Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
BASKING RIDGE, New Jersey, December 19. MAYBE he'll prove me wrong, forcing the need for a comeuppance column. And, there will be no hesitation writing that foot-in-mouth article if it becomes necessary. For now, though, it's getting more difficult to see Ian Thorpe making the noise many desired when he announced his comeback from retirement.
This weekend, at the Italian Nationals, Thorpe contested his first long-course races of his second career. In the 100 freestyle, the Thorpedo registered a time of 50.84. He followed the next day with a clocking of 1:51.51 in the 200 freestyle. Both efforts have Thorpe outside the Australian top-10, not exactly a boon for the confidence level.
To be fair, Thorpe is not in the type of shape he'll find for the Australian Olympic Trials in a few months, so his comparative times to his countrymen do not make for an apples-to-apples argument. That said, these performances have not been inspiring for those wanting to see Thorpe rekindle the magic of his first career, which was spectacular.
At this point in time, it's extremely difficult to see Thorpe qualifying for an Olympic event on an individual basis. The 100 free in his homeland is now stacked, led by young gun James Magnussen, and the 200 free features its own quality depth. Without an individual-event qualification, there will undoubtedly be disappointment. When this comeback was revealed, much of the hope was for Thorpe to generate the swims we became accustomed to from 1998 through 2004.
Given the early results, including his initial short-course showings in World Cup action, Thorpe's best chance of a third Olympiad is likely as a relay member. However, it seems this possibility may not come to fruition. With the likes of Magnussen, Matt Targett, Matt Abood, James Roberts, Eamon Sullivan, Cameron McEvoy, Thomas Fraser-Holmes (and others) on the radar in both of Thorpe's events, placing in the top six for a relay berth is far from a guarantee.
Look, Ryan Lochte is known for not producing tremendous times when in the middle of heavy training, only to dazzle when it matters most. Perhaps, Thorpe will follow suit. Still, had Thorpe turned in better times in Italy over the weekend, a greater amount of confidence would have been generated surrounding this comeback. As it is, doubts are increasing.
**Wanted to get some discussion going on all-time finals, so during the next several months, we'll ask readers to put together historical eight-person championship finals in specific events. Fill out the field based on the greatest swimmers in history and post it in the comments section.
This Week: Men's and Women's 50 Freestyle.
The Lohn Lineup (Alphabetical order): Matt Biondi; Joe Bottom; Cesar Cielo; Anthony Ervin; Gary Hall Jr.; Tom Jager; Alexander Popov; Eamon Sullivan.
Five of the eight athletes are American, a testament to the United States' dominance in the event. Sullivan got the last nod due to his three world records, but this is certainly an arguable selection considering Sullivan's lack of a medal in Olympic or World Champs action.
The Lohn Lineup (Alphabetical order): Therese Alshammar; Inge de Bruijn; Britta Steffen; Jill Sterkel; Dara Torres; Libby Trickett; Amy Van Dyken; Yang Wenyi.
This event produced a tight field, with many of the swimmers featuring lengthy careers. Sterkel earned her nod behind three world-record efforts, and would have been a top contender for Olympic gold had the United States not boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow.
**While Ian Thorpe seems to be struggling in his comeback, the same cannot be said for Anthony Ervin. The co-gold medalist in the 50 freestyle at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney had a strong showing at the Chesapeake Elite Pro-Am. During that meet, Ervin popped swims of 19.41 and 19.42, in the 50-yard freestyle.
Ervin is one of the most talented sprinters the sport has seen and, had he not bolted from the sport, his legacy might have been considered special. As is the case with the return of Brendan Hansen to the United States breaststroke ranks, the Americans should be feeling good about the boost Ervin potentially could provide to the sprint scene of the Red, White and Blue.
**Looking for our readers to weigh in on another quick topic. Among both genders, who are your top 10 swimmers in history? I'm holding off on my picks for now, due to a project that is in the works. However, I will say that this was a really tough chore, especially when weighing individuals such as Dawn Fraser and Krisztina Egerszegi against one another, among others.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn