Help On The Way & Some Work To Do For Team USA On The Road To Rio 2016

Katie Ledecky of the United States of America (USA) celebrates a new World Record after winning the women's 1500m Freestyle Final during the FINA Swimming World Championships at Kazan arena in Kazan, Russia, 4 August 2015.

John Lohn assesses Team USA’s strengths and weaknesses after a much tighter win at the helm of medals coming out of world titles in Kazan. Four solo golds for Katie Ledecky was significant to the USA keeping hold of its nation-No1 status

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John Lohn assesses Team USA’s strengths and weaknesses after a much tighter win at the helm of medals coming out of world titles in Kazan. Four solo golds for Katie Ledecky was significant to the USA keeping hold of its nation-No1 status



An interesting piece, John, and a lot with which I can agree. Apart from the “Ledecky Show”, the showings of Adams, Jaeger, MacLaughlin, DiRado & Cordes were pleasing omens for the future.

I did, however, take a recent “wander” across to look at the US Nationals result sheets and whilst there WERE the pleasing signs from the Dressels & Congers; an awfully large percentage of names on finals sheets have very significant miles on the clock. With many of them, one can admit there is a “class” quotient present but ideally you’d want younger names predominating and this was frequently not the case.

My quibbles with the article itself relate to the relay pieces. M4XMED & W4X200 are essentially secure bets, end of story. M4X200 certainly will be stronger in Rio with the Phelps presence and likely prohibitive favourites. I also agree the M4X100 is looking at an uphill battle to contend.

I DO, however, take issue with your optimism for the W4XMED. Whilst I think every legitimate swim fan wants to see Franklin back to her best, it cannot be taken as “given”. The same “she’ll be back to her best next year” was said after 2014 Pan Pacs. The facts have spoken a very different tale. She will need to find a completely new level to beat Seebohm over 100 & at least back to her previous level to be a chance of beating the likes of Wilson, Nielsen & Hosszu.

I also think a little too much is being made of Meili & Stewart’s Pan Am swims. Promising signs for the future certainly but note they were in heats with their finals AND relay times being slower.

The issue of Manuel actually ties in with the relay you notably DIDN’T mention; the W4X100. Essentially USA currently has a ruck of 53high swimmers with no one really looking to be a consistent 53.5 swimmer let alone getting anywhere close to the big guns.

The USW4X100 is currently 3rd in the world and unless they find at least 2 swimmers who can reliably split sub53 (flying start) they are battling to move up on NED let alone threaten AUS. Should SWE find a more competitive 4th leg ……..

This weakness also hurts the W4XMED. As it currently sits, your anchor leg is more
holding on” rather than taking ground on the other teams in the likely medal mix.

John Lohn

My take on Franklin and thinking she’ll be back is that she’s back with Schmitz, which produced terrific results the first time around. Franklin seems to benefit from the heavier workload of Schmitz.

Agreed the 400 free relay is troublesome with a glut of 53-highs, but no real hammers like the other nations.


One would hope that will be the case with Franklin; she’s a class act & genuine respect for quality transcends all national boundaries.

As to whether she returns to a position of dominance is another matter. The 200back looks the most likely situation given that was the event that she effectively stamped her “ownership” upon.

100back looks much tougher & in the 200fs she’s most definitely in the mix but so are a good number of other swimmers, including others of similar stature to herself.


Commonwombat, it’s possible the US will have a 58 sec 100 back swimmer next year and it might not necessarily be Missy (or only Missy). Obviously Natalie has gone 59.0 possibly signalling a return to that event in international competition.

Consider this:

Claire Adams, aged 17, won US Nationals with a 59.5. Baker, 18 has been 59 a couple times this year including at worlds. On the even younger end of the spectrum, Alex Walsh has been dropping large chunks of time whenever she swims. Most recently this month at US JRs she went 1:00.84 on her 14th birthday. Ariola, turned 15 this year, went 1:00.62 at Nats. Ragan Smith, 13, on 1:01.32. This is probably the most young depth in any one event for female swimming in the US right now. Of course, 2016 may be too soon but swimmers like Ruta and Ledecky were only on the margins of the swimming community’s consciousness in 2011 so you can’t rule anything out. The basic gist is that even if Missy is unable to recapture her form from 2011-2013 the US is probably not going to be weak on that leg. I think most of us would agree that the US swimmer is unlikely to be leading off the medley with a 59.8 in Rio.

Worrell has been 57.2 twice this summer at different meets. And if you prefer to discount Meili’s 1:05 from Pan Am prelims she still went 1:06 in the finals both in Toronto and at Nationals. Being consistent enough to go no worse than 1:06 is nothing to shake a stick at and there’s no reason to believe she can’t improve heading into the Olympics next year. Also on Breaststroke there’s Lilly King, 18 years old, who has swum 1:06s at two different meets this summer.

The free leg is really the only concern. A looming weakness that may see Missy swimming the free leg even if she’s the top backstroker in order to put together the fastest potential aggregate time. Manuel and Weitzel have put together impressive short course yards swims. But unlike the above mentioned promising young and breakout swimmers this year they have yet to showcase the same strength in long course. The US was dominant enough on the first three legs in London to swim Schmitt on anchor and still break the WR. They won’t have that luxury in Rio.

The US Men’s 4×200 looks pretty good beyond just Phelps returning. You have teenagers like Rooney, 17, and Haas, 18, both on 1:57. There will be more insurance on that relay next summer. The Men’s sprint relay looks clearly to be the weakest of the six. A big shift would need to occur in the landscape to make the team a contender for gold. Just winning a medal may look like an accomplishment even in the best of circumstances. The sprint relay is the weakest for the women as well. Gold an extreme long shot but wining a medal would get better odds than the men. The relays were probably hurt most by the selection policy. Natalie wouldn’t give the US team the hammer it needs. But just having her leadership helps and she has come up big before like her leg in Barcelona.


I am not convinced that Missy is at her best just yet, she is either still injured or not fully recovered from her back injury which showed up in all her starts in individual events, she was taking on too much too soon!


Is Missy Franklin to continue training with Todd Schmitz up to Rio? Wasn’t the plan to train with him for the WC’s and make a decision after that?


Vid of the week. M4x100 Free final, LA 84, courtesy of westnyacktwins. First time on YT 🙂


Felix Sanchez

As suggested, the USA will have to be more careful about who they swim in heats, but regardless of approach, the men’s 4×100 free seems too big an ask for them at the moment. France are going to have genuinely fast guys, as our Australia (if they perform), and maybe Russia too; whereas John’s talking about maybe getting a good swim out of guys who looked better in other events. The fact that Lochte is the other swimmer mentioned along with Adrian as rested from the heats, does point to a lack of specialists. This is an incredibly harsh way to put things about such an all-time great, but I would suggest that if the Americans consider Lochte to be one of their strongest four, that’s a good indication that they won’t have enough top sprinters to win gold.

Francene Same

Maybe Jaeger has a great chance for gold if Sun again messes up on doses… of what, you decide:


‘At next year’s Olympic Trials, the top-six finishers in the 100 freestyle and 200 freestyle will be named to Team USA for the Rio Games. However, that doesn’t mean each one of those six athletes has to get a swim. ‘

While true, this statement is quite misleading. This is taken from the FINA document for Rio qualification:

‘If an NOC enters relay-only swimmers for a specific event, these swimmers must swim either in the heat or
final of that relay event. Should a relay-only swimmer not compete, this will lead to the disqualification of the
respective team in the final.’

This year the US would have been obliged to swim Jimmy Feigen at some point in the 4×1 free, while the 4×2 would actuall have been DQd for not swimming Clay Youngquist.

This is less of a problem for weaker nations, as weaker swimmers will often be entered in their own individual events.


Iain, the following clause provides a good deal of “wiggle room” which most large teams use with regards to relay nominations.

“All swimmers entered in individual events can be used in relays, even if they have not achieved the OST / “B” Time for the corresponding stroke and distance of the relay in which they are entered.”

Therefore teams will often mark down ALL potential candidates for the particular relays when it comes time to finalise entries.

The allowances for “Relay Only” swimmers are as follows:

– One Relay – 2 additional swimmers
– Two Relays – 4 additional swimmers 
– Three Relays – 6 additional swimmers
– Four Relays – 8 additional swimmers
– Five Relays – 10 additional swimmers
– Six Relays – 12 additional swimmers

However, teams have a “cap” of 26male & 26 female so there certainly has to be significant juggling/prioritisation come selection time for those nations likely to qualify at maximum 2 swimmers per individual event.


I think after another year training with Todd Schmitt at altitude, Missy will be fine.


I’m confused about the back injury situation with Missy Franklin. Some reports still suggest it was an issue which hampered her performance during the WC’s. I thought she was over it some time ago and it’s surprising to me that it’s still mentioned considering that she swam NCAA’s with great success.


Not sure if the back problem is still an issue but it would certainly have affected her training post pan pacs!


Neither Franklin nor her coach mentioned last year back problem as a factor that could affect Missy’s performance in Kazan. Quite an opposite. It was stated that she was in great physical state and it could be only issues with confidence. I don’t share the opinion that her performance in Kazan was that bad. Yes she didn’t progress when the rest of the swimming world didn’t stay at the same place. But her freestyle races and 200 back were pretty much decent. She actually was a leader at 200 yard point both in 200m back and 200m free 🙂 . If she can handle mentally to be on second roles for a while and participate at many international meets she will definitely catch up with the pace of elite swimming?


She still had a great meet winning 5 medals!


Franklin’s freestyle was fine in Kazan; certainly not at any new level but generally “on par” with her levels at most major meets in her career thus far.

Her backstroke, however, WAS off. Reasons – may be multiple and varied.

Nobody in their right mind should write her off and one would expect her main competitors will be training/operating under the expectations that she WILL be “back on her game” come Rio.

Having said that, she faces a legitimately uphill battle to win the 100bk in Rio. The current Seebohm seems a very different one to the London vintage and her level of consistency & times are such that Franklin will need to reach a whole new level to be a realistic chance of winning.

Indeed, she would need to regain her previous levels to be a medal contender due to the progress of Wilson, Nielsen & (pending a saner schedule of events) the presence of Hosszu.

The field is far thinner in the 200 where, even at “sub par” Kazan mode she was still able to medal. Back to her best, one would think she may still have favouritism albeit maybe not the “Ledecky level” of dominance she once had.


Missy has a 100m back best of 58.3, and a 200 of 2.04, she went 59.5 and 2.06, so she is nowhere near her best in these events at the moment, Next year will be another story and this year will count for nothing, the Olympics are the event they all want to win, she has done this before!


Everybody and everything will benefit having Missy Franklin back to the top level of competition. But without clear understanding of what caused the drop in her performance I would be careful with super optimistic prognoses. The explanation that for two years she competed mostly at college level doesn’t help much. So what? If she just lost the feeling of racing at LCM then it will come back. If what we saw in Kazan is the manifestation of some changes happened within her body then it is too early to predict how she will overcome it. The argument that she has done this before may not work. Same words were said bravely just month ago regarding upcoming races at WC.

tom robinson

Concerning John’s comments about the USA’s future relay strategy, the “old” system of using your 4 slowest in the prelim heats has to put into the garbage can in the future. Looking at the ’16 OG, a possible strategy to use would be put your 1 or 2 best swimmers into the prelim heat along with your 2 “slowest” (especially the 4*100 FR). In the final, the 2 unused swimmers would be used along with your 2 best.
In the 2020 OG selection, a new policy could be only the top 5 swimmers from relay events would be selected automatically at the OT then the 6th swimmer would come from the remaining swimmers who qualified in other events. For example, someone like Phelps will most likely not swim the 100 or 200 free at the OT but he could be the 6th person put onto the list of relay swimmers. This would not put the USA coaches into a situation where they have to swim someone and risk not making the finals.

John Lohn

Very good points, Tom. Hope to see you posting regularly here. For our regulars, I know Tom very well and he’ll bring terrific analysis/commentary to the already excellent mix we have going here.


Interesting points re the use of “Relay Only” swimmers. It will most likely only be a consideration for less than a handful of nations who will be in the position of fielding “full quotas” in all or nearly all individual events which WOULD in itself bring them to the “capped” maximum of 26 male/26 female.

With that in mind, it WILL be very interesting to see which countries adopt more stringent qualifying times than the FINA A times. This MAY or may not give them leeway with “relay only” selections but much will be event specific dependant on the relative depth for the specific events.

Cases in point. AUS M4X100 looks currently very shallow in depth with potential 5th/6th currently 49mid at best & therefore doubtful use. Conversely there may be at least 5 at 53mid or better in W100 with also the potential to draft additional sub54s in Seebohm & Wilson.

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