By By Phillip Whitten//Guest Contributor | Wednesday, September 27, 2017
This is Part II of a two-part series that examines America’s prospects at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Led by the indomitable Kate Ledecky, the U.S. women’s swim team was easily the strongest women’s team in the pool at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last year. The Americans won two of the three relays, along with six of the 16 individual pool events. Katie accounted for three of those individual golds herself – while she also contributed decisive legs on the relays.
Staying out in front when everyone has you in their sights, can be nerve-racking. But ironically, for the athletes training to become Olympians, the next three years will go by in a flash. I suspect that by the 2020 Trials, Katie’s lead over the rest of the world’s elite female distance swimmers will have shrunk – at least so that when you watch her race on T.V., you will be able to see there are other swimmers (beside Katie) in the race. Still, I would wager that she will remain virtually untouchable, at least in her core events, the 400, 800 and 1500 meters.
With the inevitable inclusion of the 50 back, breast and fly on the Olympic program, Lilly King will probably be faced with choosing either the 50 or the 200 breast as her second event. Unless I miss my guess, she is likely to choose the 50 while Ray Looze, her coach, will incline toward the longer race. It will be interesting to watch the drama play out. I believe Lilly is capable of a 1:03-low and even a 1:02-high in the 100, and Ray probably is one of just a handful of coaches who can inspire her to reach her potential.
The 50 fly would likely go to the new world record holder in the 50 free (23.67 seconds) and 100 free (51.71), Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom , who has posted new global standards while, as of this moment, there is no clear leader in the one-lap dorsal dash.
So far, we have only discussed swimmers who will be “veterans” by the time 2020 rolls around, but you may be certain that the next class of freshman phenoms is already tearing up pools and teaching their elders, while keeping their eyes on the prize. Two young swimmers have especially impressed me: Michael Andrew (yes, another hyper-dedicated “Michael”) is a multi-talented 17 year-old who decided to forego a college swimming career in favor of turning pro.
This strategy paid big time dividends in August at the Junior World Swimming Championships, where he set world junior marks of 21.75 for the 50-meter free, 24.23 for the 50 back and 23.22 for the 50 fly at the Junior World Championships. Reagan Smith has decided to go the “traditional” route on the road to what I believe are the fastest 100 and 200-meter backstroke times ever by a 15-year-old female: 58.95 seconds. She also clocked 2:07.45 for the 200-meter backstroke, just two-hundredths of a second shy of the 200-meter world junior standard. Both backstroke races will be very competitive in Tokyo with – as of this writing – at least eight swimmers having legitimate shots for winning gold.