What will the men’s results at the World Swimming Championships portend for the Rio Olympics?
Ryan Lochte could win the 200m individual medley and 200m freestyle in Kazan, Russia, next week.
But he would do so against fields that do not include longtime rival Michael Phelps (out as part of punishment for last year’s DUI) and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino (injured), perhaps the world’s best all-around swimmer. France’s Olympic and World 200m free champion Yannick Agnel is also out for health reasons.
U.S. Olympic champion Nathan Adrian could bag his first World title in the 100m freestyle, but two-time reigning World champion James Magnussen won’t be in Kazan following shoulder surgery.
And China’s Sun Yang, who swept the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles at the 2013 World Championships, won’t have South Korean rival Park Tae-hwan to push him in the 400m. Park is missing Worlds due to a doping ban but could return for the Rio Olympics.
All that’s to say that many rightfully earned gold medals next week will not carry the added title of 2016 Olympic favorite.
What’s clear is several nations have gold-medal contenders in Kazan, from usual powers like the U.S., Australia, China and Japan to recently emerged South Africa and Brazil and even Great Britain and Germany.
The U.S. men have star power even without Phelps. It starts with Lochte, who will surely add to his career total of 23 Worlds medals, even though he is not the same force he was four years ago, when he bagged four individual gold medals to become the clear-cut world’s top all-around swimmer going into London 2012.
Lochte, who turns 31 on Monday and is coming back from an injury-beset 2014, ranks in the top 20 in the world in one individual event this year and is swimming two individual events next week — the 200m individual medley and 200m freestyle.
“This meet, whatever the outcome is, is just a stepping stone to what I want to accomplish next year at the Olympics,” Lochte, who keeps his goals a secret, told media in Kazan on Friday.
Matt Grevers (100m backstroke), Nathan Adrian (100m freestyle) and Tyler Clary (200m backstroke) are competing in events where they won 2012 Olympic gold medals, but it’s possible that none are favorites.
Sun could very well take male Swimmer of the Meet honors for a second straight Worlds. Like Katie Ledecky, he’s added the 200m free to his program of 400m, 800m and 1500m frees. Phelps and Lochte are the only swimmers who have won four individual golds at a single Worlds. Sun could join them.
South Africa’s Chad le Clos is the reigning FINA men’s Swimmer of the Year. He’ll benefit greatly from Phelps’ absence with a chance to sweep the butterflies.
From Japan, Ryosuke Irie could upset the Americans in both backstrokes. Daiya Seto could sweep the individual medleys.
The breaststrokes feature medal contenders from Australia, Brazil, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Japan, South Africa and, perhaps, the U.S.
Key men’s finals:
Sunday, Aug. 2
400m freestyle — Sun is the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion, but Australian Mack Horton is fastest this year
4x100m freestyle relay — Five nations in the medal mix — U.S., Australia, France, Russia, Brazil
Monday, Aug. 3
100m breaststroke — Great Britain’s Adam Peaty broke South African Olympic champion Cameron van der Burgh‘s world record by more than a half-second earlier this year
Tuesday, Aug. 4
200m freestyle — Lochte can reclaim his 2011 title in the absence of Phelps and Agnel, but Sun, world-record holder Paul Biedermann lurk
100m backstroke — Grevers is the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion, but Irie has been faster in 2014 and 2015
Wednesday, Aug. 5
200m butterfly — Le Clos is the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion, but Seto has been faster in 2014 and 2015
800m freestyle — Sun is the 2013 World champion, but Horton is fastest this year
Thursday, Aug. 6
200m individual medley — The 2013 World champion Lochte doesn’t have to face Olympic champion Phelps or World silver medalist Hagino
100m freestyle — Australian Cameron McEvoy beat Adrian by nearly a half-second at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships (in Australia)
Friday, Aug. 7
200m backstroke — Clary and Ryan Murphy look to win the U.S.’ 21st straight 200m back gold at a major international meet, but Irie is a big threat
200m breaststroke — Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta is the three-time reigning World champion, but Germany’s Marco Koch has been faster in 2014 and 2015
4x200m freestyle relay — U.S. has won five straight World titles; Australian Grant Hackett made the Australian team after coming out of a six-year retirement
Saturday, Aug. 8
50m freestyle — French Olympic champ Florent Manaudou has been fastest in 2014 and 2015
100m butterfly — Le Clos won’t face Phelps, but Tom Shields could be a threat
Sunday, Aug. 9
1500m freestyle — Nobody’s been within eight seconds of Sun’s world record since 2012, not even Sun
4x100m medley relay — U.S. is heavily favored if it doesn’t get DQed, as it did in 2013