Wednesday, July 13, 2011

World Championships, Eleven Days Out

It has been far too long since I last sat down to write a swimming blog. In the past month and a half, fast swims have come from all corners of the globe, but I have not felt like I had anything to add to the already-outstanding coverage coming from the established sources and other blogs. However, with World Championships just days away, it is hard to contain a swim geek’s excitement. Storylines such as Cesar Cielo’s possible suspension, the Phelps-Lochte showdowns, and the rise of Sun Yang are currently being talked about on every other outlet. Thus, in this blog, I will discuss some of the not-much-talked-about storylines headed into the big show. Additionally, I am pleased to announce I will once again hold a prediction contest for the World Championships!

After successful prediction contest for U.S. Nationals and Pan Pacific Championships last summer, I will once again ask for all the swim geeks out there to submit their top-three swimmers in every event. I have already informed a number of the participants in my recent contests with hopes that we can get many more than ever before! Scoring will be based on the system I used last year with a couple adjustments; picking the correct first place finisher earns nine points, six points for second, and four points for third. A swimmer that finishes in the top-three but not in the predicted spot earns one point.

The contest will include all pool events, including relays and non-Olympic events. I included the Open Water 10k last summer, but predicting all the Open Water races would be much tougher and also would require a much earlier deadline. As of Wednesday, July 13, the final psych sheets had not yet been released, and the Open Water competition begins Tuesday. As soon as the psych sheets are released, I will post them on my Twitter and Facebook pages. Additionally, any help organizing the received predictions would be much appreciated. I will be swimming in my state championship meet until Sunday, July 24 and will not be blogging at full capacity until the next day.

I would like to have all predictions in to me ASAP, preferably by Wednesday, July 20. However, the final deadline is Friday, July 22 at 2:00 PM eastern time. By that point, whether or not Cesar Cielo will be allowed to swim will still be unanswered, so please send me a fourth swimmer in each event in which you pick Cielo. The medalists will be bumped up accordingly if Cielo is suspended. Please email me your lists at

Now, back to swimming! Today, Tom Willdridge posted a blog over at Speed Endurance where he and I provide lists of who we think the most underrated potential superstars are in every event headed into Shanghai. For the majority of events, I picked swimmers who are not usually picked as medalists but certainly have the potential to medal based on experience and potential. However, in some cases, I listed swimmers who I have predicted to medal but are surprisingly underrated. Three of such swimmers include Ous Mellouli (men’s 1500 free), Liam Tancock (men’s 50 back), and Allison Schmitt (women’s 200 free).

All the conversations about the men’s 1500 start and end with Sun Yang. The Chinese star and Asian Games gold medalist has been tipped to go under Grant Hackett’s decade-old world record of 14:34.56 in the event. But what about Ous Mellouli? He is the reigning Olympic Champion and World Champion in both short and long course. Still, no one is giving him a chance to win, some saying they can’t see him within eight seconds! The way I see it, Sun Yang has not yet stepped up on the international stage. I probably will predict him to win gold, but Mellouli will not let him run away with the title.

Likewise, in the men’s 50 back, the conversations revolve around Frenchman Camille Lacourt. At the European Championships last year, Lacourt clocked 24.07 to nearly crack Liam Tancock’s world record of 24.04, and many are predicting him to hit the target at World Champs this year. And on every prediction list, Tancock is in the number two spot. Despite dominating this event on the world stage two years ago and Commonwealth stage last year, no one can see Tancock beating the French phenom. But just as is the case with Mellouli, he has the experience of winning a world title, and he could throw in a push.

In Rome, the women’s 200 free was the domain of Federica Pellegrini, and she won by two seconds over Allison Schmitt. Schmitt won the Pan Pacific title last year, establishing herself as the clear world number two in the event, behind Pellegrini’s win at the European championships. This year, however, the landscape of the event is different; Frenchwoman Camille Muffat and Aussies Kylie Palmer and Bronte Barratt have all posted blistering times early this year to establish them as challengers to Pellegrini’s throne. Schmitt, meanwhile, posted best times to win the 200 and 500 free at the NCAA Championships and has gone much faster than her usual in-season times, but many predictors still have a tough time placing her in their top-three. However, I have been very impressed with Schmitt this year, and I think she is ready to step up and challenge Pellegrini. She will be the silver medalist in my predictions.

The men’s 100 free is an event in disarray with several potential scratches. As mentioned above, Cesar Cielo could be facing a brief suspension for a positive drug test, while we recently learned that young Aussie James Magnussen could miss the Championships after being diagnosed with pneumonia. In the 100 free, Cielo is known for going out hard and bringing his competitors along with him; I believed that without Cielo in the race, no one will really force the pace in the field. However, if Magnussen withdraws, as rumors have indicated, Olympic silver medalist Eamon Sullivan would receive the replacement spot. Third at Trials behind Magnussen and James Roberts, Sullivan has been extremely injury-prone as of late but has since Trials been relatively clean. Like Cielo, Sullivan will always be out fast in a race, and if he gets into the 100 free final, he could be the one that everyone sets out to catch. I don’t think he can beat Cielo (if he can swim it), Nathan Adrian, or Brent Hayden, but he is always a threat.

On the other side of the world, the University of Georgia will play host to some top swimmers at a Sectionals meet this weekend. Top swimmers from SwimMAC and Auburn that are not going to the World Championships will compete in Athens as a last tune-up before U.S. Nationals. Along with Americans Josh Schneider, Davis Tarwater, and Mark Dylla, Frenchwoman Laure Manaudou is scheduled to make her return to competition following a year-long retirement. The Manaudou soap opera of the past four years is well-known. After winning a medal of each color at the 2004 Olympics, she broke Janet Evans’ 400 free world record in 2006 and then won four medals at the 2007 World Championships. Following love drama and coaching changes, Manaudou retired after a terrible showing at the 2008 Olympics but announced her comeback last summer after giving birth to daughter Manon with fellow French Olympian Fred Bousquet.

Now training with Bousquet and coach Brett Hawke at Auburn, Manaudou is swimming the 50, 100, and 200 free, and 100 and 200 back this weekend at Sectionals. She is no longer focusing on the 400 free, the event in which she won gold in 2004, but rather putting efforts towards the shorter distances. I don’t expect much from Manaudou in her first meet in three years, but this Sectionals meet starts the next chapter in her famous swimming career.

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