BARCELONA – Last year at the Olympic Games in London, the United States dominated the swimming competition, winning 31 medals overall – 16 gold, nine silver and six bronze.
That’s a tough act to follow any year, but a post-Olympic year, especially, presents some challenges.
A number of veterans tend to take a well-deserved break immediately after the games and back off a little bit on the intense training that took them to the top. Some, like Michael Phelps, retire.
As a result, you have a lot of fresh faces who make the World Championships team, looking to make a name for themselves and gain some experience on the international stage.
With the pool competition of the 15th FINA World Championships ready to kick off Sunday at Palau Sant Jordi, several members of the U.S. team – women’s coach Dave Salo, men’s coach Bob Bowman, Olympic gold medalists Dana Vollmer, Natalie Coughlin, Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte, Nathan Adrian and Matt Grevers – appeared at a press conference Friday to talk about the team’s prospects in the coming week.
Here’s what they had to say, with analysis:
How does the women’s team look this year?
The Answer, from Dave Salo: We’ve got an interesting team. I think the veteran squad we’ve got is running off their talent, not so much their preparation like they did last year. But they’re pretty exceptional athletes. We’ve got some younger kids coming up the pike that we’re really excited about. They’re kind of going through the development stages, and they’re going to get some development here at the World Championships. It’s a dynamic group of women. I think we’re going to be battling for podium position with everybody, and we’re looking forward to getting this meet started in a couple days.
And from Team Captain Natalie Coughlin: I think it’s a great year for the women as well as the men. We had a very successful Olympic games last year, and a lot of our rookies got a ton of experience. I think we’re going to build off that experience. I think the women’s team was the most successful they’ve been in my career last year, so we’re in the right position going into World Championships. That being said, being a post-Olympic year it’s always interesting to see who shows up and who performs well. Based on our training camp, I think the American team will perform quite well in the coming week.
The Analysis: The women’s team consists of 26 swimmers overall, 16 of whom are Olympians. Twelve of those Olympians are Olympic medalists, eight of those are Olympic gold medalists. Fifteen of those Olympians competed at last year’s games. Twelve swimmers were members of the 2011 World Championships Team. Three have never competed for the U.S. at a major international competition.
The team’s average age is 20.56. Coughlin is the oldest at 30, while Becca Mann (open water) is the youngest at 15.
Three of the five gold medalists from last year’s women’s Olympic team are here in Barcelona – Missy Franklin (100, 200 back), Katie Ledecky (800m free) and Dana Volmer (100 fly).
Franklin stepped right back into her usual training regimen and has expanded her program in Barcelona to eight events – the 100 and 200 free, the 50, 100 and 200 back, and all three relays. Ledecky, too, has kept her foot on the gas and stepped up her program, adding the 400 and 1500 free to the 800 she swam in London.
Vollmer might have been one of those veterans who took a step back from training after last year’s gold-medal, world-record-breaking performance in the 100 fly, but she won that event at last month’s World Championship Trials in Indianapolis with the third-fastest time in the world this year.
In addition, there are a number of veterans who bring a career’s worth of experience to these World Championships. Coughlin, for example, has competed at six World Championships and has won more World Championship medals (19) than any other female swimmer in history. Jessica Hardy has won seven medals over the course of her career at four World Champs. Vollmer has won eight in her four WCs. Elizabeth Beisel and Chloe Sutton have also competed in four World Championships, with Beisel winning gold in the 400m IM in 2011.
On the flipside, 14 women – Cammile Adams, Karlee Bispo, Rachel Bootsma, Chelsea Chenault, Maya DiRado, Claire Donahue, Breeja Larson, Micah Lawrence, Ledecky, Mann, Simone Manuel, Jordan Mattern, Megan Romano and Shannon Vreeland – are competing at their first long-course World Championships. While Adams, Donahue, Larson, Lawrence, Ledecky and Vreeland were all on last year’s Olympic Team, three swimmers – Bispo, Manuel and Mattern – have never competed for the U.S. at any major, senior-level international competition.
How about the men’s team?
The Answer, from Bob Bowman: I think our men’s team is a very interesting mix of veterans… who have established themselves on the world scene, and for the first time in several years, I think we have some exciting young guys who are going to be on the team, and I look forward to seeing how they progress. We have a mixture between experience and youth that will be a lot of fun, and I think we’ll have a very interesting meet. We’ll see how it all shakes out.
And from Team Captain Matt Grevers: I think we have another great team dynamic this year. Everyone’s really excited to swim every day and get ready to compete, so hopefully we’ll be as successful, but like Natalie said, it’s kind of a down year, but a lot of us are ready to race.
The Analysis: The men’s team consists of 25 swimmers overall, 13 of whom are Olympians. Ten of those Olympians are Olympic medalists, nine of those are Olympic gold medalists. All 13 Olympians competed at last year’s games. Nine swimmers were members of the 2011 World Championships Team. Five have never competed for the U.S. at a major international competition.
The team’s average age is 24.67. Anthony Ervin is the oldest at 32, while Jordan Wilimovsky (open water) is the youngest at 19.
Of the five individual gold medalists for the men at last year’s games – Nathan Adrian (100 free), Tyler Clary (200 back), Matt Grevers (100 back), Ryan Lochte (400 IM) and Michael Phelps (100 fly, 200 IM) – only Phelps, who won 33 medals at Worlds over the course of his career, is missing from the action in Barcelona.
As usual, Lochte has the most extensive program and will likely swim seven events – the 200 free, the 200 back, the 200 IM, the 100 fly, the 4x100 free relay, the 4x100 medley relay and the 4x200 free relay. Adrian, Clary and Grevers will each swim the event in which they won gold in London, plus more. Adrian adds the 50 free to his program, while Clary adds the 400 IM and Grevers adds the 50 back and 50 fly.
Of those four, only Adrian and Lochte hold the top time in the world this year in any of their events – Adrian in the 50 free (21.47)and Lochte in the 200 IM (1:55.44).
Lochte will be competing in his fifth World Championships and has won 19 long course World medals over the course of his career.
Other veterans backing them up include Ricky Berens and Anthony Ervin, both of whom are competing in their third World Championships. Berens has won three golds over the course of his career at WCs, two in the 4x200 free relay and one swimming in the prelims of the 4x100 free relay. Ervin has won two – one in the 50 and 100 free, way back in 2001.
The men’s team features 12 swimmers who have never competed for the U.S. at a long course World Championships: Kevin Cordes, Jimmy Feigen, Nic Fink, Eugene Godsoe, BJ Johnson, Chase Kalisz, Michael Klueh, Tom Luchsinger, Michael McBroom, Matt McLean, Kevin Steel and Jordan Wilimaovski. Of these, Cordes, Fink, Johnson, Steel and Willimovski have never represented the U.S. at a major international competition.