Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, October 17. THIS Duel in the Pool is going to be exciting. Never before have I looked at a roster and thought, “The USA might not win.” That could very well be the case, but it depends on the level of preparation these 33 athletes have when they begin racing on December 20.
Click here for a look at the USA roster
Click here for a look at the Euro All-Stars roster
Unlike previous Duel in the Pool editions, this one is heavy on college swimmers. Of the 33 swimmers, 13 are current NCAA student-athletes, while three others are still in high school. That could turn out to be the factor that defeats the European All-Stars for the third time. With this meet set up in a dual meet-style format, those who know how to race multiple times in one day will thrive. Even many of the postgrads come from college backgrounds and know what the experience is like.
The Europeans are going to be a major force with 37 swimmers, many of whom will be flying to Scotland right after the short course European championships. That’s always a top-flight meet, so these swimmers will be on a very good taper for those two days.
Unlike the college dual meets we see here in the United States, depth is not the key to winning the competition. A first-place finish scores five points, with second getting three points and third earning one point. So, a team can win the Duel in the Pool by winning every race and placing no one in second or third. Obviously, it makes the races to the wall in each event exciting, but once one team wins the majority of individual events (14 out of 26), the meet’s over. What if that happens after the first day? That won’t happen, in my opinion, because there is so much talent on either side that neither team has a clear advantage.
For every superstar on one side, the other team has a pretty good counterpoint on their roster. Katie Ledecky will once again race Lotte Friis in the distance freestyles. Florent Manaudou, Fred Bousquet and Fabien Gilot could match up nicely against Anthony Ervin, Jimmy Feigen and Cullen Jones. The American breaststroke trio of Kevin Cordes, Nic Fink and Cody Miller should do well against Michael Jamieson, Andrew Willis and Damir Dugonjic. And Hannah Miley will be a perfect foil for Caitlin Leverenz in the IM events.
For every event Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary might swim, the Europeans have two people to fend them off. Clary will have to be at his best to fend off Bence Biczo and Velimir Stjepanovic in the 200 fly. Radoslaw Kawecki, the reigning short course world champion in the 200 back, could be tough, as will Yannick Lebherz.
On paper, there is no way to call this meet. Europe has its fair share of top talent that could easily win races, while Team USA has many of its heavyweights with plenty of potential. Since the European trio of Ruta Meilutyte, Rikke Moller Pedersen and Yulia Efimova are skipping this meet, the breaststroke events are pretty much open for USA. On the other hand, Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Fran Halsall might be too much for Jessica Hardy, Simone Manuel and Megan Romano.
The same is true for the men. Yannick Agnel is probably the clear favorite in the 200 free, while Chase Kalisz should be the class of the 400 IM, and possibly the 200 version as well.
No matter the outcome, I’m sure this is going to be one of the closest Duel in the Pool meets in history. And that includes the years when USA and Australia did battle.