Relay lineup remains a mystery; Lochte, Phelps among frontrunners
LONDON -- Gregg Troy and the U.S. swimming coaching staff chose their 4x100 freestyle relay team after Sunday morning's heats, but who those four men are remained a secret shared by the coaches and swimmers.
"We weren't definite on the relay until we considered what was going on today," Troy said after the U.S. finished second in its heat to reigning world champion and gold-medal favorite Australia. "We (men's and women's coaches) looked at all sides, and we just came up with what was the best relay for tonight."
The final roster is due to officials at 6:30 London time, 1:30 ET, for the anticipated relay at 9. The same three nations that medaled in Beijing will be the primary contenders again: No. 1 seed Australia, No. 2 U.S. and France, which actually qualified fourth behind Russia.
The U.S. coaches picked four men from a field of eight: The preliminary heat team of Jimmy Feigen, Matt Grevers, Ricky Berens and Jason Lezak and four others who could all be subbed in trials 100 free champion Nathan Adrian, trials runner-up Cullen Jones, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. (Lochte and Phelps had dinner at the athletes' village last night with their coaches, Troy and Bob Bowman. Lochte said they discussed Chinese female phenom Ye Shiwen, the 16-year-old who outsplit Lochte in the final 50 meters of her 400 IM final. Troy said the 4x100 lineup was not on the agenda, but baby wipes were.)
Adrian, Jones and Phelps are considered all but locks to make up three of the four legs, even with Phelps' fourth-place finish in the 400 IM on Saturday. Grevers, third at trials, was the fastest of the four prelim swimmers. Then there's Lochte, whom many thought should have been on the 4x100 relay at last year's world championships, where the U.S. got bronze behind Australia and France. Given that and Lochte's dominating performance in the 400 IM, he must be considered a strong shot to swim in the relay. Troy, who is also Lochte's coach, did mention that Lochte hasn't swum much 100 freestyle recently, though.
"There's been talk about it," Lochte said after his 200 free heat Sunday morning but before coaches picked the relay team (he qualified second for the night semis, which go off 83 minutes before the 4x100 final.) "You know what, at the end of the day, it's a coaches' decision, and they're going to put the best four guys they think is ready."
Grevers agreed and said he wouldn't have a problem if none of the prelim swimmers were kept on. They will receive the same medals the final swimmers get, should they medal.
"I don't think I have any doubt Michael can throw an incredibly fast split," said Grevers, who also qualified first into Sunday night's 100 backstroke semis (49 minutes before the 4x100 relay final). "Nathan and Cullen showed themselves at trials, and they're always very trustworthy. And Ryan, you saw him blow the 400 IM out of the water. That guy's hot, and you've got to go with what's hot."
The other storylines for Sunday's finals:
Dana Vollmer is the overwhelming favorite after setting an Olympic record in qualifying and then posting the fastest time by a half-second in the semifinals. Vollmer, who made her Olympic debut in 2004 at age 16 but didn't make the 2008 Olympics, is seeking her first individual Olympic medal. If anybody can catch her, it may be Australia's Alicia Coutts, part of their 4x100 free relay gold-medal winning team.
With Phelps failing to win the 400 IM, Japan's Kosuke Kitajima can now become the first man to win the same swimming event at three straight Olympics. But Kitajima qualified sixth into the final, nearly a second behind South African Cameron van der Burgh. American Brendan Hansen was the last man to make the field of eight. This is the event won by late Norwegian Alexander Dale Oen at last year's world championships.
Rebecca Adlington, the 2008 Olympic champion in the 400 and 800 free, was certainly thought to be a medal contender, but her prelim Sunday morning probably left many feeling uneasy. Adlington won her heat, but her time was eighth best overall. France's Camille Muffat and American Allison Schmitt have surpassed Adlington as the favorites for gold.