Guest editorial by John Dussliere
LONDON, England, August 11. THE London 10K Marathon Swimming International Race will be the official test event of the Olympic 10K Marathon Swimming course, which consists of six laps of the Serpentine.
This race is for the 60 invited athletes to familiarize themselves with the layout of the course, while the organizing committee works the logistics of running the race. At 10 a.m. London time (1 a.m. PT) on Saturday, the women will dive in, then the men begin their contest at 2 p.m. (5 a.m. PT).
Friday morning will be the first chance to swim around the course and get a feel for the event. The Serpentine will feel pretty welcome to the swimmers, as the controversial subject of high water temperature will not be a factor.
Unlike the 30+Celsius waters of Shanghai last month, the London Olympic Course has been hovering around 20 degrees Celsius. That is a comfortable and nearly ideal 68 Fahrenheit.
The Serpentine course will consist of 6 laps that include 1 left and 5 right turns. All of the turns will have different angles, as the course is not the typical long rectangle that the athletes are used to in flat, inland lake courses. Most all of the major Open Water Swimming Nations will be represented, though many of the 2012 Open Water Olympians have yet to be selected.
The top 10 (actually 15 as the continental champions also qualified) from each of the men and women's 10K races at last month's FINA World Championships in China earned automatic qualification for the London Games. The process involves a selection of athletes from two separate competitions. The first was Shanghai Worlds and the second and final qualifying race will take place in Setubal, Portugal next June.
Team USA left Shanghai with Harvard's Alex Meyer as the sole U.S. Olympic Qualifier thus far in the process by finishing in the top 10 in China. Meyer will be the only American male in the London 10K Race. Since the U.S. women came home from the China race without a qualifier, they will have the opportunity to send two athletes to the second qualifying race, and based on the qualification process where the Worlds meet serves as the FINA A cut, and everything else serves as the FINA B cut, only one can potentially make the Games in London, and that spot will go to the best of those two that finishes in the top 9 in Portugal.
So, as it stands right now, Team USA is in nearly the same situation they found themselves in after the Seville, Spain Worlds in May of 2008 when Santa Barbara Swim Club's Mark Warkentin was the sole U.S. qualifier for the Beijing Games of 2008.
This time, however, the women that will be sent to Portugal will not be chosen in the same manner as in 2008. At that time the selection method called for the U.S. National Team Director to send the "athletes with the best recent international record and the highest Olympic medal potential," a controversial decision that sent Kirsten Groome and replaced World Championship Qualifier Micha Burden (Shaw) with Chloe Sutton, the eventual U.S. qualifier.
Team USA will be represented in this test event by 10k World Championship Teammates Eva Fabian, Christine Jennings, and 5k Bronze medalist Ashley Twichell for the women's race. The U.S. Men will field 2012 Olympian Alex Meyer.
Internationally, the only 10k Shanghai medalist missing from the start list is on the women's side with British 10k World Champion Keri-Anne Payne. The British team has instead chosen to give two young 15 year olds the chance to test the course in her place. Payne, the 2011 World Champion in the event has had ample opportunities to swim in the Serpentine and does so from time to time in her training plan.
Tactically, I think we will see everything in both races, as the athletes will be primarily getting used to the turns and course layout. Next one would imagine there could be some world-class sportsmanship early on in the race to be safe from yellow cards approaching, performing, and exiting all those turns. Then as the race progresses into the last 2 laps we will see them press each other's limits with some world-class gamesmanship by trying to posture for the win. All in all, both races are packed with star power.
A plan I would coach for the women:
The race is basically 6×1600. I would have them approach it physiologically as if they were in a hard 10k training set.
The first repeat they just need to keep from spending too much energy, both emotional and physical. I would, however, have them be very aggressive on the first set of turns to establish dominance and set up the fact that they are not going to be gentle in this race. I would also ask them to do their best to feed on the first lap. Even thought it is only 1000 meters into the race, there won't be much traffic coming in and they can learn what it will be like swimming into the feed dock later, more crucial feed laps.
Then regaining and maintaining top 6-8 position over the next 3 laps would be the goal. By lap 4-5 there will be some serious breakaway attempts by the various swimmers and they should all be taken seriously and remembered by their coaches as to whom is trying this. When this starts to happen, anyone with hopes of medaling must be within the top 5 as these women are tough enough to break the lead pack into many small packs that will get left behind and out of medal contention. Then, that fateful last lap will not be for the weak, timid, or inexperienced.
If the aforementioned strategy happens, the last lap will be brutally fast and filled with potential contact. This is where they need to truly practice to win a medal. The best acceleration in the final 10-30 meters will be your winner and I will go out on a limb and predict it will be someone coming from the 3rd or 4th position coming out of the last 2 turns.
The men's race:
I really think it could end up a pretty boring race even for an open water geek like me. I think the experienced men are not going to take the early breakaways as seriously as the women must and it could be their downfall. The men should be thinking in terms of each segment (turn to turn) rather than each lap.
They will need to closely monitor the lead prior to turns to identify who is picking up their tempo on a turn approach. This would be a sure sign that a breakaway on the next segment is imminent. All things being equal, I would predict the best place to make a mid race move would be approaching the slight turn after the feed dock. If pulled off properly; you can blast 3 short sprints, then just stretch out and try to maintain your new lead on the long straight after the left turn.
If one or more of the men go that route, they could pull away from the pack without seriously diminishing their energy and end up holding a mid race breakaway. I think the pack would let them go.