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5 Storylines to Watch at Short Course Worlds

12/12/2012

By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

I wish there was a Short Course Olympics. Short course is a world in itself. Turns become vital. Finishes are the differences between winning and losing. Most of the competitive swimmers in the country practice in short course pools. I love the “regular” Olympics, but sometimes, just once in a while, I’d love to not mentally convert long course times to short course times in order to gauge just how epic a particular Olympics performance truly was. I’d love to see a short course version of the Olympics, to compare how certain swimmers would do in a different format.

The Short Course World Championships are sort of like that: A mini Olympics. They’re short course, which allows fans to see how swimmers fare in a format they most consistently train in. Short course is faster, and with more turns, which means there is more opportunity for surges, mistakes, and strategies. Though there are a few bigger names missing these Short Course World Championships (Missy Franklin, among others), it’s still going to be a hugely competitive meet. It’s the Big Meet of the Season.

Because the meet takes place in Instanbul, Turkey, finals are slated to begin sometime around noon EST. Be sure to check back on USASwimming.org for updates.

And, as always, here are 5 Storylines To Watch…

5. Can Matt Grevers become the Greatest Sprint Backstroker Ever?
At the AT&T Winter Nationals, Matt Grevers solidified himself as the fastest short course yards sprint backstroker ever. There, Grevers broke Ryan Lochte’s American record with a sizzling 44.55 (swimming against Lochte himself). He’s the defending Olympic champion. Now, Grevers has an opportunity to break the short course METERS world record. The time – set by USA Olympic teammate Nick Thoman back in 2009 – is a swift 48.94. Can Grevers break that? Remember: 2009 was the year that full-length polyurethane swim suits were allowed in competition. Grevers will have to best Thoman’s mark in the old-school wardrobe of jammer ‘n’ skin. If he does – or comes close – you’d have to write Matt Grevers’ name among the greatest backstrokers of all-time. Olympic champion. American record holder in yards. World record holder for meters? He’ll have his shot.

4. Is Kevin Cordes the new Brendan Hansen?
The breaststroke leg is crucial for USA success in any medley relay. Over the years, Brendan Hansen has been “that guy” we’ve turned to on medleys – dependable, quick, solid. A few weeks ago, a new name entered the conversation to become the next great American breaststroker: Kevin Cordes. He broke the American record a few weeks ago (yards) in the 100 breast. He’s just 19-years-old. He’ll be chasing down his first World Championship title. Can he come close to Cameron Van Der Burgh’s world record? Most swim fans would like Cordes to approach that world record, especially considering this summer’s confession that Olympic champion Van Der Burgh admitted to using an illegal dolphin kick to gain a competitive advantage in the Olympics. Keep your eyes on Cordes -- both in the sprints, and in the relay. My feeling is, you’ll be seeing him for years to come.

3. Will Jessica Hardy return to the podium in the 100 breast?
After serving a one-year suspension for testing positive for an illegal substance, Jessica Hardy returned to the competitive swimming world in 2009 with a bang. She broke the world record (long course) in the 100 breast in her first meet at the FINA World Cup. Most pegged Hardy to be a shoe-in for the Olympic roster, but she missed a spot, losing to Rebecca Soni and up-and-comer (and now current American record holder) Breeja Larson. With both Soni and Larson missing this meet, eyes turn towards Hardy. Can she come close to Soni’s world record time? Can she return to the top of the world rankings in the 100 breaststroke? It’ll be interesting how this event unfolds for Hardy, who qualified for the Olympics in the sprint freestyle, not the breaststroke. She’s seeded first.

2. Which Ryan Lochte will we see: The Lochtenator? Or the still-getting-back-into-it Lochte?
Ryan Lochte knows when to perform. When you’re a multiple-time Olympic gold medalist, you know how to pace out your peak performances. Ryan Lochte has been one of the most dominant World Championships swimmers in recent years. But where is he at now with training? After taking some time off after the Olympics, we can’t expect Ryan Lochte to perform personal best times. He may be transitioning over into becoming one of those swimmers who only focuses on the Olympics, like Phelps did after 2008. But there will be some outstanding challenges at these World Championships for Lochte, especially that 200 freestyle. He’ll battle Paul Biedermann, current world-record holder. Depending on how Lochte does in this 200 freestyle, we’ll know which Ryan Lochte we’ll be seeing the rest of the World Championships.

1. Anthony Ervin’s 50 freestyle.
People who know me know I’m an Anthony Ervin fan. His story is just so… interesting. He won Olympic gold as a teenager. He retired from the sport, pursued other endeavors, moved around, and then, from seemingly nowhere, returned to the sport to qualify for the Olympics as a 31-year-old. His journey back to the forefront of swimming is inspiring, but also incredibly interesting. Some people have questioned, “Would Anthony have won Olympic gold medals had he not retired and taken nearly eight years off?” To me, it’s more of a chicken vs. egg theory. Who’s to say? Who’s to say Ervin would have qualified for London had he NOT taken time off? What’s known is this: Ervin has taken the road less traveled. And that road still involves swim competition, even after the Olympics. Ervin competed in the FINA World Cup, where he dominated the sprint events, and even set an American record. At 31, he’s getting faster. I expect big things from Ervin at these World Championships… and, hopefully, in the years to come.