The “Duel”

Guest editorial by John Craig

PHOENIX, Arizona, December 20. THOSE of us who enjoy sifting the tea leaves and trying to see how things are shaping up in the pre-Olympic year didn't get too much indication from the recent Duel in the Pool. The Europeans brought some of their best swimmers, but most stayed home. And of the swimmers who did come over, most were well off their recent times at the European Championships.

Sprinters, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Marleen Veldhuis, and Fran Halsall were excellent, as was Elizabeth Simmonds. Lotte Friis was extremely impressive, not only setting a textile best by over three seconds in the 800 free but coming with .23 of the world record. All should be factors next summer. Laszlo Cseh, Daniel Gyurta, and Radoslaw Kawecki were solid. But a fair number of the Europeans swam as if they took the redeye across the Atlantic the night before the meet.

This is not to say that they won't acquit themselves well in London. A case in point would be Konrad Czerniak, the silver medalist in the 100 fly in Shanghai behind Michael Phelps. He's obviously going to be a factor in London. Last week at the European Championships he won the 50 free in 20.88 and the 100 fly in 49.62. At Georgia Tech, he went a 21.65 and 50.70. So what can we read into his performance at the Duel? Nothing.

The same goes for a number of other swimmers.

There are all sorts of reasons a swimmer can swim poorly. Maybe he's in heavy training, or has tried to hold his taper too long, or has just gotten off a long plane ride, or isn't shaved, or isn't wearing a racing suit, or is experimenting with his stroke, or is distracted by personal problems, or caught a virus. Or maybe he just hasn't been training hard enough. On the other hand, a really good performance can be interpreted only one way: the swimmer is in shape and ready to go.

There were a number of tellingly good performances in Atlanta which deserve underlining.

Caitlin Leverenz is obviously having a career year. Her 200 IM at nationals two weeks ago ranked her number one for the year in a crowded event. At the Duel she was even more impressive, easily setting the textile best in the 200 IM and missing the WR by only .31.

Amanda Beard is going to be tough. Short course bests – which she posted in Atlanta — often herald long course bests, and she is usually at her best in the biggest meets. She was not at her best in Beijing, however, so is swimming as if she has something to prove.

Ryan Lochte is reportedly training harder than ever this year, which is saying something given the usual Florida program. After his performance at nationals it seemed as if he might even be overtraining. This past weekend he put those fears to rest, doing excellent times on a less than full taper. Keep in mind, had he abstained from that dramatic flourish at the end of his 400 IM he would have gone a 3:58, not a 3:59.

Missy Franklin was excellent, as usual, but that's hardly a revelation. No need to spill any more ink on her here.

Matt Grevers sometimes seems more dominant short course, but as the Olympic silver medalist in the 100 back, he doesn't lack for long course credentials. He is swimming hungry after having missed the World team last year. He looks ready to do damage in both the 100 free and 100 back, and it will be interesting to see if his fly lives up to his short course times.

Ricky Berens' 200 free was no better than the equivalent of what he's done long course before, but his 100 free, where he hasn't been as strong, was his best ever. The extra speed bodes well for his 200 this coming summer, and makes the 400 free relay seem like a possibility for him too. There's certainly no other swimmer who can make a 1:42+ 200 SCM free look quite so easy.

Speaking of looking easy, Elizabeth Pelton looked as if she were just warming up during the first 100 of her 200 IM. Put that 2:07.7 together with the 2:10.0 she swam long course at nationals two weeks ago, and it looks as if she is going to have a very fast IM at Trials. Reuniting with Paul Yetter seems to be just what she needed to regain her momentum.

Whenever a swimmer hibernates for two years, you never know what to expect, but Natalie Coughlin's lifetime best 100 back on Friday night shows that the rust has all been polished off. She is going to be ready next summer.

Davis Tarwater looked awfully good for 150 meters. He needs to work on his endurance a bit more, but his Olympic aspirations, frustrated in 2008, may yet come true given that the second spot in the 200 fly is wide open.

Watch Brendan Hansen's leg of the medley relay; he, like Lochte in the backstroke, seems to gain most of his ground on his turns and breakouts. But even with the great turns, his times served notice that he's going to be in the thick of the hunt for individual gold in London.

As a "duel," this meet meant little. (Scoring just the European and American swimmers on a 5 – 3 – 1 basis in London will be much more telling.) But it was, as always, interesting to see who is swimming well. Anyway, a lot more tea leaves to come with all the Grand Prix meets.