Can Team USA Make It Seven In A Row At Duel In the Pool?

Photo Courtesy: Jeremy Brevard - USA TODAY Sports Images

Commentary by Jeff Commings

This year’s Duel in the Pool, set for December 11-12 in Indianapolis, is likely to further show us what we already knew after this summer’s world championships: the world is catching up to the United States in the pool.

Team USA experienced its lowest gold medal count at a world championships in a long time, winning only five individual events. Europeans won 15 individual gold medals, and while the Americans will suffer greatly at the Duel in the Pool with the absence of Katie Ledecky, they should be very grateful that only five of this year’s 11 world champions from Europe agreed to participate.

Based on the rosters for Team USA and the European-All Stars, Europe is likely to win this year’s Duel In the Pool. That would put an end to the unbeaten streak the Americans have enjoyed in the meet dating back to the competitions against Australia. In 2013, the Europeans lost by one point, and it’s clear there’s no intent of letting that happen again.

The wild card is the level of preparation each athlete will make for the meet. The Europeans tend to rest heavily for any major meet, and I believe the Americans will, too. The enticement of cash prizes will likely have Team USA put aside the typical belief that no meet outside of the Olympics, world championships, NCAAs or nationals deserves a taper.

Below is a breakdown of the possible matchups set for December’s meet, and who will come out on top.

Duel In the Pool Women’s Events

Sprint freestyle
The Americans have the depth in the 50 and 100 freestyles to match what Europe has to offer. It’s only a matter of how the placings work out, and the races could be close. Simone Manuel, Natalie Coughlin and Jessica Hardy could put up some big points in the 50 free, with Missy Franklin likely joining them in the 100 free. Ranomi Kromowidjojo is the reigning Olympic champion in both sprint freestyles, but didn’t have a great meet at long course worlds. If she’s back on track, she could sweep the sprints, accompanied by Jeanette Ottesen and former 100 free world champ Aliaksandra Herasimenia.

200 freestyle
This will be a rematch between Katinka Hosszu and Missy Franklin, where Hosszu will be looking to get the victory after missing out on the medal stand at worlds while Franklin collected the bronze medal. Manuel would be a good choice for Team USA, as will Leah Smith to counter Hosszu and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor.

Distance freestyle
Without Ledecky, Europe will run wild over the distance freestyles. Jazz Carlin, Lotte Friis and Boglarka Kapas will dominate over the likes of Smith and Becca Mann.

Butterfly
On paper, Ottesen is unstoppable in the 100 fly, coming in as the silver medalist from worlds. Kelsi Worrell has been having an incredible year, and could give Ottesen a strong challenge. The 200 fly will be a great race, as Hosszu, Fransziska Hentke and Zsuszanna Jakabos will do battle against Worrell and Cammile Adams.

Backstroke
The Americans have plenty of depth in the backstroke, but will be hard-pressed to the get first-place points. Mie Nielsen could be the spoiler in the 100 back, though Coughlin and Franklin are also strong in the event. Indiana native Claire Adams could provide some assistance, with a big boost from the home crowd. Hosszu’s underwater kicks could help her win the 200 back over Franklin in the short course meters pool, though Franklin is very good at outswimming just about any of her rivals.

Breaststroke
Yuliya Efimova could sweep the breaststroke events for Europe, but it won’t be easy. Katie Meili could continue a breakthrough year by upsetting Efimova (the world champion in the 100 breast), while Micah Lawrence could outlast Efimova in the 200. Caitlin Leverenz and Laura Sogar have better chances of scoring big in the 200 breast, which means Fanny Lecluyse and Hilda Luthersdottir could take advantage of the Americans’ weakness in the 100 breast.

Individual medley
As the reigning short course and long course world champion in the 200 and 400 IMs, Hosszu is unbeatable. If Maya DiRado had been a part of the squad, the Americans would have been almost assured of second place in both events. But look for O’Connor to finish second in the 200 IM, while Jakabos should do well in the 400 IM. Leverenz and Melanie Margalis will do what they can to keep Europe at bay in the 200 IM, while Leverenz and Sarah Henry would be the best chances for big points for the Americans. Cammile Adams could step into the 400 IM as well.

Relays
The 400 free relay will be close. On paper, the Americans have the edge with Franklin, Hardy, Geer and Manuel as the top four. Coughlin and Lia Neal might step into the A relay, and with only one foursome per team scoring, it’s important to find the best relay. Europe counters well with the strength of Kromowidjojo, Herasimenia and Ottesen. O’Connor is also strong in the 100 free. The medley relay also presents a close matchup, with both teams almost equal with their top swimmers in each stroke. I give Europe the advantage now with stronger butterfly and freestyle swimmers.

Prediction: The Europeans will win more women’s events, and one of the two relays. That will help them win the women’s side of the meet.

Ranomi Kromowidjojo

Photo Courtesy: Gian Mattia Dalberto/Lapresse

Duel In the Pool Men’s Events

Sprint freestyle
This is a fairly even matchup. The United States has Nathan Adrian and Josh Schneider up against Vladimir Morozov and Marco Orsi in the 50 free. They will take the top four spots, but it’s anyone’s guess who can get the crucial win. In the 100 free, Adrian and Morozov are also evenly matched there, with Andrii Govorov likely to perform better than Orsi. The Americans have a strong trip behind Adrian in the 100 free, as Conor Dwyer, Ryan Lochte and Michael Chadwick could give the United States some depth.

200 freestyle
Lochte will be looking for revenge against James Guy in the 200 free. Guy was one of three people to pass Lochte in the final 25 meters of the 200 free at the world championships, and Lochte could get his comeuppance thanks to his superior turns. Look for Lochte to put his new underwater kicking style on display in this event and rattle Guy a little bit. Dwyer could help greatly for Team USA, as will Connor Jaeger and Zane Grothe.

Distance freestyle
Look for Guy to win the 400 freestyle ahead of Connor Jaeger, with a great battle for third in the making. Dan Wallace is very capable in the 400 free, as are Jan Switkowski and Gregorio Paltrinieri. For the United States, I’m sure Dwyer will step into the event with Michael McBroom and Grothe. It should be a great fight to the finish. In the 1500 free, I’m anxious to see how Paltrinieri and Jaeger match up in the short course pool. This might be the only major weakness for the European men, as no one can match the strength of McBroom and Grothe in the mile.

Butterfly
Since this is a short course meters meet, I expect Tom Shields to win both butterfly events. Shields is one of the best underwater kickers in the world, and that should help him get to the wall ahead of Laszlo Cseh. Don’t count out Cseh, though, as he won the 200 fly world title and picked up silver in the 100 fly last summer. Viktor Bromer will provide strong backup for Cseh in the 200 fly. Beyond Cseh and Shields, neither team has an established 100 butterflyer on the squad. We might see Lochte in this event, and couple with Shields, the two could pull off a 1-2 finish in the 100 fly.

Backstroke
Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman have the capability of going 1-2 in the 100 back, and it would be great to see these two in the 200 back as well. That’s where the Americans could suffer, with short course world champion Radoslaw Kawecki in the race. Look for Tyler Clary to shine here, and this could be another event to feature Lochte. Kawecki could have strong support from Peter Bernek and Pavel Sankovich. Luca Mencarini could make it an even stronger event for Europe.

Breaststroke
The Americans have the 100 breast locked up, with Kevin Cordes, Cody Miller and Andrew Wilson poised for a 1-2-3 finish that would really help Team USA on the second day of the meet. As far as the 200 breast, Daniel Gyurta will be in a dogfight with Cordes for the win. Andrew Willis could also be in the mix, but his performances earlier in 2015 don’t suggest that he can stay with the leaders through the entire race.

Individual medley
Cseh skipped out on the 200 IM at the world championships, but I think the European All-Stars would be smart to put him in the event at the Duel In the Pool. Cseh is Europe’s best answer to Lochte in the event, and if Cseh doesn’t swim in the event, that leaves the United States open to a 1-2 finish. I expect Dwyer to swim here to help the Americans, and the field could be rounded out with Josh Prenot and Clary. On paper, the 400 IM belongs to David Verraszto, the bronze medalist in the event at world championships. Clary will be very tough, though, and will be looking to get the men’s team off to a winning start in the first individual event for the men. Prenot is making big strides in the 400 IM, and could be a very strong competitor here. Dan Wallace shouldn’t be counted out, either, after making the world championship final last summer.

Relays
Though many would think the Americans don’t have a chance against the Europeans in the 400 free relay, based on Team USA’s failure to make the finals at worlds, the Americans will be tough to beat in Indianapolis. Adrian, Lochte, Dwyer and Grevers are the likely swimmers for the United States, and that is an impressive lineup. Europe will likely use Morozov, Orsi, Govorov and Guy for their relay, and the difference might come from the support the crowd will give the Americans. This will be the final event of the meet, and as it did in 2013, the overall team race might be decided on this race.

The medley relay is firmly in the United States’ hands, and Europe will not be able to get past the lead Grevers would put up in the backstroke leg.

Prediction: The American men will win the meet, but not by much. The team that wins on the men’s side will be the one that can put up more 1-2 finishes. At first glance, Team USA has the best chance of doing that.

Overall meet prediction: The European women will have such a wide gap over the Americans that won’t be overcome by the American men. Expect the European All-Stars to win, but by fewer than 10 points.

3 Comments

3 comments

  1. avatar
    commonwombat

    Kromowidjojo picked up silver in W50FS in Kazan; US representative was 8th. True that she has not been sub53 for a few years but she was 53.17 (4th) in Kazan when the US swimmers were 53high which is where US IS in this event. She should sweep both sprints. Women’s relays are a coin toss as neither of two relays being swum here are strong ones for US but there is always a question mark over combinations that are “cobbled together” for such meets.

    Agree that Ledecky out equates to a major “points drain” in the distance FS. Much will depend on the condition of the Europeans. On paper, I would agree that Efimova & Nielsen should win 100BRS & Back respectively. Fly is an open book as Sjostrom aside, times have been generally slow this year.

    Hosszu should win both medleys and on current form has the edge on Franklin in 200back; all will depend on the “sanity” of her race schedule.

    USA does look considerably stronger on the mens side and unless Cseh or Guy are “on the mark”, it could get distinctly ugly for Europe.

  2. avatar
    Helen Bayly

    Thanx SW Jeff et al for excellent coverage, info and predictions. Good Luck USA!

Author: Jeff Commings

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Jeff Commings is the Senior Writer for SwimmingWorld.com and Swimming World Magazine. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

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