Swimming at the 2016 Olympics: America vs the best of the rest of the worldApril 14, 2016

Recent days were an exciting time for swimming fans, as many countries held their respective Olympic trials. Those who qualified for the Rio Olympics have four months to get ready for the biggest sport event. On the other hand, the US Olympic trials would be held in Omaha this July. The American swimmers have only a month, which seems to be a short period. But Americans dominated the pool for decades.

The 1976 Olympics saw the American men winning 12 of the 13 events. David Wilkie of Great Britain prevented the US from a rare sweep, edging John Hencken for the gold in the 200 meter breaststroke. It wasn't the case during the last three Olympics, where swimming became an international affair. But they don't have someone like Michael Phelps. The native of Baltimore sealed his legacy after helping the US win the 4 x 100 m medley relay. It was not close to the world record, which was set during the 2009 FINA World Championships. (Phelps was part of that record-breaking team.) Nonetheless, the victory gave the US a slight edge above the rest of the field. Phelps did retire, and he tried. You can't blame him if he wanted to set more records.

Ryan Lochte will be Phelps's strongest rival in the trials. Their case is an interesting study of contrast. (Lochte is known for his fast swim during the first half. Phelps may be relatively slow during the first half, but he'll make it up on the second half. And spectators are amazed at his speed.) Lochte, a native of Rochester, New York, could have been THE swimmer of the London Games, but he didn't meet his expectations. As for Phelps, he managed to win a few more golds. Expect both swimmers to top the trials. On the women's side, Katie Ledecky is expected to be the top female swimmer in Rio. She did it in the world championships (in Kazan, Russia) last year, and only an injury would prevent her from doing it again. She would only be 19 years of age.

Don't be surprised if Ledecky, Lochte, and Phelps will win a combined total of 10 golds in Rio. It might be enough for the US to finish atop the medal scoreboard, but they must watch out at some standouts from other nations. It won't be Yannick Agnel, who was authorized to defend his 200 meter freestyle title. (He finished third in the trials. Jordan Pothain, who posted the second fastest time, opted to focus on the 400 meters. Agnel was grateful, but he would pass up Rio if he couldn't peak in a few months.) Let's look at the three swimmers who are certain of winning the Olympic gold:

Daiya Seto. The native of Saitama, Japan won the 400 meter individual medley in Kazan without Phelps and Lochte. Not even László Cseh, who finished second or third in the 200 and 400 IM during the past years. Fans are eager to find out if the Japanese swimmer can prevail over the trio. Let's not forget the hometown bet, Thiago Pereira, who is a silver medalist in the 400 meter IM in London. Unless Phelps can recapture his old form, it will be a close race. And Seto will touch the wall first.

Chad le Clos. Sports fans love rivalry, and they've been watching Phelps and Le Clos since last summer. Some would be reminded of Milorad Čavić, who believed that he won his 100-meter butterfly duel against Phelps at the Beijing Olympics. (The American silenced the doubters, the Serbian swimmer included, in the 2009 worlds.) In last year's world, Le Clos had strong words for Phelps. The latter let his swimming did the talking. (He was suspended for drunk driving, so he was barred from competing in Kazan. But he posted faster time in a swimming meet in the US.) Phelps thrives in this kind of situation, so it will be unwise to bet against him. But the South African dominated the butterfly events during the last three years.

Cate and Bronte Campbell. Australian fans were excited to see two sisters from Brisbane ruling the blue ribbon events in the past few years. It remains to be seen if Missy Franklin can beat them in Rio. Expect the press to hype it up, even comparing the sisters to Dawn Fraser. They can be certain of seeing Australia's first gold medalist since Jodie Henry.

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