5 Storylines to Watch at the World Junior Swimming Championships
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
If the World Championships offers the world’s best competition this year, than the World Junior Championships may as well offer the world’s best competition in the years to come. The 2013 World Juniors--taking place this week in Dubai--feature the best teenage swimmers on Earth. Many have made names for themselves this summer, smashing NAGs and swimming jaw-dropping times. They are the next wave of great American swimmers.
Likely, with improvement, growth, and maturity, they will one day assume the reins from Lochte, Coughlin, Grevers, and Franklin. These teens are not only the next great U.S. swimmers, but the next great NCAA captains and leaders. Current Team USA captains, Courtney Wever, Kylie Stewart, Gunnar Bentz, and Matthew Josa, should all have outstanding NCAA careers, and they’ll learn valuable leadership roles assuming responsibility for an international team while still in high school.
World Juniors foreshadows what’s ahead: In 1,074 days, we could be seeing some of these swimmers in Rio. (Is Rio only 1,074 days away?)
As always, here are your 5 Storylines To Watch…
1. Is Caeleb Dressel The Best Age Group Sprinter Ever?
Dressel, just 16-years-old, has been smashing NAG times throughout this summer. Some have even proclaimed him to be the greatest U.S. age group sprinter in history. It’s hard to argue. Check out some of Dressel’s times: 22.3 in the 50m free, 49.2 in the 100m free. Many swimmers dream of those times at any age. Dressel has achieved those times at 16-years-old. While many collegiate coaches are giddy with the prospect of landing Dressel, for now, the teenage swimmer will compete internationally and show the world what he’s got. No doubt that Bolles has been churning out teen phenoms with an incredible consistency. With a few more seasons, Dressel might even challenge veterans to become not just the best teen sprinter around, but best sprinter, period.
2. Kylie Stewart vs. Kathleen Baker in the 200m backstroke.
No stroke in the United States is more competitive than women’s backstroke. Missy Franklin, Olivia Smoliga, Rachel Bootsma are just a few superstars in what could be America’s deepest and most star-studded stroke. And in a few years, you might have to add Kylie Stewart and Kathleen Baker to that list, too. Dynamo’s Stewart looks like she’ll have a breakout swim in the 200m back this week, but SwimMAC’s Baker stands in her way. Both are young. Both hail from mega swim clubs known for churning out swim talent. And they both aim to score a 1-2 finish in one of the deepest events for Team USA.
3. Can Gunnar Bentz Gun Down Michael Phelps’ 400 IM NAG?
Gunnar Bentz can seemingly do it all. 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 breaststroke… the Dynamo-trained swimmer reminds me of Eric Shanteau – an IMer with a strong breaststroke (or vice-versa). He’s been dropping impressive times this summer, but no time impressed me more than his 400 IM. It’s rare to find a teenager who can swim a 400 IM well, let alone challenge the likes of older, stronger swimmers in the United States. Right now, Bentz swam a 4:14 long course. Phelps’ NAG is 4:09. Is it a stretch? Yes. Could he do it in the future? That remains to be seen. Certainly another age grouper, Andrew Seliskar, the 16-year-old who earlier broke Phelps’ 200 IM NAG, will challenge Bentz in the years to come. But for now, the 400 IM belongs to Bentz, and I’m excited to see how fast he’ll swim this week.
4. Rebecca Mann has a full plate.
Becca Mann is the energizer bunny of age group distance swimming. At World Juniors, she’s signed up for 5 events, including the 1500m. It’s like Mann enjoys all the “difficult” events. Many swim fans have been watching Mann’s success closely. After all, she was the youngest qualifier on the World Championship team earlier this summer in the open water event. Though Mann is just 15-years-old, she certainly doesn’t seem to back down from any challenge. Expect her to pop some great swims, and give herself even more momentum heading into the short course season.
5. Justin Lynch: Faster Than Phelps Was At 16.
By now, everyone knows there’s a huge, gaping hole in the U.S. 100m butterfly. That’s what happens when the greatest swimmer of all-time retires. Many people are eyeing that event as one of the more unpredictable events heading into the next few years. It’s seemingly wide-open. Justin Lynch is a teenage phenom to watch: He’s already broken Michael Phelps’ NAG record in the 15/16 100m butterfly. He’s gone 52.75, an incredible time for anyone, let alone a 16-year-old. Can he drop more? Only time will tell (pun intended.)
Be sure to follow along on USASwimming.org all this week for World Juniors results!