By David Rieder
Think of the factors that decide who makes the Olympic team in an event: talent, hard work, perseverance, nutrition and effective recovery are all key to grabbing one of those elusive 40-50 spots.
The event schedule? A bigger factor than one might realize.
The schedule may prevent Maya DiRado from swimming the 200 fly, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte from swimming in the final of the 100 free and possibly even hinder Missy Franklin’s chances of making the Olympic Team in the 100 back.
But the most notorious double of the meet comes up on day six when the men’s 200 IM final is scheduled for just a half hour after the final of the 200 back. That presents a dilemma for Lochte, who currently holds the world record in the 200 IM and formerly did so in the 200 back. He swam both events each of the past two Olympics (following the same schedule), but his performance in the 200 IM has suffered each time.
At the age of 31, does Lochte attempt this double again at Trials? That and more will be answered in our day six bold predictions.
1. Ryan Murphy becomes just the sixth man to break 1:54 in the men’s 200 back.
Murphy got under 1:55 for the first time in his career earlier this year with a 1:54.94 at Canada’s Olympic Trials in April, and I expect another big jump in Omaha. Murphy has been consistently popping off times in the 52-mid-range in the 100 back this year, and his 200 back should catch up to that level when he gets some rest.
Murphy’s excellent year so far has included an American record-breaking performance in the 200-yard back at NCAAs—his 1:35.73 cut more than a second off the mark he set a year ago. Murphy finished fifth in last year’s World Championships final, but if he can swim a 1:53 in Omaha, he will put himself squarely into the medal conversation heading into Rio.
But Australia’s Mitch Larkin, the World Champion in both backstroke events last year, awaits in Rio with a best time of 1:53.17. The Americans have won gold in the 200 back in each of the past five Olympics—Brad Bridgewater in 1996, Lenny Krayzelburg in 2000, Aaron Peirsol in 2004, Lochte in 2008 and Tyler Clary in 2012—but Murphy will have his work cut out for him to make it six in a row. Speaking of Lochte…
2. Ryan Lochte will not swim the 200 back.
Four years ago, attempting the 200 back-200 IM double majorly backfired for Lochte. After fading to bronze in the 200 back, Lochte finished a distant second behind Phelps in the 200 IM. Focusing on a strong effort in the 200 IM—where Lochte still holds the world record—seems like enough of a reason to pass on the 200 back.
But Lochte would by no means be guaranteed to make the team in the 200 back, even if he tried. Since the beginning of the Trials qualifying period in 2014, Murphy, Clary (1:54.73) and Jacob Pebley (1:56.29) have all swum faster times in the 200 back. Lochte’s last 200 back of significance came at Summer Nationals in 2014, where he led through the 150 before fading badly on the way home. He ended up third in that race behind Clary and Murphy.
At that point, Lochte still had a chance to swim the 200 back at the 2015 World Championships if he put up a fast enough time at the 2014 Pan Pacs. But Lochte didn’t swim the event at that meet in Brisbane, Aus., opting to compete in the 100 fly that day instead. At that point, it became clear that the 200 back was no longer one of Lochte’s priority events.
Instead, I think Lochte will focus on the 200 IM at Trials. Whereas in the 200 back he would have faced a tough challenge just to make the team, the two spots available in the 200 IM will almost certainly go to Lochte and Phelps, in some order, for the fourth straight Olympics. Lochte won last year’s World title in the event, but Phelps responded later that week with a swift 1:54.84 that was the No. 1 time in the world for 2015. Those two figure to square off with Japan’s Kosuke Hagino in a three-way race for gold in Rio.
3. No American woman breaks 53 in the 100 free at Olympic Trials
Three Australians—Cate Campbell, Bronte Campbell and Emma McKeon—have already swum under 53 this year, so the American women would need a huge effort at Olympic Trials if they want to send a scare Down Under. No American has even been below 53.5 over the past two years.
Simone Manuel is perhaps the best American hope in this event, but she has been thus far unable to translate excellent short course speed to the big pool. Her 46.09 in the 100-yard free at the NCAA championships in 2015 ranks as the fastest time ever, but she finished sixth and more than a second off the podium in the 100 free at Worlds last year. Manuel redshirted what would have been her sophomore season at Stanford in order to focus solely on Trials.
Missy Franklin will be a factor here—she qualified for the 100 free final in London and at each of the past two World Championships—but again the schedule could come into play, as she will have the 200 back semifinals shortly before this final. And then there’s Katie Ledecky, who now has the speed to at least contribute to the 400 free relay.
Even if no one gets into 53-second territory in Omaha, there is still enough depth in this field that it should take 54-low or perhaps even under 54 to finish in the top six. And with the Netherlands’ depth compromised and Canada still up-and-coming in the women’s sprints, the American women should leave Omaha the favorite for silver in the 400 free relay in Rio.
Women’s 200 Breast
1. Micah Lawrence
2. Laura Sogar
Men’s 200 Back
1. Ryan Murphy
2. Tyler Clary
Men’s 200 IM
1. Michael Phelps
2. Ryan Lochte
Women’s 100 Free
1. Simone Manuel
2. Abbey Weitzeil
3. Missy Franklin
4. Katie Ledecky
5. Dana Vollmer
6. Natalie Coughlin