Around the Swimming World: The Purpose of Pan Pacs for Team USA

simone manuel, katie ledecky, pan pacs, around the swimming world
Photo Courtesy: Peter H, Bick

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By David Rieder.

Katie Ledecky won gold in the 400 free at the Pan Pacific Championships in 3:58.50, the sixth-fastest performance in history and six tenths faster than any other woman had ever swum. She had swum within close range of her world-record pace for most of the race, only to fall off the pace over the final 100 meters.

And afterwards, Ledecky explained that even though she didn’t swim a season-best time, she was pleased, especially given “the conditions that we’re swimming under.” She was not referring to the hot and humid weather that has gripped Tokyo all week.

It’s been a pretty rough week, just competing in a different time zone very far from the U.S., 16-hour time difference,” Ledecky said. “It’s been a lot harder than any of us could have anticipated, knowing that we just got here a couple days ago.”

Traditionally, U.S. teams attend training camp in the same time zone prior to the start of a major international meet. For the 2015 and 2017 World Championships, the teams trained for a week in the coastal Croatian city of Opatija. Before the 2016 Olympics, the team’s training camp was domestic, but Atlanta was only a one-hour time difference from Rio.

Even before the 2014 Pan Pacs in Gold Coast, Australia, the Americans trained for several days before the meet in Brisbane. But this time, the team held a stateside training camp in California and left Saturday (Aug. 4) for Tokyo. They arrived Sunday, just four days before the meet began.

In what has been a below-par performance for Team USA this week, jet lag has been an issue. Swimmers and team officials have admitted that. Undoubtedly, some are affected more than others. Evening swims likely suffer more than morning swims—remember, 7 p.m. Tokyo time is 3 a.m. California time, while 10 a.m. Tokyo time is a more reasonable 6 p.m. California time.

No one should be surprised the time change has affected performance. Even USA Swimming would have known that when choosing a location for training camp. Undoubtedly, they would not take a team to an Olympics or World Championships with such a short adjustment period. But to USA Swimming, Pan Pacs simply is not as big of a deal.


Blake Pieroni swam in the wrong spot on the U.S. men’s 4×100 free relay — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Make no mistake: Silly errors—like the U.S. men’s 4×100 free relay’s disqualification for swimming in the wrong order because of a miscommunication by the coaching staff—are still a problem. They’re avoidable. The difference here compared to any other major meet is that the team didn’t pull out all the stops to ensure peak performance.

Bob Bowman and Bruce Gemmell both weighed in on Twitter. Neither speak for USA Swimming, but both did hold coaching staff positions for both the 2014 Pan Pacs and 2016 Olympics. Bowman started the conversation when he asked, “What is the purpose of Pan Pacs?”

Eventually, the two discussed how adverse conditions at a meet like Pan Pacs can actually be advantageous.

From that perspective, every chance for international racing experience is a building block towards the Olympics. Dealing with a less-than-perfect situation now will pay off if something isn’t perfect at the Olympics.

But not every U.S. swimmer on this Pan Pacs team will qualify for the Olympics in 2020, and not every swimmer on that Olympic team will have swum at Pan Pacs. For some, Pan Pacs will be the only chance they ever get to race as part of the No. 1 U.S. team—and the competition is essentially considered a means to reherse for another.

Whenever the American performance at an international meet is disappointing, coaches and officials point towards the fact that U.S. teams always come through when it counts most, at the Olympics—even if it came at the sacrifice of peak performance a year or two earlier. Just like the disappointing 2015 World Championships were quickly forgotten after a resounding success at the 2016 Olympics.

For better or for worse, swimming remains an every-four-years sport in the United States.

Wet Take

Ariarne Titmus is the real deal, and she showed that in the 400 free.


Ariarne Titmus — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

When it comes to the 400, 800 or 1500 free, Ledecky almost always goes out hard early and breaks the field. No one can stay with her. Consider her margin of victory in five previous major events (one Olympics, three World Championships and one Pan Pacs) in the 400 free: 2.65, 6.18, 3.89, 4.77 and 3.20.

In Saturday’s final, the margin was merely 1.16—still substantial, but less than usual. That’s because Ledecky could never lose Titmus. She tried to pull away each lap, but the 17-year-old from Australia would not let go. Titmus even made up ground on Ledecky over the final 100 meters.

In the end, Titmus finished in 3:59.66, making her the third-fastest performer in history and only the second woman to ever break 4:00 under the current textile-only swimsuit rules.

Ledecky was excited to have someone join her under the vaunted barrier. She commented that she had been the only swimmer under 4:00 in textile “for a couple years now.” Five years, to be exact. Five years all alone that territory.

“I think it’s exciting for me to see how I kind of put the standard out there, and I know there are a lot of girls that are chasing that, and it’s good to see someone get under it,” Ledecky said. “It’s going to push me to go even faster and set the benchmark even higher.”

But this isn’t just about one impressive 400 free. Earlier this year, she won gold in the 400 and 800 free at the Commonwealth Games and a silver in the 200 free, finishing just four-hundredths behind Taylor Ruck. Earlier in the week in Tokyo, she beat out Leah Smith for silver behind Ledecky in the 800 free and provided a 1:55.27 leadoff leg to spark the Australian victory in the women’s 4×200 free relay.

And Titmus will celebrate her 18th birthday on September 7.

Aquatic Stock Watch


Photo Courtesy: Scott Grant

UP – Canadian Women

Canada picked up two medals Saturday: Sydney Pickrem’s silver in the 200 IM and a bronze in the women’s 4×100 free relay. Pickrem swam a lifetime best time of 2:09.07 and was understandably thrilled to make the podium one year after she had to get out of the World Championships final after swallowing water.

“I think I just wanted to go in there and put my best foot forward and try to get a good race in,” Pickrem said. “With what happened last year, I was ready to redeem myself, so to get on the podium here, I’m more than pleased.”

As for the relay, any finish higher or lower than third would have been a stunner, but the quartet actually led through 300 meters. Canada finished in 3:34.07, faster than any time from last week’s European Championships and just six tenths behind the silver medal-winning Americans. And that’s with Alexia Zevnik anchoring the Canadian squad in 54.11 and Olympic gold medalist Penny Oleksiak absent.

DOWN – Kosuke Hagino

Arguably Japan’s biggest current star in swimming after winning Olympic gold in the 400 IM in 2016, Hagino has seen his performances drop off two years running. After he lost to Chase Kalisz in the 200 IM and missed out on the podium entirely in the 400 IM at the 2017 World Championships, he has settled for silver in the 400 IM and bronze in the 200 IM at Pan Pacs, with Kalisz taking gold on both occasions.

Even on his home turf this week in Tokyo, Hagino has not been particularly close to his American rival, losing by 1.66 seconds in the 200 IM and 3.18 in the 400 IM.

Daiya Seto, the World Champion in the 400 IM in both 2013 and 2015, has also endured a rough week in the IM events, but he earned gold in the 200 fly with a strong time of 1:54.34.

UP – Ella Eastin

Eastin was out of the water for more than half of July while dealing with mononucleosis. After squeezing onto the Pan Pacs team, she now has swum best times twice in a day in the 200 IM. Having never been quicker than 2:10.54 going into the day, she swam a 2:10.25 in prelims and then a 2:09.90 in finals to finish fourth.

Eastin was the top American swimmer in the event at Pan Pacs, but both Kathleen Baker (2:08.32) and Melanie Margalis (2:09.43) swam quicker at U.S. Nationals last month. But Eastin still might end up qualifying to swim at the World Championships next year.

In the Worlds schedule, the 100 back semi-finals occur directly before the 200 IM final. That’s why Katinka Hosszu has not swum the 100 back semis at either the 2015 or 2017 World Championships. Baker has not yet decided if she will drop one of the events for next year in Gwangju, so Eastin still could find her way onto that team.

Impact Races of Tomorrow

ryan murphy

Ryan Murphy — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Even with Mitch Larkin in the midst of a resurgent 2018, the men’s 200 back should be a relatively easy win for American Ryan Murphy. The big question will be if Murphy can challenge the top time in the world, the 1:53.36 that Russian World Champion Evgeny Rylov swam at the European Championships. Murphy’s season best is 1:54.15 from U.S. Nationals last month.

In the men’s 200 breast, Murphy’s fellow Cal Bear Josh Prenot will have his hands full with the Japanese duo of Ippei Watanabe and Yasuhiro Koseki, but all three will be chasing Anton Chupkov and his ridiculous 2:06.80 from the European Championships. Watanabe holds the world record in the event, while Prenot and Koseki rank fourth and fifth all-time, respectively.

Also deserving of mention is the women’s 4×100 medley relay, where the American women will attempt to avoid a shut-out in relays. The team of Baker, Lilly King, Kelsi Dahlia and Simone Manuel set the world record last year in Budapest at 3:51.55, but Australia poses a real threat with Emily Seebohm, Jessica Hansen, Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell. All eight swimmers have won individual medals in their respective 100-meter events in Tokyo.


  1. avatar

    I think both coaches weighing in are full of crap. Rio was less than ideal conditions due to the fact it was in Rio. ( Bowman ) and as far as athlete development taking place by swimmers having to swim in less than ideal conditions ( Gemell ) it does happen. But it should not happen due to USA Staff creating the bad conditions. I would like to know why the team could not have headed over to Japan or at least a similar time zone a week earlier to train? Was it not possible for $$ or logistics? Pan Pacs are not a big deal compared to Worlds and Olympics, but why not respect the athletes enough to give them every opportunity to swim fast and feel good?

    • avatar

      Especially since results at Pan Pacs can put you on or kick you off the Worlds roster.

    • avatar

      Exactly, pathetic excuses by the coaches!

  2. avatar

    What about athlete funding. These athletes need to post times that are top 8 in the world or they could lose funding. This opportunity to have the training they need for the next 2 years is slipping away for some of them.

  3. avatar

    Agree that it is fine to deal with and try to learn and adapt to bad conditions as long as it is not your own home organization actually creating the bad conditions or placing the athletes in less-than-ideal conditions.

  4. avatar
    michael maloney

    Simone Manuel is making a statement… is TYR……give US our money back…..sorry…not sorry..but…we will hear all about the excuses…

  5. avatar
    Ken masterson

    Embarassing performance by the US team, especially relays. Did we even try to win?