Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, January 2. I won't waste much time blathering on about the new year and new goals and new expectations. Let's get right to my list of the 10 things I'm excited to see in and out of the swimming pool in 2013:
1. Ryan Lochte at the world championships. Everyone is anxious to see how the global swimming scene will move on from Michael Phelps' retirement. Ryan Lochte didn't make us wait too long, winning two gold medals in the individual medley events at the short course world championships and breaking world records in both. Lochte will be the superstar of the long course world championships this summer in Barcelona, and it will be a chance for him to get over a somewhat disappointing Olympics, where he only won one individual gold medal after many picked him to win at least three. The fan frenzy I saw at winter nationals proves he has the support from the crowd, and Lochte has said that's a big motivator for him. Without Phelps by his side, the 200 IM in Barcelona might be anticlimactic, but his 200 free vs. Agnel could be the talk of the meet.
2. The new crop of teenage phenoms. Katie Ledecky. Ruta Meilutyte. Allie Szekely. Becca Mann. Akihiro Yamaguchi. In the post-Olympic year, we're often anxious to find the next swimming stars, but it appears we have already found them in these five fan favorites. My only concern is how they will handle the pressure of topping what was a great 2012 for all of them. After winning Olympic gold and/or setting records, the world is now waiting to see their encores. Why include Szekely and Mann in this list of world dominators? Because they are on the cusp of doing something spectacular this year, and it will not be a surprise to see them on the American world championship roster.
3. FINA's upcoming discussion on underwater video judging. The blatant use of illegal dolphin kicks by more than one swimmer at the Olympics was apparently enough for FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu to tell The Associated Press that underwater video judging would be discussed at the 2013 world championships as part of a technical committee meeting. Though no reports have indicated how far the discussion could go beyond the technical committee, it would be great to see it go all the way to the FINA Bureau for a vote. We've dealt with cheating in breaststroke for much too long, and this goes even further back than Kosuke Kitajima at the 2004 Olympics. Underwater video judging could erase any attempts swimmers would make to put in extra dolphin kicks to gain a so-called advantage, and make breaststroke a fair event again.
4. Ye Shiwen. The Chinese teenager won both individual medley events at the Olympics and with her lightning-fast freestyle leg in the 400, sparked a tidal wave of controversial remarks that blatantly accused her of doping. The best way Ye can silence the doubters is with an encore performance at the world championships. Most swimmers who have been caught doping through history were unable to replicate the performances they did while using drugs, and if Ye can swim another 100 free faster than a minute, it should be enough for people to remark that she's a singular talent that will usher in a wave of women who will believe they can also go under a minute with some hard work.
5. Men's 200 back (USA edition). Clary. Lochte. Murphy. Conger. Thoman. Pebley. Those are six names likely to be in the 200 backstroke final at the USA Swimming nationals, which will serve as the world championships trials. These six will be taking the event to new heights in 2013, making that 200 back final in Indianapolis hot with electricity. No other event on the men's side boasts such depth in the United States. If it were possible, the top four from that race this summer could appear in the final at the world championships, and possibly take four of the top five spots.
6. Men's 200 back (global edition). Other than the men's 200 fly, the men's 200 back was the most intense finish for spots on the podium at the London Olympics, and we could see a repeat of that three-way battle in Barcelona. Presuming they make the world championship team (see No. 5 above), Tyler Clary and Ryan Lochte will have their hands full with Japan's Ryosuke Irie. All three of them were stroke for stroke in the final 15 meters in London, with Clary surging ahead in the final five meters. I expect these three to be jockeying for the top of the podium in Spain, and that's the kind of racing that makes swimming fans excited.
7. The NCAA championships — all divisions. It's not easy to pick one team, one person or one NCAA Division that I'm more excited to follow as a journalist and swimming fan. Will California make it three in a row for its men's and women's teams in Division I? How will Olympic finalists Allison Schmitt, Vlad Morozov, Connor Jaeger, Caitlin Leverenz, Micah Lawrence, Brittany Maclean, Sinead Russell, Breeja Larson, Cammile Adams, Elizabeth Beisel, Shannon Vreeland and Lauren Perdue perform in short course yards? Will Drury return to the top of the podium as men's and women's Division II champions? And will we see new dynasties emerge in Division III?
8. Nathan Adrian vs. James Magnussen: The Rematch. Magnussen's preordained gold medal was taken by Adrian in the 100 free final in London, and when these two step up to race again in Barcelona, it's going to be another epic battle. It's great to see this rivalry shape up in swimming's biggest event.
9. USA Swimming's next viral video. Like it or not, USA Swimming's “Call Me Maybe” video put worldwide attention on the sport in general. What started as a fun lark by Kathleen Hersey and her band of teammates exploded into a YouTube sensation that needs a follow-up in 2013. Since the world championships will be held in Barcelona, maybe the team can lip-synch a well-known Spanish song. I think “The Macarena” is due for a comeback.
10. Germany's return to the medal table. The London Olympics marked the first time since 1932 that Germany did not win a swimming medal in an Olympics in which they competed. Something very wrong is happening in Deutschland, and it needs to remedied soon. Their downfall came four years after Britta Steffen won two golds in Beijing, and three years following Paul Biedermann's domination at the Rome world championships. As great as it was to see other countries putting athletes on the medal stand, it was not natural to see Germany go home empty-handed, and with the hiring of Henning Lambertz as head coach, things should be on the upswing very soon, and Steffen and Biedermann appear to be getting back into form after great performances at the short course world championships.