The future of U.S. women’s swimming will be on display in mid-December in two respects:
Five high school girls — one just out of eighth grade — will try to help Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and other U.S. veteran stars beat Great Britain, Italy and Germany in a made-for-television meet in Manchester, England, according to the roster USA Swimming released Wednesday morning.
And two-time Olympian Katie Hoff and world champion Ariana Kukors will join Phelps in donning 2010-model, short swimsuits at the Dec. 18-19 Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool. The ban on non-textile, long suits begins January, 2010 so meet rules for the Duel in the Poll will allow the long, high-tech swimwear that led to the setting of more than 200 records in the last two years.
It’s not clear yet whether other swimmers will follow Hoff, Kukors and Phelps in wearing textile, short suits. USA Swimming had pressed to make the meet a 2010-model, short-suit event, but Italy resisted. Its sponsor, Jaked, hasn’t yet won approval for its new suits.
“I don’t really see the point in going times in a suit I’m never, ever going to wear again,” Hoff said by phone Wednesday. “I hope enough people take a stand. I’ll probably be up there sandwiched between two people wearing Jakeds, but it will be fun, and I’ll race as hard as I can. If I get beat, I get beat.”
Hoff said she and Kukors, one of her training partners under coach Sean Hutchison in Fullerton, Calif., decided jointly to wear the textile, to-the-knee suits. Lochte said on a conference call Wednesday that he planned to wear the long Speedo LZR he wore at the August world championships, but might reconsider, especially if prodded by his buddy Phelps.
“I might just get crazy and wear a ‘banana hammock’; who knows what will happen,” Lochte said, using his favorite slang term for brief suits. “If Michael [wears a short suit], I’m sure he’s going to try to convince me to do it, too.”
British Olympic champion Gemma Spofforth said she hadn’t decided what she would wear, but said she was eager to get rid of the high-tech suits that allowed swimmers with “extra pounds, they just stuff it in a suit.”
“I do think going back to the old suits is definitely making swimming go forward,” said Spofforth, who attends the University of Florida in Gainesville. “I’m definitely looking forward to going back to the old-style suits.”
The high schoolers and Hoff both hope to make statements. Hoff has nothing to prove at what ultimately is a just-for-fun competition. But to ditch her technical suit early, like Phelps vows to do, makes plain her position on the speedsuits. On her suit request form to USA Swimming for the meet, she said she wrote simply, “I want to wear the new suits.”
Meanwhile, Melissa Franklin, 14; Towson’s Elizabeth Pelton, 15; Amber McDermott, 16; Elizabeth Beisel, 17; and Dagny Knutson, 17; will hope to stand out for their performances at the fourth-ever Duel in the Pool that will be televised on NBC Dec. 27 from 2-4 p.m. USA Swimming officials believe each of the teens has superstar potential, and the organization has recently heightened efforts to get big-meet experience to its most promising young stars.
Beisel clinched a spot on the team with her top-ranked swim in the 400-meter individual medley this summer, but the other four girls were discretionary selections made by USA Swimming coaches Jack Bauerle and Frank Busch and USA Swimming National Team Head Coach and General Manager Mark Schubert.
Hoff, too, was a discretionary pick. A year after winning three Olympic medals, Hoff struggled and failed to qualify for the world championship team that went to Rome. But she moved in August from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club to get a fresh start at the new U.S. Olympic Committee swimming training center in Fullerton.
“We want people we know can perform,” USA Swimming National Team Managing Director Lindsay Mintenko said. “She’s already proven herself at international competition, and I think that goes a long way.”
Besides Phelps, Lochte and Aaron Peirsol, the automatic qualifiers to the team include: Amanda Weir, Allison Schmitt, Haley McGregory, Jessica Hardy, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer, Mary DeScenza and Ariana Kukors, and, on the men’s side, Peter Vanderkaay and Chad La Tourette. Chloe Sutton, Cullen Jones, David Walters, Eric Shanteau and Ricky Berens qualified, but declined invitations.
“We were really happy with the turnout,” Mintenko said. “It’s kind of a funky time of year. People are ready to go on holiday vacations, and we had some of the college kids turn it down because they would be in a really heavy training period.”
The other discretionary selections: Katy Freeman, Julia Smit, Christine Magnusson, Margaret Hoelzer; for the men, Nathan Adrian, Michael Alexandrov, Jack Brown, Tyler Clary, Mark Gangloff, Matt Grevers, Michael Klueh, Sean Mahoney, Tyler McGill, Kevin Swander, Nick Thoman, Alex Vanderkaay and Garrett Weber-Gale.
Swimmers will receive $15,000 world-record bonuses and $1,000 for gold-medal performances.