LONDON – The U.S. Olympic swim coaches threw their 4x100m freestyle relay hopes onto the backs of superstars Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte on Sunday. We’ll see how it works out.
The two biggest male star swimmers in America -- and in the world -- were included on the second-seeded quartet that will take on favored Australia and a host of other strong competitors in the marquee sprint relay of the Games.
U.S. men's swimming coach Gregg Troy took care of his boy Lochte, whom he coaches personally, by putting him in the anchor position. That was a surprise, given Lochte’s inexperience in the 100m freestyle. But given his dominant swim Saturday night in the 400m individual medley, the Americans are willing to put him in the pressure position of anchoring.
If he turns in a heroic performance, Lochte is positioned to take over the Games with a second gold medal in two nights.
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The American coaches also took Phelps out of his customary leadoff spot after watching him finish a stunning fourth in the 400 IM. Nathan Adrian, who won the 100 free at the Olympic Trials, will instead swim the first leg. Phelps will go second, and 2008 relay veteran Cullen Jones will go third.
Troy said earlier Sunday that Phelps is "doing great" the day after his IM pratfall. But Troy also threw something of a misdirection at the media when it came to his own swimmer and whether he’d do the relay.
"He's obviously swimming well but doesn't have a lot of experience with the 100," Troy said of Lochte.
The two locks to swim in the final were the top two finishers in the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones. The safest play for the coaches is to pair those two with the biggest stars on the American roster, Phelps and Lochte. That way, the American brass can at least say they took their shot with the most talented swimmers on their roster.
While uncertainty raged early Sunday at the Aquatics Center, one American veteran was unequivocal in his support of Phelps. No matter how bad he might have looked Saturday, the king of the pool belongs on the American relay in the mind of Jason Lezak.
"The 400 IM and the 100 free have nothing in common," Lezak said. "If I’m a coach, Michael’s on that relay.
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"Michael went a 48.4 unshaved this year. He’s been leading off relays for a lot of years. I don’t really think it should be a question."
The American coaches played the prelims by the book. They took the third through sixth finishers in the 100 free at the Olympic Trials in Omaha last month and used them Sunday morning.
The toughest swimmer from that group to leave off had to be Matt Grevers, who swam a sizzling prelim leg at 47.62 seconds. To beat the Australians, the U.S. likely will need to find four swimmers who can break 48 seconds in the 100. And there is plenty of additional competition for the medal podium from the Russians, South Africans, and others.
"This is probably the best 400 free relay field ever," Troy said.
Both Grevers and Lochte have semifinal swims Sunday night in individual events. Grevers is seeded first in the 100 back and Lochte second in the 200 free.
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