Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why This Nationals is Far More Important Than You Think

I hope he's not alone.
I'm writing this on a plane out to Palo Alto. The fact that I'm doing so astounds me. I mean I am LITERALLY flying through the air. This is very cool. As I fly, I'm pondering the fact that many people are viewing this nationals as somewhat of a sideshow in between World Championships in Shanghai and the coming World University Games. Here's why they're wrong.

If you look only at medal count, Shanghai was clearly a success for team USA. After a down performance in 2009 that was primarily blamed on those pesky body suits, the US team won twice as many medals as the 2nd place team (China). In 2009 the US team tallied just 22 medals, in 2011 that number rose to 29. The number rose for several reasons: the US women reasserted themselves in the relays, winning two and taking silver in one after failing to medal in both the 4x100 freestyle and medley relays in Rome. For the men, Ryan Lochte boosted the count by taking on the 200 freestyle and several other role players chipped in.

However, if you look beneath the surface of the meet there are undeniable reasons for concern. All those reasons make this week's national meet, and the subsequent Junior National meet, all the more vital. Here are a few things that worry me as I look across our results:

1. Men's sprinting- What seemed like nothing to worry about twelve months ago suffered a downturn in 2011. Much of this, unfortunately, falls on the shoulders of Nathan Adrian, who was excellent in winning both the 50 and 100 free at last summer's Pan Pacific Championship. This summer was a different story, as Adrian regressed slightly while a younger James Magnussen dramatically vaulted past him.  2011 was also the year that France started showing a bit more of the scary depth they've appeared to have in the last few years.

2. Men's breaststroke- The performance by the male breaststrokers in Shanghai was one of the worst I can remember, Michael Alexandrov failed to make it to the semi-final in the 100 and Gangloff finished last in the final. Shanteau nearly medaled in the 200, but again our second breasttroker failed to make it through to the semi. What's more troubling again is the relative age of the swimmers involved. Germany's Christian vom Lehn is just 19 year old and likely to get significantly better over the next year. Likewise Hungary's Gyurta is still just 22, making him younger than both Keefer and Shanteau.

3. Women's Freestyle- As I've joked about on our facebook page and twitter, the US team is now behind tiny Denmark in every women's freestyle event save the 200 free. This is not good. Part of that has to do with the fact that Missy Franklin hadn't yet emerged as a force when this World team was introduced. She likely would have medaled in the 100 free and given her age should only improve over the next year. Still, Franklin likely won't take on the 400 or 800, where the US has had a serious drought of star power in recent history.

Now here's the good news for fans of America's swim team: we're still on top. The women's team is going to get a nice bump from Franklin. The bad news is that the trend is towards the best swimmers 20 or under being mostly being foreign in men's events. Consider this list of the highest finisher under 20 in each men's Olympic event alongside the fastest American of similar age:

50 Free: 21.96 vs 22.97
100 free: 47.49 vs 50.46
200 Free: 1:44.99 vs 1:49.37
400 Free: 3:43.85 vs 3:52.88
1500 Free: 14:34.15 vs 15:04.84
100 Back: 53.50 vs 54.90
200 Back: 1:57.23 vs 1:58.96
100 Breast 1:01.26 vs 1:01.99
200 Breast: 2:09.06 vs 2:13.53
100 Fly:  52.44 vs 52.21
200 Fly: 1:54.79 vs 1:58.53
200 IM: 1:59.02 vs 2:00.61
400 IM: 4:13.62 vs 4:20.55

As good as David Nolan is, he has to continue to improve rapidly to be competitive The lone faster American male is Tim Phillips in the 100 fly. Many events aren't even close.

Now to be fair, this is comparing performance from this summer to American performance mostly from last summer. But, it should highlight strongly just how far we have to come to keep pace with an ever quickening world.


  1. it will be interesting to see how fast Brendan Hansen swims this week. I really hope the other breast strokers put up strong times..

    Also Matt Grevers will be in the water, and after a disspointing nationals last year- he has been on swimming well this season. It should be interesting to see his times compared to the rest of the world.

  2. Matt Elliot has already been faster than 101.99 this summer in the 100 breast and I would expect him to be even faster tonight