Photo by Delly Carr
By David Rieder
GOLD COAST, Australia, August 24. STOP me if you’ve heard this before: Katie Ledecky smashes a world record, and then there’s Phelps and Lochte in the 200 IM. Those three rightfully dominated headlines and media attention for both their medal record and world record tallies. But this trio can only chip in for so many medals at the 2016 Olympics, where the U.S. obviously wants to pump up their medal count across the board.
Many of the swimmers that will contribute to that cause in Rio have yet competed internationally; more of them have some experience but have room to grow before reaching their potential. Look at Maya DiRado, for instance: she broke onto the National team last summer in the 200 fly and 400 IM, and she had already collected a silver at Pan Pacs in the 200 IM. Today, however, she won the 200 IM in somewhat of an upset, posting a time of 2:09.93, the top time by an American in the event since 2012.
Sure, DiRado had been on the radar with strong performances at the NCAA level and a fourth-place showing in the 400 IM at Worlds last year. All of the sudden, though, she’s jumped into the fray as a legitimate medal contender for next year’s edition of the World Championships in Russia. With Caitlin Leverenz off of the Russia-bound squad, DiRado, 21, and Melanie Margalis, 22, will have a big legacy in the 200 IM to back up, since Americans Amanda Beard (2004), Natalie Coughlin (2008), and Leverenz (2012) have all recently won Olympic medals.
Cierra Runge, meanwhile, has been one of the breakout stars of the year, going from a capable sprinter to dominant distance swimmer. Having already won a silver medal in the 400 free and picking up fifth in the 800, Runge cut a half-minute from her personal best in the mile to finish fourth in 16:04.48. She’s just 18, and with so little experience in the events, she has major potential to improve as she enters her freshman year at Cal.
Kendyl Stewart and Simone Manuel might not have been ready for prime time, but they were shoved into the spotlight tonight. With the American medley relay leading heavy-favorite Australia at the halfway point, this young duo had the charge of holding off Alicia Coutts and Cate Campbell – a task which proved vastly unsuccessful. Both ended up swimming slower times than their flat-start bests suggested they might, but they needed to feel the pressure of a big relay, a situation they will surely find themselves in once again in the future.
Compared to the women’s team, the U.S. men’s squad finds itself stacked with veteran talent, but collegians and recent graduates like Cody Miller, Josh Prenot, Kevin Cordes, and Nic Fink earned the Pan Pacs spots in the breaststroke events. Fink and Cordes both came in with limited international experience, having swum in the final of the 100 breast at Worlds last year. Tonight, both took steps forward. Fink took silver in the 200 breast final, moving to tenth in the world with a 2:08.94, more than a second faster than his best time last year of 2:10.12.
Fink will have the opportunity to get into the World Championship final next and make a run at a medal, as a lot of guys should be bunched in the 2:08-range. Racing Yasuhiro Koseki today will pale in comparison to the stacked field coming in Kazan. Cordes, too, will be in that field despite scratching the Pan Pacs final today. Cordes has lit up the record book at NCAAs, and he looked to be on track for a big summer when he blasted a 2:07.86 200 breast in the prelims of the event at Nationals.
Since then, however, things have been a struggle for the rising senior at Arizona. Cordes had a terrible swim in the 100 breast final at Nationals before being DQed at Pan Pacs, missing the Worlds team entirely in that event. But in the medley relay final today, Cordes stepped up, blasting a 58.64 split to roll Koseki by almost a second. One can’t say that he has arrived based on one swim, but that medal – his first on the international stage – has the potential to be the first of a decorated international career.