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By David Rieder
BARCELONA, Spain, July 30. AT the 2008 Olympics, the American team won 12 gold medals of a possible 32. Michael Phelps sparked that run, winning five on his own and contributing to three gold medal-winning relays, while Aaron Peirsol and Ryan Lochte picked up an individual backstroke title each. However, the women only won two gold medals at the meet, with Natalie Coughlin winning the 100 back and Rebecca Soni shocking the world in the 200 breast. None of the relay teams finished with better than a silver medal. Meanwhile, the Aussies picked up six, led by Stephanie Rice and her two medley world records. The American women won as many titles as the British and Germans.
The U.S. team uped their total to 16 at the Olympics one year ago — half the total number of golds distributed at the pool — eight from the men and eight from the women. Both teams won two relays each. Phelps and Lochte led the way for the men, while the emergence of Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt, along with Dana Vollmer’s impressive performances, helped the women roll. At that point, the Americans had clearly established themselves as the premier team in the pool for both men and women.
After three days of the World Championships, the Americans have picked up five gold medals in 13 events, but women have won four of the five. Katie Ledecky has won two gold medals, while Franklin won the 100 back today, and the American women won the 400 free relay. On the men’s side, only Matt Grevers has finished atop the podium in today’s 100 back. Usually, by this point, Phelps and Lochte have begun racking up their impressive medal hauls, but the loss of Phelps and Lochte’s relatively poor form have contributed significantly to a reduced total for the stars and stripes. At the same time, the emergence of Ledecky and Franklin has moved the women’s team on top.
Ledecky has officially arrived in Barcelona with two gold medals in two of the most stunning swims of the meet. Twitter has declared her 1500 free world record swim today one of the greatest in history due to her battle with Lotte Friis and the fact that both destroyed Kate Ziegler’s world record. Ledecky will be the favorite going into the 800 free final on Saturday, and she will provide a huge leg on the American 800 free relay. Going into the meet, many considered Australia the favorites in that race, but with no Aussies qualifying for the 200 free final and two Americans in the race, along with Ledecky’s fireworks in the longer events, the Americans have become the top threat in that event.
Franklin, meanwhile, has become the dominant backstroker in the world. She won the 100 back today in 58.42, a time that has somehow become slow for her. She easily disposed of Emily Seebohm on her way to her second individual world title. She finished three tenths of a second off the world record, but she should pick up that mark to go along with her 200 back global standard within the next couple of years (or perhaps later this week). She enters the 200 back as the overwhelming favorite, and to go along with that, she has positioned herself perfectly to make a run at the 200 free world title tomorrow. She can even challenge for a medal in the 100 free and 50 back events. She has already become the most versatile swimmer in the world, just like Phelps and Lochte.
In the meanwhile, impressive performances from supporting cast members such as Elizabeth Pelton, Jessica Hardy, Dana Vollmer, and Megan Romano have allowed the Americans to hang on to their status as big favorites in the 400 medley relay, while Elizabeth Beisel, Breeja Larson, and others can bag more hardware later in the week. This team has the makings of a dominant team, just like the men’s team under Phelps and Lochte which reigned for eight years. Moreover, as Rowdy Gaines will remind the world frequently on telecasts, neither Franklin nor Ledecky have begun college yet. All the pieces have been set for a ride of dominance for the American women through the 2016 Olympics and perhaps beyond.
Check out David Rieder’s Facebook page to see more of his thoughts on the FINA World Championships and his updated race predictions prior to each finals session.