Photo by Delly Carr
By David Rieder
GOLD COAST, Australia, August 24. WHEN I predicted Australia to defeat the United States in the women’s 400 medley relay last week, I expected the difference-maker to be freestyler Cate Campbell. After all, Campbell has been dominant in the event over the past year, winning both the World and Commonwealth titles in the event, and on Friday she won the Pan Pacs title, setting the top time in the World with a 52.62 in prelims.
Nothing Campbell has done has changed my mind about her ability. However, performances by the Americans have turned the tables a bit for this relay. Coming into the meet, Missy Franklin held the top time by an American this year with a 53.43 – and she was penciled in as the backstroker. However, the 53.25 that Simone Manuel turned in on last night’s has begun to shed some hope for the Americans. She didn’t back down to Campbell on that leg, and her rapid improvement could give American fans hope.
Coming in, the Americans were counting on a dominant front half to give themselves a cushion over and a chance to beat the Aussies. Missy Franklin, obviously, would have to beat Emily Seebohm on the backstroke leg, but Franklin’s back spasms have erased any hope of that. Seebohm blew out Franklin in the individual event, 58.84 to 1:00.30. Coincidentally, that second-and-a-half margin matches Australia’s hypothetical winning margin based on aggregate times from this week: 3:56.51 to 3:58.01.
The Americans should have an advantage on breaststroke, as Jessica Hardy won the gold in the 100 breast in 1:06.74, and she swam a 1:06.51 at Nationals. Lorna Tonks, meanwhile, swam a 1:07.41 to finish fourth after winning the Australian National title in 1:07.26 back in April. On the fly leg, Alicia Coutts comes in having won the gold medal, and she has big relay experience, but the rapidly improving Kendyl Stewart cut her margin behind Coutts to less than two tenths of a second.
Manuel’s blistering time could have swung the event in the Americans’ favor, but Franklin’s injury erased that chance. Franklin swam a second faster in the event at Nationals, and she won last year’s World title in 58.42 in a dominant performance. One has to wonder, though, what Franklin can deliver with only one swim on the day. If she can keep things close to Seebohm – say, within a half second – and the relay-savvy Hardy can pull the Americans in front, this could be a dogfight to the finish.