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By John Lohn
LONDON, August 3. AS international competitions creep toward their finish, especially the Olympics, looking ahead is inevitable. Questions arise concerning the future and what will unfold. So, we're going to take a moment to look at what awaits for United States. What are the strengths going forward? Where is there a need for progress? Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts.
Moving On: With the retirement of Michael Phelps, there will be obvious voids to fill. Wait, let's rephrase that. The United States will need to compensate as much as possible for the absence of Phelps, who will be impossible to replace. After all, you can't just substitute for the greatest athlete in the sport's history and expect similar results.
Nonetheless, the United States is solid in the areas in which Phelps operates. While Tyler Clary is there to step into the void in the 400 individual medley, Conor Dwyer is a superb talent who figures to see international work in the 200 medley, along with the 200 freestyle. Because of Phelps and Ryan Lochte, Dwyer's prowess in the 200 IM is overlooked.
Clary, meanwhile, will continue to provide a spark in the 200 fly, although that event could use an additional contributor. In the 100 fly, Lochte showed at the United States Trials that he is a stellar performer in the event and it wouldn't be surprising to see Lochte give this discipline a go at the World Championships.
Dynamic Duo: As long as the United States women can rely on the firepower of Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt, the Stars and Stripes are going to be in fine shape. Franklin has handled her first Olympic appearance extremely well, and looks to be headed for five medals and a pair of individual crowns. As for Schmitt, she is a global star now, her title in the 200 freestyle and silver medal in the 400 free affirming that distinction.
Backstroke Bonanza: On both the male and female sides, the backstroke events are in a terrific way. First, the likes of Lochte, Clary, Franklin, Elizabeth Beisel, Matt Grevers, Nick Thoman and Rachel Bootsma don't appear to be going anywhere. All but Bootsma earned medals at the London Games (Beisel in the 400 medley, but trying to add the 200 back tonight).
Particularly on the men's side, the aforementioned athletes will not have the chance to rest on their laurels, thanks to a crop of up-and-coming talents. Ryan Murphy and Jack Conger are entering their senior years of high school and figure to be major factors on the American scene in the not-so-distant future.
Women's Sprints: Although Franklin has the potential to be a medal contender for years to come in the 100 free, the U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world at the top end of the 50 and 100 freestyles. In the 50 free, the Americans are at least a half-second away from the world leaders, such as Ranomi Kromowidjojo (24.10) and Fran Halsall (24.13). The same can be said for the 100 free, where Kromowidjojo has been 52.75 and won the Olympic gold medal in 53.00.
Breaststroke Boost?: Depending on what Brendan Hansen does with his career, the 100 breaststroke might need someone to step up. Hansen recently indicated that he would assess his career after the Games through a conversation with his wife, Martha. Depending on that talk, Hansen may or may not try to compete at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona.
The positive in the 100 breast is that Kevin Cordes, still a teenager, showed a great deal of promise at the Olympic Trials. That effort followed a fantastic freshman campaign at the University of Arizona. Cordes certainly looks to have the ability to soon break into the 59-second range.
One of the positive things, and intriguing aspects, about this sport is how athletes suddenly shoot onto the radar. Katie Ledecky, the rising distance star, is a perfect example. As this piece is being written, someone we haven't heard much from yet is working hard to become a major part of the U.S. National Team. That's a scenario which is comforting as key pieces require replacement, or need to be complemented.
Coaching: The United States has the best minds in the sport, which is being reflected in the push for a 30-medal haul. It's been argued that the U.S. holds its Trials too close to the Olympics, which makes it difficult for some athletes to excel at both meets. Based on the action which unfolded in London, isn't it obvious the American staff has found the answers to handling the short turnaround?
So, what are your thoughts on the state of the United States? What areas are you feeling good about? What areas have you concerned? Fire away.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn