Matt Grevers reacts to winning the 200m butterfly at the Duel in the Pool in the Georgia Tech Aquatics Center.
Courtesy of: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
By David Rieder

BILBAO, Spain, July 20. AS the countdown reaches a week until the World Championships begin in Barcelona, the U.S. National team has gathered in Bilbao for final preparations for the meet. Word began spilling via twitter today that the team has selected four captains for the meet, two for each the men's team and women's team. They fulfilled a longstanding tradition of selecting athletes as leaders for the meet; over the past five years, names such as Brendan Hansen, Aaron Peirsol, and Jason Lezak have received the distinction for the men's team, while Natalie Coughlin, Dara Torres, and Amanda Beard have served the women.

This year, the team voted Matt Grevers and Ricky Berens to represent the men's team, while Coughlin and Dana Vollmer will lead the women. These four captains will provide veteran leadership to a much younger and less experienced team than the ones that dominated London, Shanghai, Rome, Beijing, and elsewhere in the past. Just eight members out of the entire team swam for the Stars and Stripes at the 2008 Olympics, while only Coughlin, Vollmer, and Ryan Lochte qualified for the Athens team in 2004. Anthony Ervin returns from the 2000 Olympic team as well to round out the short list of experienced athletes.

The four captains have the edge in international experience as well as a first-hand understanding of the ups and downs that swimming offers. Few have experienced that to a greater extent than Matt Grevers. Two years after winning the silver medal in the 100 back at the 2008 Olympics, Grevers shockingly failed to make the U.S. teams with one disappointing meet. He continued to race and beat the top finishers at the 2011 World Championships, but he had no opportunity to win the title he coveted. He converted the disappointment into triumph, however, when he returned to win the Olympic title in the 100 back in 2012, one place better than his finish four years earlier.

Vollmer won three Olympic gold medals at the London Olympics one year ago, eight years after she picked up her first in Athens. In between, however, she faced adversity that no one on the team has experienced. She dealt with injuries and illness, and she missed the Olympic team by one spot in 2008. After that experience, she rebounded quickly to become one of the most consistent swimmers in America, and last year she became the best ever in the 100 fly. Berens, meanwhile, captained his Texas team to consecutive runner-up finishes at NCAAs before getting extremely sick, along with much of his team, before the championships his senior year. Still, Berens and the team gutted out clutch performances to earn the elusive team title.

The experience of all three of these captains will provide a helping hand to inexperienced team members struggling to adapt to the biggest of stages. Natalie Coughlin, since missing out on the Olympic team all the way back in 2000, has been a winner, touching first or at least on the podium in every Olympic race she has swum and most of her races at Worlds. Even when she struggles at a meet, Coughlin finds ways to improve herself in her later races and get her hand on the wall. She did just that at last summer's Olympic Trials when she needed to touch sixth or better in the 100 free to qualify for her third Olympic team in her last chance. She did just that.

Grevers, Vollmer, Berens, and Coughlin know international swimming, and that knowledge will be a huge boost to the youth of USA Swimming in Barcelona. Aside from their swimming experiences and accolades, all four have earned the respect of the American roster with their actions in and out of the pool. Such actions include leadership on a college team, helping fire up their relay mates, or even charitable work on the side. That respect will help advance team chemistry and strengthen an already-dominant team. As the Olympic team proved last summer, team unity can lead to amazing performances. These captains will lead the American team to another strong showing in Barcelona.