800 free relay 2011
Courtesy of: O Sports
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PHOENIX, Arizona, July 17. AT last year's Olympics, Allison Schmitt and Michael Phelps anchored the Americans to convincing victories in the 800 freestyle relay. Schmitt and Phelps will not be at the world championships in Barcelona to help the Americans this year, which should make the races even more exciting.

Swimming World correspondents Jeff Commings, David Rieder and Julia Wilkinson-Minks are offering their medal predictions for each event throughout this series and a brief analysis of their top-three selections.


Women 800 freestyle relay

Commings
Gold:
Australia
Silver: United States
Bronze: France
Dark horse: China

It's simple math: Australia has four swimmers currently in the top 10 in the women's 200 freestyle, while the United States currently has two. That adds up to what should be a dominating performance by the Aussies in this event. The Americans will have a strong leg from Missy Franklin to help buoy the team, but without a second leg as strong as Allison Schmitt was in 2012, there's no hope for the Americans to reap gold. France could squeeze in for bronze, but Camille Muffat will have to either give the French a nice cushion ahead of the Chinese in the leadoff leg, or rally strong on the anchor.

Rieder
Gold:
Australia
Silver: United States
Bronze: France
Darkhorse: Italy

The American foursome that won Olympic gold has suffered major setbacks since last summer, which will open the door for the Australian team that sees all of its major pieces return. Bronte Barratt, Kylie Palmer, Emma McKeon, and Brittany Elmslie have all swum in the 1:57-low range or better, and Alicia Coutts could provide a big leg as she did in London. Without Oympic champion Allison Schmitt, the Americans will depend on the improvements of Missy Franklin since London in the 200 free, an event which was her most disappointing at the Olympics. Katie Ledecky's emergence as a force in the shorter distance should help the team as well. France, meanwhile, won Olympic bronze last summer behind the efforts of Camille Muffat, but their depth doesn't match up with that of the top two. Great Britain, China, Hungary and Italy could challenge as well; Italy's prospects depend significantly on the level to which Federica Pellegrini swims in Barcelona.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Australia
Silver: United States
Bronze: France
Dark horse: Canada

Australia owns four of the top ten times in the world this year, and that is a hard thing to ignore. The USA and France each have a major stud on their team, Missy Franklin and Camille Muffat, but is one woman enough to take down a team that is that strong across the board? The Americans have a definite depth advantage over the French, but without Allison Schmitt, they will not be the same relay they were last summer. Canada has slowly been creeping their way up the rankings in this relay for the last five years, and finished fourth last summer behind the Americans, Australians and French. Their three strongest links from last summer's final--Brittany Maclean, Samantha Cheverton and Barbara Jardin--are all members of this year's World Championships Team. If they can find a way to rest just one member of their relay for the final, and if every person has a great split, they could be in the hunt.


Men 800 freestyle relay

Commings
Gold:
United States
Silver: France
Bronze: Russia
Dark horse: Australia

This will be a very, very close race. Without a reliable leg from Michael Phelps to carry the team, the Americans will be in a major fight for the gold. Though the Americans will have two strong legs from Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer, the third and fourth legs are the wild cards. If I were on the coaching squad, I would pick Ricky Berens to be in the final, but rules are rules, and he'll have to put together a great prelim swim to earn his spot. The French will take advantage of a Phelps-free relay, but like the Americans, they will need their third and fourth swimmers to swim beyond themselves. Russia could be the spoiler, now that Danila Izotov has shown that he's capable of a 1:44. Sun Yang carried the Chinese to bronze at last year's Olympics, but it should be Australia that will be the more serious medal contender, thanks to new blood in the 200 freestyle.

Rieder
Gold:
United States
Silver: Russia
Bronze: France
Darkhorse: Australia

This American team returns three of the four men who combined to win Olympic gold a year ago, including reigning world champion Ryan Lochte. Conor Dwyer joins Lochte in the individual 200 free event, while Ricky Berens finished fifth at U.S. Nationals, making the team for this relay for the sixth straight year. Russia, meanwhile, has missed out on the finals of this relay at both the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics, but in both cases heavy hitters Danila Izotov and Nikita Lobintsev skipped the prelim swims. With two swimmers with 1:45s to their credit on their team, the Russians will be tough. France has Yannick Agnel and Jeremy Stravius, but not much more depth behind those two. Watch, too, for the Britons, Germans and Sun Yang's Chinese team, while Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Cameron McEvoy could help boost Australia into medal contention for the first time since their bronze at the 2009 Worlds.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
France
Silver: USA
Bronze: Russia
Dark horse: China

If Yannick Agnel really, truly, is only going to swim relays at World Championships, this team will have a major advantage. France is the only country with two athletes in the top five in the world currently, while the USA has zero. That, combined with the fact that they don't have Michael Phelps, does not look good for the Americans to repeat their gold-medal performance from last summer. Russia's Danila Izotov leads the world in the 200 freestyle after his sweltering lead-off in the 800 freestyle relay at World University Games, where the Russians went on to smash the meet record. The Russians have been swimming very fast already, but will they be able to get faster? Or even repeat their performances? They definitely have the confidence to do so, but we will have to wait and see on the physical side. China has a trump card in Sun Yang, and if he swims this relay, we could see China on the podium again this summer.

Tomorrow: 50 butterfly

Missed our previous previews? Click the links below.
400 freestyle ---- 400 freestyle relay ---- 100 butterfly ---- 100 backstroke ---- 200 freestyle ---- 100 breaststroke ---- 800 freestyle ---- 200 butterfly ---- 50 breaststroke ---- 200 individual medley ---- 50 backstroke ---- 100 freestyle

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