No one stat can sum up the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials and American hopes for the Rio Games, but here’s an interesting note:
One world record was set during the Olympic Trials from June 26-July 3, but it was not broken in the CenturyLink Center pool in Omaha. Australian Cate Campbell lowered the 100m freestyle standard in Brisbane.
No world records fell at the U.S. Trials for a second straight time, not shocking given half of the world records in the 26 individual Olympic events are from the super-suit era of 2008 and 2009.
At the 2015 World Championships, the U.S. earned its fewest medals in Olympic swimming events at an Olympics or worlds in 50 years. It still stood atop the gold- and overall-medal standings, but as Trials proved again last week, the rest of the world is as competitive as ever.
Five thoughts off the Swimming Trials with an eye toward Rio:
1. Scarcity of Gold
If the Olympic swimming results copy the current world rankings, the U.S. would earn six individual golds and 23 individual medals in the Rio pool. The 23 medals is right on average during the Michael Phelps era, but six golds would cut the London 2012 total in half.
The six U.S. swimmers who are fastest in the world this year:
Katie Ledecky (200m freestyle)
Katie Ledecky (400m freestyle)
Katie Ledecky (800m freestyle)
David Plummer (100m backstroke)
Josh Prenot (200m breaststroke)
Lilly King (100m breaststroke)
Notice that Michael Phelps is not on this list. For as impressive as Phelps was at Trials, he ranks second, second and sixth in the world this year in his three events. He led the world rankings in those events last year.
2. Mixed Results for Big Four
Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky pretty much took care of business in Omaha. Phelps won all three of his events (100m and 200m butterflies and 200m individual medley). Though he skipped the 100m and 200m freestyles, he is expected to be chosen for the 4x100m and 4x200m free relays in Rio given his form last week and his experience on those teams.
However, Phelps’ best times in his three events this year are significantly slower than his best times from 2015 — .55 slower in the 100m butterfly, 1.16 slower in the 200m individual medley and 1.91 slower in the 200m butterfly. In 2008 and 2012, Phelps was faster at the Olympics than at Trials, but never by a half-second in the 100m fly or a full second in the 200m fly or 200m IM.
Ledecky swept the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in typical dominating fashion. The question going into Trials was how Ledecky would fare in the 100m freestyle, not a wheelhouse event. Ledecky was seventh in 53.99 seconds, which was .24 slower than her personal-best time from Jan. 15. If Ledecky repeated that personal best in Omaha, she would have tied for third and guaranteed herself a place on the 4x100m free relay. Now, we wait and see what the coaches decide.
Of the Big Four, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin entered Trials with the most to prove. Lochte, injured throughout his decorated career, overcame a groin pull in his first swim of the meet to make the team in the 200m individual medley and the 4x200m free relay. His schedule in Rio (potentially five swims) will be far lighter than in London (13 swims), and at 31 years old, these are looking like his final Games.
Franklin, a four-time 2012 Olympic champion and six-time 2013 World champion, was not injured in Omaha, but she had not been the same swimmer since suffering back spasms at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. After missing the team in her first event, the 100m backstroke, a concerned Franklin stated a bare-minimum goal — “I just need to make the team.”
Swimming under that kind of pressure for the first time in her career, Franklin summoned second-place finishes in the 200m backstroke and 200m freestyle. She must improve greatly to earn individual medals in Rio, as she is ranked Nos. 9 and 11 in those events in the world this year.
3. The Rise of DiRado
Three swimmers made the Olympic team in three individual events — Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, as expected, but also Maya DiRado. Looking at times from the last year, DiRado’s sweep of the 200m and 400m individual medleys and the 200m backstroke was no surprise.
But to those who follow the sport more on the once-every-four-years basis, DiRado is a new name. She finished fourth in the 200m and 400m IMs at the 2012 Olympic Trials at age 19, then made the team for the 2013 Worlds, 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and 2015 Worlds, earning medals at each meet.
In Rio, DiRado will be an underdog in all three of her individual events but a solid medal contender. Her world rankings for 2016:
200m back — fourth
200m IM — third
400m IM — fifth
4. Most Rookies Since 2000
Not since Michael Phelps‘ first Games has the U.S. Olympic swimming team included this many rookies.
There are 30 in the pool and in all but four individual events (men’s 50m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 200m individual medley and women’s 200m freestyle).
How the young members handle their first Games is unknown. In some instances, Olympic rookies have risen to the occasion (Misty Hyman, Rebecca Soni, Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky are recent notables). The Rio Games being in a more familiar time zone than the past four Olympics should help.
5. Farewell, Gold Medalists
The Trials likely marked the end of Olympic careers for Natalie Coughlin, Matt Grevers and Cullen Jones and definitely for the retiring Tyler Clary, all Olympic gold medalists.
Coughlin, the headline U.S. female swimmer in 2004 and 2008, made a valiant bid at age 33 to make her fourth Olympic team but finished seventh and 14th in two events. If she had made the Rio team, Coughlin could have broken her tie with Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the most Olympic medals earned by a U.S. woman (12).
Grevers had a better shot at the Olympic team than Coughlin, but he lost out in a three-man race for two 100m backstroke spots. Grevers took 2012 Olympic and 2013 World titles and the 2015 World bronze medal in the event, but David Plummer and Ryan Murphy swam the fastest times in the world this year at Trials. Grevers is ranked No. 4 in the world, but No. 3 in the U.S. Cruelly, no Olympics.
Jones and Clary, training partners in Charlotte, finished third in their primary events — 50m freestyle and 200m backstroke.
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