The USA-Australia rivalry has given way to the Phelps-Lochte rivalry. That’s not to say the USA is poised to add to their already-substantial medal counts — the contenders are simply spread out among the rest of the world. China had a fantastic World Championship at home, and the USA still lacks dominant swimmers at breaststroke and long-distance freestyle.
These projections will obviously draw quite heavily from the just-concluded World Championships, but the FINA site has a neat feature worth checking out as well — a “rankings” page that generates the best times in any given time period. So if you want to know the fastest times since the really fast high-tech suits were banned (1/1/2010), knock yourself out. Yes, I did that.
So when you see “PSSE,” that means “Post-Silly Suit Era.”
50: France’s Fred Bousquet has the top time (21.36) of the PSSE, but he had a rough time at Worlds, failing to reach the final. Brazil’s César Cielo Filho took the world title in 21.52, the second-best PSSE time, after being controversially cleared to compete (though, frankly, his alibi seems sound). The next seven swimmers in the final were separated by 0.21 seconds, with Italy’s Luca Dotto and France’s Alain Bernard edging out the USA’s Nathan Adrian, who was far slower than the 21.55 he posted in 2010. Brazil’s Bruno Fratus had the top time (21.76) in the world semifinals but couldn’t duplicate it in the final.
2008: César Cielo Filho (Brazil), Amaury Leveaux (France), Alain Bernard (France)
Projection: Brazil, France, USA
Top Americans: Adrian is the best bet; Cullen Jones ranks 12th PSSE and didn’t advance at Worlds.
100: The World final was a great one, with a top four of Australia’s James Magnussen (47.63), Canada’s Brent Hayden (47.95), France’s William Meynard (48.00) and Cielo Filho (48.01). Those swimmers are the top four PSSE, but Magnussen actually went even faster in the first leg of the 4×100 relay with a 47.49. Next on the rankings — the USA’s Nathan Adrian, who swam his 48.05 in the semis but faded to sixth behind France’s Fabien Gilot in the final, and Michael Phelps, who doesn’t swim this event but posted a 48.08 in pursuit of Magnussen in the relay. Magnussen is an easy call here — after that, it’s a tough one between the two French swimmers, one Brazilian and one American.
2008: Alain Bernard (France), Eamon Sullivan (Australia), Jason Lezak (USA), César Cielo Filho (Brazil) – tie for bronze
Projection: Australia, France, Canada
Top Americans: After Adrian, the next U.S. swimmer on the PSSE list is Garrett Weber-Gale in ninth with a 48.18. The ageless Jason Lezak competed at Worlds but didn’t advance.
200: This is the event in which Phelps might have the toughest time catching Lochte. They posted the top two PSSE times at Worlds, but Lochte’s 1:44.44 is a good bit ahead of Phelps’ 1:44.79. Phelps should improve enough to hold off South Korea’s Park Tae-Kwan, who posted a 1:44.80 at the 2010 Asian Games and was fourth at Worlds in 1:44.92. The bronze at Worlds went to Germany’s Paul Biedermann in 1:44.88. Fifth was France’s Yannick Agnel in 1:44.99. China’s Sun Yang tied that time in the 2011 Chinese nationals, but he didn’t compete in this event at Worlds. No one else is close.
2008: Michael Phelps (USA), Park Tae-Kwan (South Korea), Peter Vanderkaay (USA)
Projection: USA, USA, South Korea
Top Americans: If Phelps passes on this event, which no one has suggested, then 2008 bronze medalist Peter Vanderkaay should be in the mix if he can hold off Ricky Berens.
400: Park Tae-Kwan (South Korea) and Sun Yang (China) didn’t improve upon their PSSE bests at Worlds, but they still finished 1-2. Sun actually has the best PSSE time (3:41.48), closely followed by world champ Park (3:41.53). It’s a long way back to France’s Yannick Agnel (3:43.85), who posted that time in the French championships and could only manage sixth at Worlds. The bronze went to Germany’s Paul Biedermann (sounds familiar from the 200, doesn’t it?) in 3:44.14. The USA’s Peter Vanderkaay swam the World final in 3:44.83, good for fourth in the final and fifth in the rankings.
2008: Park Tae-Kwan (South Korea), Zhang Lin (China), Larsen Jensen (USA)
Projection: China, South Korea, Germany
Top Americans: Vanderkaay will make it a race. Charles Houchin didn’t qualify for the final at Worlds.
1,500: Before an appreciative home-country crowd in Shanghai, Sun Yang put in the performance of the World Championships, winning by 10.32 seconds in a world-record time of 14:34.14. The next three were more closely bunched — Canada’s Ryan Cochrane (14:44.46), Hungary’s Gergo Kis (14:45.66) and the Faroe Islands’ best medal hope (though he’ll be swimming for Denmark, a reader points out), Pal Joensen (14:46.33). Anyone else think the crowd might get behind the small-nation favorite?
2008: Oussama Mellouli (Tunisia), Grant Hackett (Australia), Ryan Cochrane (Canada)
Projection: China, Canada, Denmark (Faroe Islands)
Top Americans: Chad La Tourette (14:52.36) and Peter Vanderkaay finished 5-6 at Worlds. Vanderkaay was faster in qualifying at 14:54.99.
100: France’s Camille Lacourt has the fastest time by far (52.11) but could only share the world title with countryman Jeremy Stravius in 52.76. Britain’s Liam Tancock also fell short of his best — his 52.85 is third on the PSSE list, but he slipped to sixth at Worlds behind Japan’s Ryosuke Irie, the USA’s Nicholas Thoman and fellow American David Plummer.
2008: Aaron Peirsol (USA), Matt Grevers (USA), Hayden Stoeckel (Australia), Arkady Vyatchanin (Russia) – tie for bronze
Projection: France, Britain, USA
Top Americans: Peirsol has retired, but Grevers’ best is only 0.01 behind Plummer’s time at Worlds, giving the USA three legit contenders. Good time to mention that only two swimmers from each country can qualify for each event?
200: Ryan Lochte won the world title in 1:52.96, 1.15 seconds ahead of Japan’s Ryosuke Irie and the fastest time in the PSSE. But Irie has a slightly faster time that’s just 1.12 seconds behind Lochte. That’ll still leave Irie trying to hold off American Tyler Clary, whose 1:54.69 is nearly a second faster than Britain’s James Goddard in the PSSE. Goddard withdrew from Worlds with a shoulder injury.
2008: Ryan Lochte (USA), Aaron Peirsol (USA), Arkady Vyatchanin (Russia)
Projection: USA, Japan, USA
Top Americans: Peirsol’s actually fifth on the PSSE list. Michael Phelps is eighth. But this should be Lochte and Clary’s race.
100: Might be a glitch in the PSSE list here unless Canada’s Richard Funk really covered this distance in 29.27. The real leader here is world champ and 2008 silver medalist Alexander Dale Oen, who gave grief-stricken Norway a nice reason to cheer with a win in 58.71. Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, the 2008 gold medalist, has the next fastest time (59.04), but he posted that in 2010 and was nearly a second slower in a fourth-place finish at Worlds. Italy’s Fabio Scozzoli (59.42) and South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh (59.49) were the only other swimmers under 1 minute in the world final, though Kitajima (59.96) and New Zealand’s Glenn Snyders (59.94) were faster in qualifying. Kitajima also sailed in the semis, finishing in 59.77, and he’ll need to stay fast to hold off two other Japanese swimmers with times under 1 minute in the PSSE.
2008: Kosuke Kitajima (Japan), Alexander Dale Oen (Norway), Hugues Duboscq (France)
Projection: Norway, Japan, Italy
Top Americans: Brendan Hansen dominated in the middle of last decade and is working toward a comeback. Mark Gangloff made the final at Worlds but finished eighth.
200: Japanese swimmers have five of the top 10 PSSE times, but only 2008 gold medalist Kitajima was near that time at Worlds. Naoya Tomita, whose 2:08.25 in April is fastest on the list, didn’t make the final in Shanghai. Kitajima (2:08.36 last year) was second in Shanghai to Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta (2:08.41). Germany’s Christian Vom Lehm is fourth on the list (2:08.97) and was close to that mark in finishing third at Worlds, edging out American Eric Shanteau.
2008: Kosuke Kitajima (Japan), Brenton Rickard (Australia), Hugues Duboscq (France)
Projection: Japan, Hungary, Germany
Top Americans: Shanteau’s 2:09.28 was good for fourth at Worlds and sixth on the PSSE list. No one else is in the top 15, though Hansen would likely make it if he gets close to his prior form.
100: Another glitch at FINA — Australia’s Mitchell Patterson has a short-course time of 49.51 listed with the long-course (Olympic standard) times. The real top PSSE time belongs to Michael Phelps (50.65), and he came close to it in a comfortable come-from-behind win at Worlds. Poland’s Konrad Czerniak (51.15) was just ahead of the USA’s Tyler McGill (51.26) for second. Kenya’s Jason Dunford (51.59) was next, and five more swimmers have times of 51.70 or better.
2008: Michael Phelps (USA), Milorad Čavić (Serbia), Andrew Lauterstein (Australia)
Projection: USA, Poland, USA
Top Americans: McGill has a good lead on the rest of the country.
200: Phelps (1:53.34) beat Japan’s Takeski Matsuda (1:54.01) at Worlds. Third on the PSSE list (1:54.61) is the wildest of wild cards — Nick D’Arcy, who was kicked off Australia’s 2008 Olympic and 2009 World Championship teams in a nasty assault case. D’Arcy beat Phelps in Santa Clara earlier this year but didn’t compete at Worlds. In his absence, China’s Wu Peng (1:54.67) and Chen Yin (1:55.00) took third and fourth. Chen went faster (1:54.80) in qualifying, as did Austria’s Dinko Jukic (1:54.94). Hungary’s Bence Biczo is fifth on the PSSE list at 1:54.79 but was nearly a second slower in the finals at Worlds.
2008: Michael Phelps (USA), László Cseh (Hungary), Takeshi Matsuda (Japan)
Projection: USA, Japan, Australia (depends entirely on whether D’Arcy can compete)
Top Americans: Clary isn’t as close to Phelps in this event.
200: The best race of Shanghai — Ryan Lochte set a world record at 1:54.00 and needed that time to hold off Michael Phelps (1:54.16). The Americans would need to stumble badly to have something other than 1-2 finish here. Hungary’s László Cseh, the 2008 silver medalist, finished 3.69 seconds behind Lochte to hold off Britain’s James Goddard by a tenth of a second and take bronze in Shanghai. Brazil’s Thiago Pereira and Austria’s Markus Rogan have broken 1:58, setting themselves firmly in the race for bronze.
2008: Michael Phelps (USA), László Cseh (Hungary), Ryan Lochte (USA)
Projection: USA, USA, Britain
Top Americans: Poor Tyler Clary — he’s fourth on the PSSE list but will only make the team if Lochte or Phelps passes. Fortunately, he’s a medal contender elsewhere.
400: Another American 1-2 in Shanghai, but of a different sort. Phelps holds the world record but has dropped this distance from his program. That left Lochte swimming by himself at Worlds, with his 4:07.13 a full four seconds and change faster than Tyler Clary (4:11.17). Clary has gone faster (4:09.20). Cseh has the third-best PSSE time (4:10.95) but was way off the pace in qualifying at Worlds. Fellow Hungarian David Verraszto is fourth (4:11.71) but finished sixth at Worlds. Next on the list is China’s Wang Cheng Xiang (4:11.89), but he was just a little slower at Worlds and finished fourth. The bronze, in a relatively close finish behind Clary, went to Japan’s Yuya Horihata (4:11.98).
2008: Michael Phelps (USA), László Cseh (Hungary), Ryan Lochte (USA)
Projection: USA, Hungary, USA
Top Americans: All Lochte and Clary.
4×100 free: A big loss for the USA in Shanghai, and it wasn’t an upset. James Magnussen staked Australia to a big lead that three swimmers ranked 19th through 27th on the PSSE list were able to hold. France, which has two of the top eight (three of the top 14), was a close second. On paper, with four of the top 16 on the PSSE list, perhaps the USA should win this race. But it’s hardly a foregone conclusion. They should, however, put more of a gap between themselves and fourth-place Italy. Or fifth-place Russia.
2008: USA, France, Australia
Projection: Australia, USA, France
Top Americans: Phelps was second to Magnussen in the opening leg in Shanghai. Garrett Weber-Gale gave up a bit of time in the second leg to Australia, France and even eventual sixth-place finisher South Africa. Jason Lezak has worked relay magic for the USA in the past but gave up time to the rest of the top six and left Nathan Adrian starting fourth off the blocks for the anchor leg. Adrian flew past South Africa to get the USA on the podium.
4×200 free: Even with Phelps curiously third after his first leg in Shanghai, this distance is a little safer for the USA, which beat France by 2.14 seconds and China by an even 3. Even with Paul Biedermann leading off, Germany could only manage fourth, just ahead of Australia. Russia has some good freestylers but wasn’t deep enough to qualify for the final. Britain may have underachieved in Shanghai and could do better at home.
2008: USA, Russia, Australia
Projection: USA, France, Germany
Top Americans: Peter Vanderkaay ranked 10th on the PSSE list and was much faster than anyone else swimming the second leg in Shanghai. Ricky Berens is tied for 15th and lost the lead to France but raced away from everyone else. The anchor leg? Some guy named Lochte.
4×100 medley: This one was very close in Shanghai, and it’s easy to see why. Japan opened up with backstroke ace Ryosuke Irie and breaststroke vet Kosuke Kitajima to take a nice lead over Germany, Australia and the USA. Then Michael Phelps gained back a second or more over the rest of the top three, handing off in second behind Japan. Nathan Adrian surged past Japan and held off Australia’s James Magnussen to win by 0.20 seconds. Germany held on for third over Japan. The top four finished within 0.83 seconds.
2008: USA, Australia, Japan
Projection: USA, Japan, Australia
Top Americans: Can Lochte get in the pool, maybe in the backstroke leg? Adrian is a viable option in freestyle with Phelps nailing down butterfly. Breaststroke is an issue unless Brendan Hansen makes a comeback.
10k: This has turned into a sad, controversial event with the tragic death of Fran Crippen and the ensuing squabbles over when it’s too hot to swim. Many swimmers dropped out or didn’t even start the 25k race in Shanghai. That should be less of an issue in cooler London, which will host the lone open water event of the Games in Hyde Park’s Serpentine Lake. Russia, Germany and Italy are the traditional powers in this sport, followed by the USA, Australia and Spain. So naturally, a Dutchman won the 2008 gold medal and a Greek (Spyros Gianniotis) won in Shanghai. Then it was Germany (perennial podium finisher Thomas Lurz), Russia (Sergey Bolshakov), the USA (Alex Meyer), Australia (Ky Hurst) and Spain (Francisco Jose Hervas).
2008: Maarten van der Weijden (Netherlands), David Davies (Britain), Thomas Lurz (Germany)
Projection: Germany, Russia, USA
Top Americans: After Meyer, who was a close friend of Crippen’s and has been understandably outspoken about swimmer safety, Sean Ryan placed 25th in Shanghai.
Medal count will wait until we’ve also included women’s swimming.