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Analysis by David Rieder
OMAHA, Nebraska, July 1. LAST night in Omaha, Jessica Hardy claimed a big win in the women's 100 free. However, her time of 53.96 did not break her into the top-10 in the world, leaving her one one-hundredth of a second out at 11th.
We saw some excellent depth behind Hardy, but how does that depth stack up the Americans against the starpower of the Netherlands and the resurgent Australians?
Just like yesterday, when we looked at the men's 400 free relay, we will here take a look at how the women's 400 free relay sets up headed into the London Olympics. Once again, this analysis considers the annual bests of any athletes headed to the Olympic Games, regardless of what meet the times come from.
Ranomi Kromowidjojo, 52.75
Marleen Veldhuis, 53.95
Femke Heemskerk, 54.17
Inge Dekker, 54.43
Total Time: 3:35.30
Melanie Schlanger, 53.74
Cate Campbell, 53.84
Brittany Elmslie, 54.08
Yolane Kukla, 54.08
Total Time: 3:35.74
Allison Schmitt, 53.94
Jessica Hardy, 53.96
Amanda Weir, 54.14
Missy Franklin, 54.15
Total Time: 3:36.19
No other country has four swimmers within the world top-50, so these three teams have established the three best in the world headed into the Olympics. Germany won the bronze medal at Worlds behind the efforts of defending Olympic champ Britta Steffen, but, aside from Daniela Schreiber, no one else swum fast enough to prepare Germany for a real run this year.
Kromowidjojo, Veldhuis, Heemskerk, and Dekker have swum on the Dutch team for years, establishing a four-year win streak in the event. Kromowidjojo has shown her cards this year, as her 52.75 stands as the textile best and top time in the world this year. The other three, though, remain mysteries. Heemskerk threw down a clutch anchor leg of 52.46 as the Dutch won the Worlds last year, and she held 53-mid swims consistently during the year. Veldhuis has swum better this year than she has since giving birth in 2010. Dekker has inconsistencies, but she can be a force.
Three of Australia's top four posted best times at their Trials, while Cate Campbell had not swum under 54 since 2009. Elmslie and Kukla have youth on their side, while Schlanger and Campbell have the experience of the 2008 Olympics to fall back on. Meanwhile, former world record-holder Libby Trickett qualified as a relay alternate, and her times keep improving following her comeback. Alicia Coutts finished fifth at Worlds last year, and she could too be a force, having swum under 54 the past two years.
As for the Americans, Franklin might have the most potential for improvement, having anchored the women's medley relay a year ago in 52.79 despite the Americans having already pulled away from the field. Schmitt placed third last night, but she swam a 53.94 less than a month ago, a time that would have won last night. Natalie Coughlin, meanwhile, aims to rebound from an off meet in Omaha when she gets to London, and she won the bronze in the 100 free at the last two Olympics, so she always brings the threat of a strong swim.
We expect this relay to come down to the Netherlands' star power against the depth of the United States and Australia. When all three teams' best times add up to within a second of each other, the race comes down to who steps up and who has the best relay exchanges. The Dutch, though, have to be the favorites, but they don't stand as far clear of the field as the Australians do on the men's side.