Each day through August 19 (US), Swimming World will provide medal predictions for the Pan Pacific championships. We invite you to offer your thoughts on who is in line to win medals in the comments section!
Commentary by David Rieder
CHARLESTON, South Carolina, August 17. TEN years ago this week, Klete Keller pulled off one of the greatest relay swims ever when he held off Ian Thorpe to steal the 800 free relay gold medal from the Australians. That win began a streak of 10 years where the Americans went undefeated in that relay, and in that span, the core remained the same: Keller swam on the team for the next four years, Peter Vanderkaay for seven of the next eight, and Michael Phelps for nine. Ryan Lochte, meanwhile, has been on each of the ten teams.
This week, a somewhat less-experienced cast of characters qualified to represent the U.S. in this relay – Matt McLean, Conor Dwyer, Reed Malone, and Michael Weiss. Of the four, Dwyer has the most experience, swimming with the gold medal-winning finals squad at the 2012 Olympics and last year’s World Championships, while McLean swam in the prelims both times. As for Malone and Weiss, they are a bit greener.
Meanwhile, the Australians did not final in the event at Worlds last year, finishing ninth, but they have had a resurgence in the event in 2014. Cameron McEvoy (1:45.46), Thomas Fraser-Holmes (1:45.58), and David McKeon (1:46.37) all swam significantly faster in April than Matt McLean’s winning time from Nationals of 1:46.93. That trio combined with Ned McKendry to win the Commonwealth title in 7:07.38, but expect a much faster time as the Aussies battle the Americans at Pan Pacs.
The Americans have two cards they’ve yet to play, but we’ll see if they turn out to be aces or jokers. Lochte and Phelps are on the Pan Pacs team and could likely find their way onto this relay. Lochte had a sub-1:45 split on last summer’s relay, and he will likely swim the individual 200 free at Pan Pacs after scratching the event in finals at Nationals. Phelps could be forced into action if he swims well early on at Pan Pacs. Meanwhile, Dwyer won the silver medal in the 200 free at Worlds last year, and his 1:45.32 from Barcelona will give a big boost to the U.S. hopes.
I’ll stick with the U.S. over Australia, but it should be a nailbiter, something few expected prior to Nationals last week. Meanwhile, Japan is the easy choice for bronze as they finished fifth at Worlds last year. Kosuke Hagino and Takeshi Matsuda give the team terrific bookends with far more star power than either Brazil or Canada can offer over a 200.
Men’s 800 free relay medal predictions:
Gold: United States
The U.S. women should not have too much trouble with the Australians in the women’s relay as they get a rare chance to show off the two best female swimmers in the world today. Missy Franklin won the world title in the event a year ago with a time of 1:54.81. In the final of this relay at the World Championships, Franklin entered the water for the anchor leg a full second behind Australia’s Alicia Coutts before crushing her, 1:54.27 to 1:57.33. The Americans cruised to the gold medal.
Meanwhile, Katie Ledecky led off that team in 1:56.32, but she has improved dramatically in the 200 in the year since. She won the national title over Franklin in 1:55.16. Shannon Vreeland will return to the team after contributing to gold medals in London in 2012 and also in Barcelona last year, where she split 1:56.97 in the final. The fourth member of the squad should be Leah Smith, who finished third at Nationals in 1:57.57.
The Australians, meanwhile, counter with Emma McKeon, Bronte Barratt, Brittany Elmslie, and Coutts, the foursome that won the Commonwealth title in the relay in 7:49.90. McKeon has been a breakout star this year, winning gold in Glasgow in the individual 200 in an Australian record-time of 1:55.57, so she should compete with Ledecky and Franklin for the individual 200 free title. The others are all capable of splits in the 1:56 or 1:57 range, but the Australians can’t match the dual star power of Ledecky and Franklin.
Sam Cheverton and Brittany MacLean led Canada to a silver at Commonwealth Games, finishing just behind Australia in 7:51.67. The sixth-place team from last year’s World Championships should be comfortably ahead of Japan in the battle for the bronze medal.
Women’s 400 free relay medal predictions:
Gold: United States