Commentary by Jeff Commings
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, October 1. IN just a few hours, the sun will rise over the desert city of Dubai, where current and future Olympians will race in the opening meet of the FINA World Cup for two days of short course meters racing.
South Africa's Chad Le Clos and Sweden's Therese Alshammar are likely to be the names you'll see the most throughout the next five weeks, as the two will be looking to repeat their dominance from the 2011 circuit and collect more than US$100,000 each for their efforts.
To briefly sum up the procedure of the World Cup meet, each top three finish in an individual event earns a certain number of points. The male and female swimmer with the most points at the end of the eight meets each win US$100,000, in addition to the money they earned for placing in the top three in individual events. Last year, Le Clos returned to South Africa with $145,500, and Alshammar earned $126,000.
Le Clos would go on to mainstream fame nine months later when he beat Michael Phelps to the wall in the 200 fly at the London Olympics. Alshammar would participate in her fifth Olympics, despite suffering an injury that kept her from performing at her best.
Besides Le Clos, the opening meet of the World Cup will feature four other Olympians who won medals in London. South African Cameron van der Burgh won gold in the 100 breaststroke in world record time, then admitted to cheating at the start of the race, using illegal dolphin kicks. Inge Dekker was part of the silver medal-winning 400 free relay for the Dutch, while Laszlo Cseh of Hungary won bronze in the 200 IM.
Also attending the meet is Japan's Kosuke Hagino, the reigning bronze medalist in the 400 IM. Hagino also made headlines after London for a quick swim in the 200 backstroke at the Japanese Junior Olympics.
Below, my take on the top five races to watch Tuesday and Wednesday in Dubai:
5. Darian Townsend vs. Laszlo Cseh vs. Kenneth To in the men's 200 IM. Townsend is the former world record holder in the event, having set it in Berlin in 2009 before Ryan Lochte took it in 2010. Cseh has won two Olympic medals in the event but does not have as high of a short course swimming pedigree. To is a rising star in Australia, recently winning multiple titles at the Australian short course nationals and qualifying to swim multiple events at the December world championships. With money on the line, each swimmer will be looking to put together four solid 50s, and all three do that very well. My early prediction is that Townsend will have the advantage. His previous experience on the World Cup circuit, mixed in with his former days swimming in college in the United States, means he can handle this format.
4. Katinka Hosszu vs. everyone else. Hosszu is starting her debut season as a professional swimmer with a hefty event schedule in Dubai. She's signed up for an amazing seven events, none of which are shorter than 200 meters. Yes, she has the college dual-meet swimming experience and the physical ability to do all these races, but I doubt she'll actually race all seven.
3. Olympic finalists in the men's 50 freestyle. Based on how they placed in London, Anthony Ervin would be my pick to win this race on Wednesday. But Ervin has troubles with his starts, and in a short course pool, it's more difficult to make up ground when a start goes awry. Roland Schoeman is the king of swimming to 15 meters, and also has no equal in the turning department. George Bovell is finally coming into his own in the 50 free, and has momentum on his side. Schoeman's the world record holder in the event, so I have to say that he's the one to win.
2. Cameron van der Burgh in the 50 and 100 breaststrokes. Van der Burgh will likely have all eyes on him — or more specifically, his feet — during the start of his races in Dubai. If he chooses to continue the extra illegal dolphin kicks at the start to prove to FINA that underwater video judging is needed, I can only hope there is no underwater video replay in the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex, because he won't be able to escape the evidence that he won thousands of dollars by cheating.
1. Chad Le Clos vs. Kosuke Hagino in the 400 IM. I would have included Cseh in this event, but it appears that the Hungarian has been off his peak lately, so Tuesday's race will feature Le Clos, so good in the butterfly and freestyle, against Hagino's backstroke and breaststroke. Often, youth can beat experience, but in this case, I think Le Clos has the advantage.
What are your races to watch in Dubai? Take a look at the heat sheet for day one and post your comments below.