June 4th, 2015

Matt Grevers and Missy Franklin, U.S. nationals trophy winners in 2014 - by Peter BickMatt Grevers and Missy Franklin, U.S. nationals trophy winners in 2014 - by Peter Bick

With this week’s conclusion of the SwimVortex event-by-event previews for the upcoming World Championships in Kazan, it is now time to put a wrap on the look at the Team USA opportunities for the action in Russia in a few months. Previously, SwimVortex took a glance at how the Americans would fare in individual disciplines. Now, the relays receive inspection.

As a reminder, while most nations have recently concluded their Trials for the World Champs, the Team USA roster was selected last year. Consequently, the 2015 campaign has not allowed for much in the way of proof in terms of how the American stars are lining up. The upcoming Santa Clara stop on the USA Pro Series, however, should offer up some clarity concerning athlete status.

In ranking the American relays on their way to Kazan, we’ll use the following rating system devised by SwimVortex. Relays can be slotted into five categories based on how they are expected to perform. Not surprisingly, and with history serving as support, each of the American relays ranked in a higher-level category.

Rating System

Guest of Honor: The relay not only will be on the podium. The members know the combination to the top step.

Special Honoree: The relay has a key to the podium. It’s a matter of which lock it will open.

On the Dais: The relay is likely to advance to the final, but a medal is not a foregone conclusion.

Banquet Attendee: The relay is part of the festivities, but advancing beyond the preliminaries will be a chore.

Autograph Seeker: The relay is there for the experience. Expectations are minimal.

With that refresher of the rankings, here is analysis of the United States relays. (Note: Mixed relays are not included, as it remains to be seen how much emphasis will be placed on this new addition to the World Champs program).

400 Freestyle Relay

Men (On the Dais): The decision here hovered back and forth between Special Honoree and On the Dais, the latter ultimately prevailing. Although the shoulder injury to James Magnussen hammered the medal hopes of Australia, the field is still going to be formidable. Any one of France, the United States, Russia and Brazil can make an argument for top honors.

nathanadrianThe presence of Nathan Adrian means a consistent veteran presence, but question marks abound otherwise. Can Jimmy Feigen produce at the level of his silver-medal individual swim in the 100 free from the 2013 World Championships? Can Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer, more middle-distance guys, put forth the best two-lap outings of their careers, or will Anthony Ervin stretch up? Will the absence of Michael Phelps be overcome? Of all the relays, this unit is the most unpredictable, capable of winning gold, but also not a cinch for a medal.

Women (Special Honoree): The Australian women have a firm grip on this event, what with the Campbell sisters and Emma McKeon headlining, but the American women look solid enough to claim either silver or bronze. It starts with having a pair of 53-low performers (faster to come?) in Missy Franklin and Simone Manuel.

One of the more interesting storylines will be what Abbey Weitzeil can provide. A recent high school graduate, Weitzeil has torn up the short-course pool, at one juncture holding the American record in the 100 free. Whether she can transfer that success to the big pool will go a long way in determining the level of success for Team USA. Given her talent, Weitzeil is expected to be a future star. Other potential contributors include Lia Neal, Shannon Vreeland, Margo Geer and Katie Ledecky.

800 Freestyle Relay

Men (Special Honoree): The United States has not dropped this relay in international competition since dethroning the Australians at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. But there was a close call last summer at the Pan Pacific Championships, with Japan nearly upending the U.S., and this summer brings no guarantee of gold.

With Michael Phelps and Matt McLean (injury) out of the picture, Team USA is going to work at less than full force. Obviously, having Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer supply a strong 1-2 combination is comforting, but extending the streak of global success to a 12th year will require career-best outings from the likes of Reed Malone, Clay Youngquist and Michael Klueh, to name a few. Connor Jaeger, staring at a full distance schedule, is also an option.

Women (Guest of Honor): When you have a front-back tandem of Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin, optimism reigns supreme. No other country can match the firepower brought to the table by Ledecky and Franklin, each of whom will almost assuredly be in the 1:54 range, if not faster. For that reason, it’s hard to see anyone knocking the United States off the top of the podium.

Katie Ledecky, by Peter Bick

Katie Ledecky, by Peter Bick

The high-octane fuel of the aforementioned ladies obviously gives the United States a bit of breathing room with the other half of the relay, although it’s not like that cushion is going to be sorely needed. With the likes of Shannon Vreeland and Leah Smith as options, the Americans are in a good place. Meanwhile, other choices include rising stars Simone Manuel, Katie McLaughlin and Cierra Runge.

400 Medley Relay

Men (Special Honoree): Until Great Britain showed its strength earlier this year, the United States would have been the Guest of Honor. But Adam Peaty and his potential to create a chasm in the breaststroke leg altered the forecast. Nonetheless, the U.S. is going to be tough to take down, especially with a Matt Grevers and Nathan Adrian bookend.

Despite Michael Phelps’ absence from Worlds, Tom Shields was 51-low last year in the 100 butterfly and will hold down that leg admirably. The key is going to be keeping Peaty from running away, and that duty will go to Cody Miller, Nic Fink or Kevin Cordes. Although Cordes did not qualify to race the 100 breaststroke in Kazan, the coaching staff has the discretion to utilize his skills, and if Cordes looks sharp in the 50 breast and 200 breast, it won’t be a shocker to see him on the second leg.

Women (Guest of Honor): Does the United States have some question marks on this relay? Yes. But so does every other nation, and it doesn’t seem like the American grasp of this discipline is going to end. With Missy Franklin on the front end, early momentum will be generated before Jessica Hardy goes into breaststroke duty, and likely creates a gap on Australia, which has a star of its own on the front in Emily Seebohm.

The big question for Team USA is how Kendyl Stewart or Claire Donahue will handle the butterfly leg, and how well they can do keeping the heavy hitters on that leg from narrowing the gap. If Stewart or Donahue does an admirable job, then Simone Manuel should have enough padding to hold off the exceptional Cate Campbell, who will be in catchup mode largely due to Australia’s need to enhance its breaststroke leg. It is worth noting, though, that Taylor McKeown is developing and will play a critical role in Australia’s push.

 

Source : Swim Vortex