BARCELONA – The first day in the pool at the 2013 World Championships.
This is when the storylines begin to take shape – not just for the next eight days, but for the next three years leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Seven of America’s 10 Olympic Gold medalists from London return to the international stage this week at Palau Sant Jordi pool. Do they still have what it takes to stay on top?
In the meantime, 26 members of the U.S. team are competing at a long-course World Championships for the first time in their career. Now’s their chance to test their mettle against the best competition the rest of the world has to offer, and gain valuable international racing experience.
The journey into the next four years begins today in the pool. Here are some notes from the first chapter – this morning’s prelims.
Women’s 100m Butterfly
Both of the United States’ Olympians from last year’s Games competed in this morning’s prelims. Olympic gold medalist and world-record-holder Dana Vollmer took the top seed in 57.22, six-hundredths of a second ahead of Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom. Olympic finalist Claire Donahue qualified 10th in 58.58. Both Vollmer and Donahue will be swimming in tonight’s semifinals.
This meet marks Vollmer’s fourth appearance at a World Championships. Over the course of her career, she has won eight medals at Worlds, including three gold. Back in 2011, she won the U.S.’s first gold in this event since 2003, then went on to win gold and set a world record at the 2013 Games in London.
“Obviously last year, I had an incredible year of training, but my Olympic race wasn’t a perfect race by any means,” Vollmer said. “When I finished that race I knew I could be faster than that. I did take some time away from the pool (after the Olympics), but coming back, I felt recharged and refocused, and I spent a lot of time with my teammates and my coaches on ways to improve on that 55.9.
“Some of my practices leading up to this meet, I’ve gone faster in the pool than I have ever in my life, and so I’m just going to get up on the blocks and see how fast I can go, and I’m just going to race. There’s amazing competitors in my heat with me. Instead of focusing on time, I’m just going to focus on staying with them and hopefully touching ahead of them.”
So what will Vollmer be working on to improve on her world-record time?
“You want me to reveal all my secrets?” Vollmer said. “Looking at my race, I keep trying to improve my starts and my underwaters, so I keep working on little things like that. Obviously not having my cap fall off at the end of the race – it would be nice not to have that happen. There’s always ways to figure out how my body can be more efficient and more aware of the ways I can make it move faster in the water. Each race I have, I keep learning new things about how I race. Hopefully it all comes together as I’m charging to that wall.”
Men’s 400m Freestyle
No semifinals for this one – just prelims this morning and finals tonight. Olympian Connor Jaeger will be the lone American competing for a medal, qualifying seventh in 3:47.83. Teammate Matt McLean was 13th in 3:49.74. If Jaeger grabs some hardware tonight, it will be the first time in the last nine World Championships that an American has medaled in this event. The top seed is China’s Sun Yang in 3:44.67.
Women’s 200m IM
Elizabeth Beisel and Caitlin Leverenz took 1-2 in their prelim heat this morning to qualify fourth and fifth for tonight’s semifinals, turning in times of 2:11.16 and 2:11.54, respectively. Leverenz was the Olympic bronze medalist in this event in 2012. Beisel, the 2011 world champion in the 400m IM, will be swimming this shorter event for the first time at a long course World Championships. American women have won the 200 IM in four of the last six World Championships. Ariana Kukors won the last two gold medals in this event, in 2009 and 2011.
Men’s 50m Butterfly
Fresh faces Matt Grevers and Eugene Godsoe qualified sixth and seventh for tonight’s seminfals, turning in times of 23.29 and 23.31. Grevers’ face might not be so fresh, but it’s his first time competing in this event at a long course World Championships. Godsoe, meanwhile, is swimming in his first long course Worlds meet. Ian Crocker is the only American to medal in this event at Worlds. He won silver three times – in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Women’s 400m Freestyle
Like the men’s 400m freestyle, the women’s race will go straight from this morning’s prelims to tonight’s finals. American Katie Ledecky, the Olympic gold medalist in the 800m free at last year’s Games, leads the field heading into tonight’s finals in 4:03.05. That makes her the third-fastest American of all time in this event, and the second-fastest swimmer in the world this year. The last time an American woman won gold in this event was distance legend Janet Evans in 1991. Diana Munz won the last medal for the U.S. in this event – a bronze – in 2003. Ledecky’s teammate, Chloe Sutton, finished 10th in this morning’s prelims in 4:07.16, and did not qualify for tonight’s finals.
Men’s 100m Breaststroke
Two swimmers making their first appearance at a World Championships and representing the U.S. for the first time in any major international-level competition – Kevin Cordes and Nic Fink – qualified sixth and 11th for tonight’s semifinals. Cordes’ time was 1:00.01. Fink touched in 1:00.18. The last time an American medaled in this event was Brendan Hansen’s gold in 2007.
Women’s 400m Free Relay
Simone Manuel, Natalie Coughlin, Elizabeth Pelton and Megan Romano powered the U.S. to the top spot in the women’s 4x100m free relay this morning in 3:36.22. Their splits were as follows: Manuel, 53.23 (RT .73); Coughlin 54.09 (RT .29); Pelton 54.66 (RT .34), Romano 53.24 (RT .13). Missy Franklin and Shannon Vreeland will likely be added to the mix tonight. The final line-up will not be released until tonight’s finals. The U.S. last won gold at World Championships in this event in 2003. They will be looking to improve on their silver-medal finish at 2011 Worlds, and their bronze-medal finish at last year’s Olympic Games.
Men’s 400m Free Relay
Jimmy Feigen, Anthony Ervin, Ricky Berens and Conor Dwyer swam to first seed in this morning’s prelims of the men’s 400m free relay in 3:11.69. Their splits were as follows: Feigen, 48.39 (RT. 68); Ervin, 47.38 (RT .37) ; Berens, 47.56 (RT .07); Dwyer, 48.36 (RT.31). Look for Nathan Adrian and Ryan Lochte to swim in tonight’s finals. The final line-up will not be revealed until then. The U.S. has won gold in 11 of 14 World Championships – the last in 2009.
What are head coach Bob Bowman’s expectations for this race?”
“Same as they always are,” Bowman said. “I do think this relay will be a big challenge for us, but I think we’re up to it. We’re certainly going to put our best team together and see how it stacks up. But it’s a very wide open race in that race. Any one of four teams, I think, can be in any position on the podium. It will be a fight, and we’ll definitely have to be ready.”
Adrian echoed Bowman’s sentiments.
“No one’s going to take a medal away from Team USA in that relay without us going down with a fight,” Adiran said. “I think we have some pretty good guys, some guys who haven’t really shown the world what they can do yet. I think they’re ready to go in that 400 freestyle relay.”