The Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo dominated the sprint freestyles as the 2012 Summer Olympics, sweeping the 50 and 100 freestyles and in the process putting up the fastest times ever done in textile in both (the 100 came in April, the 50 at the Games).
But 2013, after the Olympics, is a whole new year, and a lot has changed. Exiting was Kromowidjojo’s old coach Jacco Verhaeren, and reentering the conversation is the great Cate Campbell, who after some up-and-down years has re-established herself on the path-to-greatness for which she once seemed destined.
Campbell is the great new hope for the Australia women, who despite winning the 400 free relay gold medal didn’t score a single women’s sprint medal at the Olympics. It is easy to forget that she’s only 21 years old with her history already in the sport.In 2008 at the Santa Clara Grand Prix, just shy of her 16th birthday, she broke the U.S. Open Records in both the 50 and 100 freestyles.
That’s a bit terrifying for the Americans, who right now don’t have anybody going that fast in either the 50 or the 100 freestyles at any age, let alone 15-going-on-16.
Cate’s younger sister Bronte Campbell has been having a marvelous season of her own, with bests of 24.5/53.7 in the 50 and 100 freestyles.
She’s ranked in the top 5 in the world in both events, and will relatively thin fields in either, she is within striking distance of a pair of medals of her own.
Focus on the 50
This preview, though, is honed squarely on the 50 free, where of the two Campbell’s perch atop the world is more precarious. Kromowidjojo won the Olympic gold in this race last year to break the Olympic Record, and unlike Campbell’s 50, nobody has surpassed that 24.0 as of yet this season.
The 50 free ranks will include Fran Halsall from Great Britain, who like Kromowidjojo is training on a new coach this year. She hasn’t been as good in-season as we’ve seen from her in the past, but perhaps that will bode better for her come World Championship time.
The new German sprint queen this season has been Dorothea Brandt, who after years of toiling just outside of the world’s elite went a best time in the 50 free earlier this year in 24.51 to rank 4th in the world.
Others in the women’s sprint group who are much more in the hunt for the 50 than the 100 include Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen and Belarus’ Aleksandra Herasimenia, who appropriately enough sit 7th and 8th in the world this year. Those two produced a shocking tie for the 100 meter World Championship in 2011, a year that was without a true (healthy) sprint star to sweep in and carry golds away.
For two years straight the redemption-minded Herasimenia has stepped up for medals when the competition got stiffest, so though her times haven’t been outstanding this year, don’t count her out. Her best in 2013 is just 24.8, but that’s not much slower than she was headed into the London Olympics where she swam a significant lifetime best and earned a silver medal.
As for Ottesen, she’s also undergoing big training changes since London, including a total stroke overhaul under coach Shannon Rollacon. Ottesen dropped that 100 free, where she was the co-defending champion, and has gone to a bent-elbow recovery, totally abandoning her usual straight-arm stroke.
The top Americans are Natalie Coughlin and Simone Manuel, both of whom will have only this individual 50 and the 400 free relay to worry about.
Coughlin didn’t have a season-best time to qualify for this race at the World Championship Trials, but overall this has been the best sprinting season of her career. Even that, though, might not be enough, as she sits just inside the world’s top 10. She said in post-race interviews in Indy, though, that she cut her underwater off by about two dolphin kicks after what she felt to be a pretty average start. For a swimmer who uses her underwaters more than any sprinter in history, that’s very significant. A perfect race could mean that she has a 24.6 or 24.7 in her for Worlds.
Still, that’s unlikely to be good enough for a medal, and maybe not even for a final. Though all of them won’t be at this meet, 27 swimmers have been faster than Coughlin’s lifetime best since the end of the supersuit era.
Her countrymate Simone Manuel was a 25.0 for her lifetime best in qualifying, but being so young (only 16) and so clearly talented, there’s no telling what she’s capable of. She’s the unpredictable result in this race. I’d put her top-end potential as high as 8th or 9th, and if she really goes after the swim in prelims, she should semi-final.
Regardless of how the chips fall, there will surely be some new faces in this year’s final. Out of last year’s finalists, bronze medalist Marleen Veldhuis from the Netherlands is not swimming, Britta Steffen from Germany has not been swimming very well with different illnesses, Therese Alshammar is not swimming, Jessica Hardy didn’t qualify for the 50 free, and Bahamian Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace hasn’t had a formal race since the Olympics. The semi-finals are similarly thinned-out.
Stepping into one of those spots, possibly, is Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom. She’s notoriously fast in-season, but in 24.70 has already been better than she was at the Olympics last year (where she bombed out in the semi-finals). It’s no guarantee that she’ll swim this event, but with it coming after all of her major contending races, and only a small conflict with the 50 fly final, expect a better result if she does.
Another swimmer with a chance to take the spot of a retired teammate is Femke Heemskerk, another Dutch sprinter under 25 seconds already this year. There’s not a lot of clarity from what we’ve seen in who gets the Dutch sprint spots at Worlds, but odds are it will be Dekker and Kromowidjojo.
After that group, things start dropping off fairly quickly to the point of swimmers being unlikely to get into the medal conversation. The one real darkhorse is breaststroke champion Ruta Meilutyte, the 16-year old from Lithuania. She is a heavy favorite in both the 50 and 100 breaststrokes, but the 16-year old once fancied her a future star in the sprint freestyles as well. She was 26th at last year’s Olympics in the 50 free with a 25.55, and already this year has been close to that good. We could see Meilutyte under 25 seconds in this event sooner rather than later.
Top 8 Predictions, with best time from January 1, 2010 forward:
1. Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Netherlands, 24.05
2. Cate Campbell, Australia, 24.27
3. Aleksandra Herasimenia, Belarus, 24.28
4. Fran Halsall, Great Britain, 24.14
5. Bronte Campbell, 24.59
6. Inge Dekker, Netherlands, 24.42
7. Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden, 24.63
8. Dorothea Brandt, Germany, 24.51
Darkhorse: Ruta Meilutyte, Lithuania, 25.55