In the past two days, one of the most interesting meets in 2009 took place: the Duel in the Pool. It is one of the best concept meets in swimming, and while it was extremely exciting still, there were some key problems with this version of the meet. Hopefully meet directors will note some of the things I mention below and keep them in consideration as future events are planned.
1. Suits - As many of you know, I have been adamant that the high-tech suits should not be allowed in the Duel. (Originally, it was supposed to be swum with 2010-approved suits, but that policy went out the door when Italy came into the meet, with Jaked (Italy's sponsor) having no 2010-approved suits.) It honestly seems like many of America's top swimmers wasted a taper on a meet that was effectively a fun meet and would mean nothing in the big picture in the coming years. Many swimmers wore the suits to set records that would last for a long time, but as we now know, USA Swimming will not allow American records set in high-tech suits past October 1st to stand, which will impact 15 American record-setters over the course of the World Cup and Duel in the Pool. However, this blog is not about the suit controversy, so I will leave the suits behind for now.
2. Team Selection - The USA dumped the Duel in the Pool with Australia because they were winning by too much each time out. When the USA vs. E-Stars from Britain, France, and Russia (the top three swimming powers in Europe) was planned, the hope was to have a points battle. With Germany and Italy joining Britain in the final meet, European hope dimmed. When they lost their biggest stars (Steffen, Pellegrini, Biedermann), it was an impossibility. With the US winning more than double the points of their European counterparts, the meet lost some of its excitement. How to correct this: make it a true Ryder Cup-style event, USA vs. all of Europe! Disagreements and political issues have prevented and most likely will continue to prevent something of the sort from happening, but steps must be taken to ensure that a points difference of this caliber doesn't happen again.
1. The Course - Originally I was concerned about having the meet short course meters. I thought it would seem less important since it was not the Olympic distance. Not so. It was more exciting in short course because it would be easier to chase world records! Same reasons that World Cup is short course. SCM is the ideal format for a fun meet because of the different format with the excitement of a short course meet along with the prospect of world records and international ranking.
2. The Meet - One team vs. another, similar to college swimming but with a much higher profile since you're representing either your country (USA) or continent (Europe). Every swimmer who talked about it was really excited about having a fun meet to race against swimmers from around the world with very little pressure. That kind of format is always exciting and conductive to fast swimming, even with very little rest between events.
This makes it even more exciting!
On TV, this will be something special!
Some individual highlights:
1. Rebecca Soni - Breaking both short course meters breaststroke world records is an achievement under any circumstances, especially since they were set about a month ago on the World Cup by her biggest rival, Leisel Jones, when she was wearing effectively the same suit. (I am positive; I was watching.) She has posted some really good times lately, both with the high-tech suits and without, yards and meters. Even with Jones back in the picture, Soni is out to prove she is still the world's best breaststroker.
2. Nathan Adrian - I really think this guy is one of the very best sprinters in the world right now. I'm not sure I can say the best, especially after Cielo's blast past Bousquet, but he is right up there. His 100 free relay lead-off time was 45.08, the second fastest swim in history, and converts to 46.43 long course, a half second under Cielo's world record! His 50 time of 20.71 a half hour earlier goes to a 21.33 long course. And we've already seen Adrian have a superb showing at short course Nationals in a 2010-compliant suit. Doubters out there: don't be fooled by the high-tech suit he was wearing today: this guy will be going for gold, in whatever suit, in London 2012!
3. Nick Thoman - Here's another guy whose here to stay. Thoman broke his first two (and almost a third) world records of his career at the Duel, with an out-of-this-world 48.94 100 back relay lead-off, on the way to a relay world record. Had it not been for a DQ because his underwaters were "too good," he could have claimed a victory over the gold and silver medalist from the Olympics. He will be good in textile too: 45.60 at short course Nationals, with almost no rest. Watch out for him this summer.
4. Chad LaTourette - The consistently rising star of American distance swimming, the Stanford sophomore broke his first American record today, taking a more than nine seconds off of Jeff Kostoff's American record from 1983 in the 800 free. But then, USA Swimming decided to start another mess by announcing 30 some-odd American records were invalid, including his. LaTourette deserves a shout-out because he could have broken that record in any suit he wanted to, and it marks a huge swim.
5. Rebecca Adlington, Michael Phelps, Liam Tancock, Ariana Kukors, Katie Hoff, and perhaps others (I don't know because the BBC won't let non-British viewers watch the races and NBC's coverage is more than a week tape delayed) - Shout-out for wearing textile, 2010-legal suits. You sacrificed results so you could wear a suit that doesn't affect your swimming and get ready for the future. In the long run, you guys are the winners.
And now, my highlight of the day: the Men's 400 Free Relay! Even after the Americans' complete domination of the meet, I wondered if they could take this over a strong E-Stars team. Leading from start to finish, the relay included Nathan Adrian's inspiring 45.08 lead-off; a blazing 44.68 split from Matt Grevers, concluding an awesome weekend for him; Garrett Weber-Gale holding his end up with a 47.43; and then Michael Phelps anchoring. Phelps' split of 46.11 in a textile jammer (converted to 47.49 long course!) was perhaps the most impressive swim of the weekend. All of his times were strong (compared to his World Cup performances), especially his 100s, but this was the best. A fitting end to a great year for him and all of the Americans. Oh yeah, and it crushed the French world record by nearly two seconds!
Not much video available until next week when it airs on NBC; some video of the 100 flys though: women's and men's. Can't see much, but perfect for reference on how to run a swim meet! Shout-out to YouTube user "Otterswim" for putting them up.
Also want to give shout-outs to the Kast-A-Way blog, the Race Club, and The Swim Channel for referencing my Twitter as a place to go for live coverage of the Duel. (As of the publication of this blog, I have 11 new followers!)
Duel in the Pool will be on NBC Sunday, December 27 from 2-4 eastern. STRONGLY recommend watching (and if possible, recording it and keeping it for a few years).