Column by Swimming World senior writer John Lohn
MEDIA, Pennsylvania, December 24. AS we prepare for the end of 2012 and continue to mock those Mayan prophecies, we can take a moment to appreciate what took place in the sport during the past 12 months. We were treated to another exceptional Olympiad. We watched Michael Phelps walk away, and leave behind a legacy which probably will likely go unmatched. We saw the American swimming market opened up, with Arena diving in to the mix with gusto.
So, what can we expect from the next 12 flips of the calendar? Because it is not an Olympic year, it will be tough to match what unfolded during 2012. Still, the sport is surging on a global basis and we should expect a number of highlights. Here is a combination of predictions and wishes for 2013, starting with the hope that the next year brings plenty of good times and health to our readers.
**At the big event of the coming year, the World Championships in Barcelona, we know Ryan Lochte will be one of the main attractions, and probably the co-headliner along with Missy Franklin. While Lochte will tackle his share of routine events, there is great interest in watching Lochte's continued growth in the 100 butterfly, provided he opts to contest the discipline. Lochte might have a tough time taking down Chad Le Clos, but there is every reason to believe he'll make the event another weapon in an already stacked arsenal.
**A wish for 2013 is to witness fewer doping violations than in recent years. We just saw two more Brazilian athletes nabbed for positive tests, and it's disheartening to see any violation recorded, whether it is by a big-time name or an unknown individual. Performance-enhancing drug use, as unfortunate as it may be, is going to be part of the scene going forward. What we can hope for is less violations and a cleaner sport.
**As great as Missy Franklin was at the Olympic Games, where she mined five medals, her development into one of the most recognizable female athletes in the world should continue. Franklin shouldn't have a problem maintaining her status as the top backstroker in the world, but she'll soon have a chance to elevate herself to the same standing in the 100 freestyle and 200 freestyle, although the 200 free requires a duel with American mate Allison Schmitt, who has been extraordinary in that event.
**At the London Games, Frenchman Yannick Agnel routed what was one of the deepest fields of the eight-day affair, but failed to medal in the 100 freestyle due to a fourth-place finish. Agnel is better suited to the middle-distance events and attacking the 400 freestyle could be a better fit, and would set up and enticing showdown between Agnel and China's Sun Yang, the premier distance swimmer on the planet.
**The future of American men's swimming sits largely in the potential of Jack Conger and Ryan Murphy. But how soon will these teenagers make a significant mark? It might be as soon as this summer. Look for Conger or Murphy, perhaps both, to earn a place on the United States squad which will compete at the next edition of the World Champs.
While they should be backstroke rivals over the 100 and 200 distances for years to come, Conger seems to be a nice fit for an eventual berth on the 800 freestyle relay. Whatever shakes out, USA Swimming should feel good about having this type of potential, much like what was seen in the early 2000s through the emergence of guys named Michael Phelps, Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen and Ian Crocker, just to name a few.
**On the women's side of the sport, two of the intriguing storylines for the coming year will be the continued development of a pair of teenagers who announced their presence at the Olympic Games. In the distance-freestyle events, there is no ceiling to how fast Katie Ledecky can become, and seeing what she can do in the 400 freestyle will add to the expectations. Meanwhile, Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte won gold in the 100 breaststroke and gave American Rebecca Soni a true rival. Let's hope for more fireworks between that duo.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn