By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, January 8, 2018
Traditionally speaking, the midpoint in any story is a turning point, when characters assemble themselves and journey in a slightly different direction. It’s the point in any story when, facing a new obstacle, different characters bind together and say, “Let’s do this.” When a new path is taken. When a new direction is embarked upon.
2018 is a swimmer’s midpoint, in terms of Olympiads. It is the middle year between Olympics. It is a year when a swimmer self-analyzes and determines if new paths are necessary. If changes are to be made. If this road culminating in 2020 indeed leads to a desired destination, or if a new, untraveled road looks more appealing.
This weekend, the first major event of 2018 commences: The TYR Pro Swim Series in Austin, at the University of Texas. A slew of veteran and up-and-coming swimmers are expected to compete, including most of your favorite 2016 Olympians and 2017 World Championship team members.
As always, here are the 5 Storylines To Watch…
1. Like a fine wine, Olympic veterans only get better with age…
This weekend, several 2012 and 2016 Olympic swimmers are scheduled to compete. Though these swimmers typically understand that a mid-January, mid-Olympiad swim meet isn’t necessarily the time to shave and taper, they don’t want to be dominated by swimmers half their age, either. For the professional swimmer, this meet is their job, their business. Expect them to compete well. In particular, I’ll be watching swimmers like Nathan Adrian, Dana Vollmer, and Matt Grevers — Olympic heroes from yesteryear who can still dominate.
2. USA Swim Squads.
Whoa, so this is new. For the first time ever, the TYR Pro Swim Series will try out a fun, fan-friendly experiment called “USA Swim Squads.” The concept is sort of like fantasy football mixed with a professional league: Four captains (Natalie Coughlin, Kaitlin Sandeno, Lenny Krayzelburg, and Jason Lezak) pick their teams from National and Olympic Team rosters. Then, throughout the TYR Pro Swim Series, each “team” attempts to score as highly as possible, with the winning team earning a charitable donation and sponsorship prizes. I think in the future, it’d be fun to see these teams grouped geographically and with aquatic-themed mascots, so I could cheer on the Midwestern Muskies. (Then again, that’s probably why I’m not in charge of making these decisions.)
3. New Year, New Events.
Taking another page from the “Let’s Entertain Both Swimmers and Fans More” handbook, new events are being offered throughout these TYR Pro Swim Series. In Austin, we’ll see 50-meter events organized in a “shootout style” finals. There will also be mixed medley relays (woo!) and a “mystery” 200 IM where the event order is announced right before the swim. My comment about the latter: This is awesome. Breaststrokers have long had IM advantage because of the traditional IM ordering with breaststroke coming third, meaning breaststrokers could dominate the third leg leading into the final freestyle leg. Don’t see what I mean? Imagine, now, that butterfly is the final leg. Make no doubt about it that if butterfly were the final leg of an IM, butterflyers would dominate IMs. It’s going to be fun to see if certain swimmers suddenly defeat traditional IMers based on stroke order. I know I’ll be tuning in.
4. Ryan Murphy continuing U.S. men’s backstroke supremacy.
I believe one of the keys leading into 2020 for the U.S. men’s swim team is Ryan Murphy (sorry, no pressure, Ryan). There’s a significant correlation between the United States having a historic dominance of 100-meter backstroke events as well as 400 medley relays. To get out into that lead, to break into fresh, clean water, and to establish momentum heading into the rest of the relay, that lead-off backstroke leg is, arguably, the most important. While backstroke is also one of the deepest events on the men’s side, the U.S. needs to have its best possible backstroker ready for 2020. It’ll be fun to see where Murphy’s at this year, and how he compares to other veterans, like Grevers.
5. Leah Smith highly seeded in the 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1500m freestyles.
Often looked over by the mainstream media is Leah Smith. Sure, Katie Ledecky is the freestyler of a generation. But Leah Smith is pretty darn impressive, too. This weekend, Smith is seeded with a strong chance to win four freestyle events, and could also take the 400 IM. Not bad for one weekend of racing. Smith could also be a key player in the USA Swim Squad challenge — kudos Kaitlin Sandeno for selecting her for the Sandeno Squad.