Alicia Coutts at 2010 Pan Pacs
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
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By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)

BARCELONA, Spain, July 28. ALTHOUGH I did not correctly pick the winner of the women's 400 freestyle relay in our Swimming World predictions, I at least had one thing right: it was a brawl between the Australians and the Americans at the FINA World Championships.


Right away the Australians had a huge lead thanks to Cate Campbell's impressive 52.33 textile best, and it almost looked like the Americans were too far back, even though it was so early in the race. It was a good choice by the Americans to lead off Missy Franklin, but she was more than a second behind Campbell in 53.51, slightly slower than her winning time at U.S. Trials in June. This may have been a bit of a surprise to the U.S. staff, and even Franklin herself. Granted, it was her first race of the week, and a high pressure one at that, so she is far from being written off as a gold medal challenger in the 100 freestyle.

By the time Cate Campbell turned the reigns over to her little sister, the Australians were under world record pace and looking like they were going to be, at the minimum, World Champions, in this event. But veteran Natalie Coughlin made a huge dent in the gap between the Americans and the Australians, and Shannon Vreeland stayed within three hundredths of Emma McKeown's third leg. With a hundred meters to go, the Australians still had the lead, but the Americans were in striking distance. So Megan Romano struck.

When all was said and done, the Americans were victorious, Megan Romano was the hero, and Alicia Coutts was crying before she even exited the pool. What an incredibly tough day for this Australian: two semifinal swims with less than 30 minutes between them, and the relay anchor leg of what turned out to be a dogfight with the U.S.

When a swimmer is passed at the end of the relay, it's almost as if the logical side of her brain short circuits because of how she is programmed to think before the race. Alicia Coutts can't, before she steps on the block, look over at Romano and say, "she has the advantage since I have already swum four races today."

When doubling up on events, dwelling on one's disadvantage will end up in disaster: unless a swimmer views her events as independent entities, she cannot possibly be successful in both. Alicia Coutts had to believe she could hold off Romano, just as Romano had to believe that she could run her down; clearly Natalie Coughlin believed that Cate Campbell's huge lead after the first 100 meters did not mean the race was over.

So when Coutts was unable to hold off Romano, it is natural that she would get extremely emotional. It's as if the same part of swimmer's brain that makes them believe they can achieve something against the odds is the part of their brain that will take the blame when they believe they failed.

That all being said, it is only day one and Coutts has two big races tomorrow: the finals of both the 100 butterfly and 200 IM. She needs to either shake off this upset, or channel it as motivation going into the rest of her meet. She is much too experienced to dwell on one "bad" race that was not all that bad.

Not to take away form Romano's impressive final leg, but Coutts was the perfect prey. A fresher Alicia Coutts probably would have resulted in a different outcome in this relay, but what is she supposed to do? Not swim one of her individual events to save herself for the relay? I don't think that is something that is fair to ask of a swimmer when they are in medal contention in their individual events.

Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M's first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.

Follow her on twitter @juliah2o




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