In December 2010, USA Swimming named Gregg Troy and Teri McKeever its national team coaches through the London Olympics. Troy, who coaches the University of Florida and Ryan Lochte, heads the men's team, while McKeever, the coach of the University of California and Natalie Coughlin, leads the women as the organization's first female Olympic head coach. At the USA Swimming Winter Nationals, Troy and McKeever shared their outlook for their teams at the London Games, as well as for their superstar swimmers.
SI.com: As the head coach, you will be most scrutinized for selecting Olympic relay teams. What considerations will you take into it?
Troy: Fortunately, I'll have four other staff members on the men's side, and actually the goal for the women's and men's staff -- Teri and I have talked a little bit about it -- is to co-mingle. There are a lot of coaches that work with both males and females, so we're going to have some other staff to rely on. We'll certainly look at history and guys that have experience at that level. The fastest person is usually the best way to go. By the same token, there's a context there that none of the relay spots are assured, so we're going to go with the hottest hand. If you get a Michael Phelps who may not have swum the [individual] 100 freestyle, but he's swimming everything else well, you can pretty much rest assured he's one of the best 100 freestylers in the world. I'll look at experience, and at the same time, the hottest guys who are ready to go.
SI.com: You had a tough relay situation this year. In retrospect, should Ryan Lochte have been on the 4x100-meter freestyle relay at this year's world championships [that took bronze without him]?
Troy: I don't know. It's kind of one of those calls. It was the first event of the meet, and he's not classically a 100 freestyler. In retrospect, when you saw the 200 free [where Lochte beat Phelps] and everything else [Lochte's five gold medals and a world record], maybe it was a case that he was a hot-hand guy, but unfortunately he hadn't shown it yet at that point. We've got a lot of things to look at next year.
SI.com: What will go into the process of choosing the events that Lochte swims at June's Olympic trials?
Troy: First off, we want to look at where we feel like he can be most successful. We'll take the events where we feel that he has the greatest opportunity for success, the ones that come comfortable for him, and we'll start there. Then, we'll take a look at the program at the trials and what we feel like we can actually make the team in. From there, you've got to sit down. Even though the trials are the same format as the Olympics, there's more media, the ready room you have to go to, all those timelines are different. Quite frankly, I'm not sure I did a very good job handling that in 2008 [when Lochte won two golds and two bronzes in three individual races and one relay].
SI.com: What about swimming two Olympic finals in one night?
Troy: There's a difference between a hard double and an impossible double. We've never approached anything that's impossible, but some of them might be hard enough that it impacts other events. We're not in a dynamic where we're trying to win X number of medals. We're going to put ourselves in the best position to be as good as we can as often as possible.
SI.com: Phelps made the 2004 Olympic team in the 200 backstroke and opted not to swim the event at the Olympics with his schedule being so busy. Could Ryan do something similar?
Troy: That's a definite possibility if we feel that the trials give us flexibility. In 2008, we swam the 100 freestyle [at trials] and made the final but chose not to swim the final, which probably impacted us [not] being on the relay.
I think the program falls a little bit better for Michael than it does for Ryan. Ryan's doubles are a whole lot [for him to swim]. The 200 IM-200 backstroke double is just extremely tough. The final for each event is the same day, so it's not like you're comparing a final to a semi on the same day, where he can save a little bit of energy. He's going two full-out efforts.
SI.com: Everybody remembers how exciting the 4x100 freestyle relay was in Beijing with Jason Lezak's anchor. How do you see that relay playing out next year?
Troy: There are a lot of countries. [2004 Olympic champion] South Africa can swim a great 4x100 freestyle relay. I think that the Chinese, while it hasn't been good for them in the past, you can see them getting a little bit better. Certainly, the [2011 world champion] Australians have a great group, the [2008 Olympic silver medalists] French are still the same. We've got a great nucleus in the U.S., and that's where that relay selection becomes key. We've got to get four guys on their numbers at the right time, and no one can be off. Any country that has everyone on is in the ballpark.
SI.com: What were the positives and negatives coming out of the year before the Olympics? Many are concerned about the breaststroke, where no man medaled at the world championships.
Troy: We're a little bit long in the tooth [in the breaststroke]. They're a little bit older [Brendan Hansen, 30, and Mark Gangloff, 29, among others], but they're also very experienced. So we have to get better there. The 4x100 freestyle relay, I think we've got to get all the guys firing on the same cylinders.
The best thing I saw last summer is it seems that Michael is back on track, really interested and hungry. When Michael is hungry and on top of it, he's the best. Ryan's an extremely good athlete, but there are also other guys that are stepping up the whole way around.
SI.com: There will be pressure to pick out the right athletes for the women's relays at the Olympics. What is your philosophy?
McKeever: You want to go with the hot hand. Obviously, with our trials leading up to it, we have a good indication of where people are. If a tough decision has to be made, I've been fortunate enough in the last 10 years to be on various national team staffs. You rely on your past experience and your assistant coaches to make the best decision possible ... and then deal with the consequences (laughs).
SI.com: The women's duels have been primarily the U.S. against Australia at the last few Olympics. Do you see that changing?
McKeever: That is the natural rivalry, especially when you combine men and women. But I think you've got to look at what the Chinese are doing on the women's side [second to the U.S. with nine medals at 2011 worlds]. I think the Dutch have had amazing sprinters and are doing a great job in that. The Italians, the French. The world is bigger. It's not just us and Australia anymore.
SI.com: The Lochte-Phelps dynamic is big, but the women may have a deeper team. Which storylines should everybody be watching?
McKeever: I think everybody likes the young darling, and what Missy Franklin is doing [five world championship medals, 2011 FINA World Swimmer of the Year at age 16] is obviously exceptional and drawing a lot of attention. I think she's a young woman that's going to play an integral part in the team performance. I think Natalie's veteran leadership and what she's been able to do at the last two Olympic Games [11 combined medals] are invaluable. Someone like Amanda Beard, what she's done, and this would be her fifth Olympics. I think [2011 Swimming World Swimmer of the Year] Rebecca Soni is an awesome story, came into Beijing and really dominated and has dominated the world stage in breaststroke [sweeping the 100 and 200 at 2011 worlds]. And I think Dara Torres [trying to make her sixth Olympic team at age 45] entails a whole other audience. You've got a little bit of everything. We're going to hit all the demographics.
SI.com: Hypothetical situation -- Say Dara Torres only swims the 50 free at trials. Would she still have a shot at being on your 4x100 freestyle relay team in London?
McKeever: I think everyone on the Olympic team has a shot, but I think there would have to be some assurances, a pretty good idea of what she could do in the 100. We know what she did four years ago [anchoring the Olympic relay to silver], but that was a long time ago. Where are the other women that have qualified for that relay? Are they all really close, or is there a big drop off and we need something special? There are a lot of different scenarios, but you definitely would have to consider it. I think a good coaching staff is going to consider all your options.
SI.com: What is your reaction to Speedo's new suits, caps and goggles?
McKeever: There are some people that have said the suits aren't going to be an issue. I think the suits are always going to be an issue from here on out. This was going to happen again. New people are going to come out with new things. Technology is a part of our sport now, and it will be interesting to see how FINA legislates some of it. That [Speedo] suit system is going to aid performance, and that's what their job is, to create a product that is going to help us swim faster within the current rules. I think the whole cap-and-goggles thing [new designs also expected to shave precious fractions of a second] totally makes sense to me. It's showing our sport is gaining notoriety and exposure, and people are spending money on research to figure out the subtleties of where we might be able to take time off. When I swam 30, 40 years ago, it was like, you shave and you're going to be faster. That seems so elementary compared to what we're doing now.
SI.com: Now a veteran, how is Natalie Coughlin preparing differently for her third Games?
McKeever: She's been swimming for 23, 24 years. Your body's different. You're in a different place mentally, emotionally. She's married now. My job as her coach is to keep growing and changing her program with where she is in her life.
I know this is going to sound crazy to people, but it's not like we have a time goal or a medal goal or whatever, it's just about how do we keep helping Natalie be better than Natalie's ever been. That's what we focus on every day. Where that leads us is hopefully the right place. That said, she's won more [combined] Olympic medals and world championship medals than any other female. She's right there with number of Olympic medals with Jenny Thompson and Dara [who both hold the U.S. record for women Olympians with 12, while Coughlin has 11]. Those things I think are important from a legacy perspective, and probably, candidly, from a marketing perspective.
SI.com: What is the nightmare scenario for a national team coach at the Olympics?
McKeever: The worst thing would probably be filling out the relay card wrong, and they get disqualified after they've won the gold medal and broken the world record. That would be pretty bad. I'd go down in history (laughs).