PHOENIX, Arizona, November 18. WE’RE counting down the top five swimming headlines of the week, from a possible legend’s return to some fast swimming in pools around the world. Maybe you will agree with our list. Maybe you won’t. Feel free to let us know what you think on swimmingworld.com. So let’s get this countdown started with number five.
Coming in at number five is the announcement that two Olympians are changing coaches as they prepare for the Rio Olympics. In Japan, Takeshi Matsuda will return to Yumiko Kuze, the coach that helped him win two bronze medals in the 200 fly at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Matsuda left Kuze after the London Olympics to join Norimasa Hirai’s postgraduate group in Tokyo, but Matsuda didn’t swim well, failing to get into the championship final of the 200 fly at the world championships. Matsuda has only been training with Kuze for a couple of weeks, but said he feels more comfortable back with his old coach. Up north in Canada, Tera Van Beilen is making the UBC Dolphins her home club now that she’s a full-time student at the University of British Columbia. Van Beilen was representing her hometown team, Oakville Aquatics, but will now stay with her school’s team. Van Beilen was oh-so-close to making the Olympic final in the 100 breast, losing in a swimoff.
The number four headline on today’s countdown is the news that three new swimmers were added to the rosters of Team USA and the European All-Stars for next month’s Duel in the Pool. On last week’s show, I noted that it might take two people to replace Ryan Lochte at the Duel in the Pool, and it looks like I was right. Tom Shields and Michael Weiss will swim in Scotland in place of Lochte, who will be healing his knee injuries. Shields has been doing well in the butterfly events at the World Cup and could also step in as a reliable backstroker, thanks to his remarkable underwater kicking abilities. As for Weiss, he’ll try to fill Lochte’s shoes in the IM events, and while he might not swim as fast as Lochte would have, he has the experience to put in some good times. On the European side, Germany’s Franziska Hentke was added to the list over the weekend, giving the team some help in butterfly events.
Number three’s headline this week is the end of the 2013 FINA World Cup, and the massive paychecks awarded to the overall winners Katinka Hosszu and Chad Le Clos. Hosszu, thanks to the $60,000 in bonuses she won for breaking six world records and the $100,000 prize as the overall winner, accumulated $365,000 in winnings. Keep in mind this is all in American dollars, so converted into Hungarian forints, she could be quite well off. This was Hosszu’s second consecutive overall win, and someone of her caliber is why the FINA World Cup was created. FINA’s ability to pour more than $2 million into the eight meets attracted a lot of superstars, especially in the European legs immediately after the world championships. Le Clos returned as overall champion after winning in 2011, and collected $305,500. Le Clos’ tally was helped by breaking two world records in the 200 fly, earning him a $20,000 bonus. A few Americans showed up for parts of the tour, and Tom Shields picked up the biggest paycheck with $26,000. Shields broke the American records in the short course meters butterfly events, but unfortunately, USA Swimming does not give out bonuses for setting those records.
USA Swimming has its own version of the World Cup, and the Arena Grand Prix kicked off in a big way last week in Minneapolis. Though there was plenty to talk about out of the pool, and we’ll get to that in a minute, we saw some impressive swimming in the pool as postgrad swimmers racked up the points in the race to win a one-year lease from BMW. That winner won’t be decided until the end of the series in May, but someone who is in a good position to win the lease in the women’s race is Megan Romano. She won four events in Minneapolis, setting herself up for the remainder of the meets, which resume in January in Austin. On the men’s side, Conor Dwyer might be sitting at the top with two wins and a couple of runner-up finishes in Minnesota. A few other swimmers who won events, namely Claire Donahue, Caitlin Leverenz and Tom Luchsinger, will be swimming at the Duel in the Pool, so this was a prime opportunity to get some racing in before the big meet. Also swimming well was Michael Andrew, who took down two national age group records in the 13-14 age group with a 48.78 in the 100 fly and 55.96 in the 100 breast.
While the athletes were getting the crowd excited over three days, it was Michael Phelps who got those in the facility — and practically every swimming fan around the world — into a frenzy when he showed up on deck in Minnesota and even did a little workout in the diving well during warmups for Thursday’s preliminaries. A couple of hours later, the bombshell hit: Phelps had put himself back into the drug testing pool and had been tested twice since August. This means Phelps is, as he puts it, “keeping options open” about making a return to the sport. Getting on the drug testing list was the first step, and now he has to wait out that nine-month window before he can officially compete again. That means we won’t see him race until March, unless he decides to do a Masters meet. Dara Torres and Ed Moses went through Masters meets during their nine-month blackout period when they made their comebacks, but Phelps and his camp have not mentioned that as an option. Of course, Phelps might decide to not go through with the comeback, and that’s what has gotten the swimming community buzzing. He’s not training every day in the pool, but he is putting in the yards when he does show up, swimming next to Agnel and Dwyer, among others. Like just about everyone else, I could speculate what Phelps will swim when he comes back, the condition he’ll be in and how it’ll change the landscape of what we were getting used to as the post-Phelps era. But we won’t really know until that first meet … when and if it happens.
And there you have it, the top five swimming headlines of the past week. We’ll be back next Monday with a new episode. I’m Jeff Commings, and that was the week that was.