Timeline: Prelims start at 10AM local time (7:30 PM New York Time). Finals start at 7:00 local time/6:30 on Friday and Saturday (4:30/4:00 AM New York Time)
It is now less than 24 hours until the kickoff of the Australian Olympic Trials in Adelaide, South Australia, and most of the major players have landed in Adelaide and are testing out the new pool. Thus far, the pool’s received mostly positive reviews, even more-so with its championship dress on, and has seen some very fast swimming even from its biggest critics – including a world-leading 48.05 from James Magnussen back in January at a meet where he was un-shaved and un-rested.
Magnussen will be in the limelight of this meet. The defending World Champion in the 100 free is the new star of Australian Swimming, and will be lighting up the headlines ahead of the London Olympics. But he’s got an extremely-limited event range (he’s really putting all of his eggs into the 100 free basket), and his qualification seems hardly in question.
It will be interesting still to see how Magnussen approaches this meet. It would only seem to take a few days’ rest to go a 47 and send a huge message to the rest of the world. Last year, though, on about the same timing he had no issue tapering twice – once for Trials and once for Worlds – and turning a 47.9 into a 47.4 would draw an even huger international following, and probably some big-time endorsement offers headed into swimming’s biggest stage.
Though Magnussen is likely to win the race in the pool, he will be in a dogfight in the battle for the most headlines. That’s because his signature event, the 100 free, will also be the big chance for a pair of former World Record holders who are making big comebacks – Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim. This race is to be swum on Monday evening local time, and could become the most-watched 50 seconds of sport in Australian history.
For Thorpe, he’s publicly not optimistic about his chances, though he’s likely playing coy in an effort to dim the hoards of media that could by way of distraction be a hurdle to his qualifying. Swimming Australia head coach Leigh Nugent feels differently; he thinks that Thorpe will absolutely make the team, and has even insinuated that he might find a way for Thorpe onto the team even if he doesn’t finish in the top 6 at the Olympic Trials. But this too might be posturing from a coach who sees a huge benefit to having a veteran like Thorpe in London, both to mentor his younger teammates and to draw some of the media attention from his young stars. Nugent’s comments are likely trying to pull some of the heat onto himself and relax his team.
Here are the qualifying criteria for the meet. They’re pretty basic – top 2 and a FINA A-cut and you’re in. None of the super-stringent qualifying times we saw before the World Championships.
Stephanie Rice is a World Record holder, and though she’s only 23-years old and should be at the peak of her career is going to be in a battle for qualifying. If her shoulder feels good, she’ll make the meet with no problem. If it’s hurting her, she’s going to be seriously pushed by Alicia Coutts and Emily Seebohm in the shorter IM, and by recent medley convert Blair Evans in the 400. Oh yeah – and she’s the defending Olympic Champion in both events.
She should be ok in the 200 fly. Jessicah Schipper is a two-time World Champ with a chip on her shoulder after finishing 8th in Shanghai, she’ll have to be very careful that Samantha Hamill who was a finalist at the 2009 World Championships, doesn’t sneak up and take that second spot. Even without a suit, Hamill’s progression could put her on course for a 2:06 this year, with a 2:07 a near-positive.
Alicia Coutts became a huge star at last year’s Worlds trials, and despite winning a pair of individual silvers seems to have slid into the shadow of the similarly-skilled Sarah Sjostrom out of Sweden. The two have very similar event specialties, and though Coutts doesn’t swim as fast as often, she’s every bit as good when the appropriate time comes. Expect Coutts to have another spectacular meet here (under 57 in the 100 fly is a good bet) and catapult herself back into the international spotlight.
As high-profile as the men’s relay battles are, the women’s could be even more intense. Last year, they had 9 swimmers in the world’s top 50 of the 100 free, and 10 in the same in the 200 free. And in both cases, a healthy Emily Seebohm and an in-shape Libby Trickett (who finally looked Olympic-class again in her latest outing) make those races even huger challenges. If you want to make a women’s Australian free relay, you better go a lifetime best.
I really like the chances of Cate Campbell in the women’s sprints. She was a bronze-medalist in Beijing in 2008 when she was only barely 16 in the 50 free. She has had some rough injuries since then (two-years’ worth), but I have a good feeling about the barnstorming abilities of her and younger sister Bronte Campbell. The pair will aim to be the first siblings to make the same Olympic swimming team since 1972.
Cate Campbell highlights what has been the unfortunate theme of the Australian team for the last 24 months: injuries. Rice’s shoulder; Campbell’s glandular fever and post-viral fatigue; Seebohm’s swine flu; Eamon Sullivan’s broken heel/ankle from a shallow-pool in Mexico; Kenrick Monk’s skateboard injury that broke his elbow; Magnussen’s pre-worlds pneumonia; and Nick D’Arcy missed last year’s World’s Trials after also having ankle surgery. And there’s surely more, but the list is so long that they’d need their own database to track them all. They were all sort of freak occurrences, but luckily other than Rice’s shoulder, they all seem to be back to full strength. That should only serve to heat up the intensity of these trials.
Last year, when Australians were forced into higher-than-FINA-standard qualifying times (which were later relaxed), there were a lot of furrowed brows. And though they didn’t end up performing spectacularly at Worlds, I think the team emerged much stronger this season for it.
London’s Calling. It’s time to pick up the phone.