By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Over an entire career, a swimmer will have likely trained the distance of crossing the Pacific Ocean. (At least.) Imagine that: At age ten, you dive off the Santa Monica docks, then, a decade or so later, you freestyle up to the shores of Tokyo.
As the Pan Pacific Championships wrap up in Tokyo and swimmers return to hometown pools, swimmers’ minds and hearts are already dreaming about a return voyage: Returning in two years for the 2020 Olympics.
The Pan Pacific Championships proved to be an exciting swim meet: The competition was fierce, the times were swift, and Team USA gained valuable racing experience. Now, swimmers plot their next season and the next two years leading up to the Olympic Trials. It is the midpoint in the Olympiad. Two years down. Two years to go.
Here are Five Things We Learned from this Olympiad midpoint and the exciting Pan Pacific Championships…
1. The world — in particular, Team Japan — looks forward to 2020.
Every Olympics, the host country brings its best. Home crowd, home pool, home atmosphere. Though the sport of swimming is similar wherever there is water — a pool is a pool — a “home pool advantage” can be real. Knowing qualifiers will race in front of a home crowd provides that extra motivation to train harder, longer, and a little more. Yes, Team Japan looks to be gearing up for Tokyo 2020. Team Australia also looks formidable. Both swam well at these Pan Pacs. For Team USA, this past week was a good trial run and experience for swimmers eyeing the next Olympics.
2. Ryan Murphy is unbelievably consistent.
Ryan Murphy conquered both the 100m and 200m backstrokes in Tokyo. Should he repeat his Olympic feats of 2016, he aims to be one of the greatest backstrokers in history. Team USA will need Murphy to be at his absolute best in 2020 (more on that below) in order to fend off Japan in that medley relay in two years. For now, though, Murphy should enjoy the fact that he once again proved he’s the man to beat in both the 100 and 200 backstrokes, and in doing so, proved that he is one of the most consistent swimmers on Team USA’s roster.
3. Lily King is a sprint breaststroke superstar.
Before 2016, not many had heard of Lily King. Now, she’s a familiar face. King has proven that she has what it takes to consistently win. King won the 100m breaststroke this past week. Could she keep winning? Could she return to Tokyo and defend her Olympic crown? Fans love watching King’s fearless racing, and it’ll be exciting to see what next season holds.
4. Katie Ledecky swept the distance freestyle events, and in two years, she could have competition in the 400.
Before these Pan Pacs, there was quite a bit of chatter about Australia’s up-and-coming superstar freestyler, Ariarne Titmus. That’s why I made the 400 freestyle the meet’s “Can’t Miss Race.” Though Ledecky won the event hands-down, Titmus had an amazing swim herself. Titmus became the third woman in history to crack the 4-minute barrier in the 400 free. In doing so, she nipped at Ledecky’s heals. Tracking Titmus’ improvements these next few years, a swimmer who is only 17, will be interesting.
5. The 400 men’s medley relay could be close in Tokyo.
The United States has never lost the men’s 400 medley relay at the Olympics. Could they defend their Olympic crown in 2020? Judging by these past Pan Pacs results — Team Japan nearly took down the American contingent, one tenth away — anything can happen. Especially in two years in front of a home crowd. If Team USA is looking for motivation: Japan will want to conclude the Olympics with a medley relay victory. In many ways, this reminds me of when the Olympics were in Sydney in 2000: Team Australia had some great performances in front of their home crowd. The same could be true in two summers from now. It should be a very exciting season.