey could be a finalist in this race, but
That’s what this pick is more about – who do you leave out? The World Record holder Kukors? An American Record holder and NCAA Champion Leverenz? The defending bronze medalist Coughlin who always gets her hand to the wall? The next-big thing in Liz Pelton? The defending Trials winner Hoff who’s renewed her focus?
The pick here is Leverenz and Kukors. Kukors has shown that she’s too good, and her focus on lower-yardage training should allow her to be very fast in-season. Leverenz has shown herself to be too good in the last year, and still is improving every time she hits the water.
The picks, including club, college, and seed times.
1. Ariana Kukors (Washington/IX3/Bolles)
2. Caitlin Leverenz (Cal/California Aquatics)
3. Katie Hoff (T2 Aquatics)
4. Natalie Coughlin (Cal/California Aquatics)
5. Lis Pelton (Cal/T2 Aquatics)
6. Elizabeth Beisel (Florida/Gator Swim Club)
7. Morgan Scroggy (Georgia/Athens Bulldogs)
8. Maya DiRado (Stanford/Stanford Swimming) – 2:11.92
Next Four Out (no particular order) – Teresa Crippen (Florida/Gator Swim Club) 2:13.48; Jasmine Tosky (USC/Palo Alto) 2:13.02; Whitney Burnett (Arizona/Tucson Ford) 2:13.89; Jana Mangimelli (Georgia/Athens Bulldogs) 2:13.81
Men’s 200 IM
With Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps at the top of the pile, there isn’t a whole lot of mystery as to who is going to make the team in this 200 IM.
Keeping in mind that these are trials predictions, I think that Phelps is going to take this race. That’s not necessarily the same pick that will come in London, but I think it’s the right pick here. Phelps always swims extremely well at Olympic Trials meets – in 2008, he broke a World Record in this race in Omaha. At a meet shy of the big summer championship, outside of the aberration that was 2010 for Phelps, Michael usually wins. There’s also the Lochte 200 back double that will leave him breathing heavily coming into this race, without a taper.
Tyler Clary is more likely to challenge in the 400 than this race, if he swims it at all. Eric Shanteau once upon a time was good enough to fight for the second spot, but in the last 4 or 5 years, Lochte and Phelps have taken the event to an even higher level, while Shanteau has moved his focus toward the breaststrokes. There’s a good chance he won’t swim the race
That’s going to be the case with many of the swimmers who could be in the top 10 in the world in this race. For many, it won’t be worth the energy to swim the race. It would be easy to see that decision coming from other top-16 seeds including Clark Burckle and Cory Chitwood, who will likely look to avoid double sessions with the 200 back and 200 breast.
That leaves Conor Dwyer, now a post-grad in Gainesville, as the probable top contender for 3rd. Because of the way his senior season ended, it’s easy to forget that he was one of the best college swimmers we’ve ever seen, and now with a full season of professional training under him, he should do something great in this race. With a full taper, something in the range of a 1:56 is very doable for him. He was a 1:58.6 in the fall at the Pan Am Games, but has already been a 1:59.2 last weekend in Charlotte. With what we know about how hard Gregg Troy pushes his swimmers in-season, that’s a significant swim (even though some of the Gators seemed to have been backed off of their heavy training by this point).
The young phenom David Nolan is also likely to be a finalist in this race, partially depending on what else he chooses to swim around it (he probably won’t swim the 200 back before-hand, the 100 fly right after is a better possibility). Nolan’s predecessor is Kyle Whitaker, but like Nolan he hasn’t improved his long course time since 2010 – before either was in college.
At the other end of the spectrum are the veteran – Robert Margalis. He is a long-time pro who works with one of the best training groups in the country in Fullerton; He was also a finalist in 2008. Another returning finalist is Michigan swimmer Dan Madwed, but Madwed hasn’t swum a decent IM in over two years.
Former UNC star Tyler Harris has looked very good since headed out west to train with Dave Salo at USC. His better race is the 400, but we should see him break two-minutes for the first time in his career at trials.
Other names to watch include Austin Surhoff from Texas – his yards times have plateaud in the last few years, but he’s still making some improvements in long course and was a World University Games finalist in 2011; and a great darkhorse pick in Jack Brown. Brown peaked in 2009 at US Nationals with a 1:57, and after a year out of racing in 2010 is back and training with Greg Rhodenbaugh, now in Missouri.
Jack Conger must have a great 200 IM in him, but with the 200 back and 100 fly bookending the event, if there’s a double to be down that one makes more sense. North Baltimore’s Chase Kalisz has a lot of great potential, training in the same program as Phelps, Patrick, et al, but his best event is the 400 IM. Still, he was going best times in yards in December at the NBAC Christmas Invite, and has really improved his speed in the last 6 months, so this could be a good chance for a breakthrough swim by him.
Overall, this has the potential to be a much faster final than it was in 2008, where only three swimmers went under two minutes. But to me, with Lochte and Phelps at the top of the pile, anybody who has a chance to make the Olympic Team in a race Friday or later is futile to swim this event. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.
Top 8 picks, with most recent college/club affiliations, plus seed times as of now.
1. Michael Phelps (North Baltimore) – 1:54.16
2. Ryan Lochte (Florida/Gator Swim Club) – 1:54.00
3. Tyler Clary (Michigan/FAST) – 1:57.61
4. Conor Dwyer (Florida/Gator Swim Club) – 1:58.64
5. Tyler Harris (UNC/Trojan Swim Club) – 2:00.91
6. David Nolan (Stanford/Stanford) – 2:00.61
7. Chase Kalisz (Georgia/NBAC) – 2:01.79
8. Jack Brown (Arizona/Missouri) – 2:00.82
Next four out (in no particular order) – Robert Margalis (Georgia/FAST) – 2:01.24; Austin Surhoff (Texas/Longhorn) – 2:01.04; Kyle Whitaker (Michigan/Club Wolverine) – 2:01.83; Josh Prenot (Cal/Santa Maria Swim Club) – 2:02.24