By By Phillip Whitten//Guest Contributor | Wednesday, September 6, 2017
This is Part I of a two-part series that examines America’s prospects at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The United States Olympic swim team is gearing up for another spectacular performance in Tokyo in 2020. The 2016 Team was totally dominant last year in Rio de Janeiro, winning 11 of 26 individual pool events and taking five of the six relays for a total of 33 medals, 16 of them gold. That’s more than the next five nations combined! Over a year has passed since the closing ceremony at the Maracana Olympic Stadium. Yet, if the results at the World Aquatic Championships in Budapest are any indication – and history tells us they usually are – Uncles Sam’s swimmers may rule the pool in Tokyo to an even greater degree than they did in Rio.
The U.S. Men’s Team: Replacing Michael
The U.S. men’s team could dominate at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but it’s no sure thing. Internationally, the level of the men’s competition is both fast and deep. American hopes depend on whether they can successfully overcome a most daunting challenge: replacing Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of all time.
And guess what? It’s a bit early to tell, of course, but it looks like they have the firepower to do it.
The key to a successful transition is to find another young man or woman who is talented in more than one stroke. This person must also be impervious to intimidation as well as someone who can be depended upon to deliver a super-human performance precisely when it is most needed.
Turns out, the U.S. might have just the man: Caeleb Dressel. This August, Dressel – a 20 year-old University of Florida sophomore who destroyed several NCAA short course marks last March – turned in the world’s fastest time this year in four events at the world championships in Budapest. All four were just tiny fractions of a second off the world record. By next summer, he could be primed and ready to take the global standards in, at least, the 100m free and the 100m fly. Ultimately, when all the dust has settled, he may also find he owns the world records for both 50s as well.
Aside from the sprint free and fly, the American men have some very strong events, and a few where they appear to be vulnerable. Topping the list of strongest events is the 100-meter backstroke, an event on which the USA is riding a six-Olympiad gold medal streak. Ryan Murphy, the 2016 gold medalist, has already indicated he plans to be in Tokyo to defend his crown. The last time the USA failed to win this event was in 1992, but there will be no shortage of determined challengers in 2020, starting with China’s fast-rising Xu Jiayu, who probably should be accorded “favorite” status, with the Aussies, the French and the other U.S. dorsal ace – whoever it turns out to be – in the mix. It probably will take a world record around 51-low to win the 100.
The 200 back looks much the same, with the U.S. not quite as strong as in the 100. However, there will be more than enough drama to go around. Among the faves: Veteran Hungarian champion, David Verasszto.
In projecting the winner of the sprint breaststroke, you need know only one word: “Peaty.” There! I’ve said everything that needs to be said. Look for a 56 from Adam Peaty, the speedy Brit, conceivably even a 55-high!
The 200 breast probably takes two words to analyze: “Japanese” and “Russians,” although a stray American, Hungarian, South African, Italian or Lithuanian could sneak in and earn a spot on the podium. The 200 fly, however, is likely to be a Hungarian affair, though which Hungarians is a matter for debate – at least until it is resolved in the pool. Among the top contenders: Russia’s Yevgueny Rylov; perennial Hungarian champion, Laszlo Cseh and rookie, Krystof Milak.
The Americans are most vulnerable in the four middle-distance and distance events. The Aussies, as always, will be tough, as will newcomers from Poland and Romania, but it is two Italians, Gabrielle Detti and Gregorio Paltinieri, who appear ready to take command of the 400, 800 and 1,500 meters freestyle.
South Africa’s Chad le Clos ranks first in the 200 fly, but six of the next seven contenders are either Japanese or Hungarian. The 200 IM should witness an intriguing battle between defending champion, Kosuke Hagino of Japan and world record-holder, Ryan Lochte, who is attempting a comeback. Don’t discount American Chase Kalisz. Bump the medley up to 400 meters and Kalisz becomes the favorite, with Lochte and Hagino looking to pull the upset.