Jun 26, 2013, 5:28 PM EST
When watching this week’s USA Swimming national championships, take a minute to think about the year 2001.
A boy named Michael Phelps began his record-smashing career in earnest the year after the Sydney Olympics. He set his first world mark in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2001 spring nationals, then did it again to win the world title in Fukuoka, Japan, four months later.
Certainly it’s ambitious to predict a Phelpsian feat at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis this week, but what happened 12 years ago shows that seeds for the next Olympics can be planted three years early.
That in mind, here are five U.S. swimmers who may not be familiar names yet, but they might just be setting the table for Rio with their performances this week and at the world championships next month.
Chase Kalisz: Fittingly, the list starts with a North Baltimore Aquatic Club product. No doubt if you follow Phelps on Twitter, you’ve seen Kalisz’s handle. Kalisz, 19, began training with Phelps between the Beijing and London Olympics and reached the finals of the 2012 Olympic trials in two of Phelps’ events – taking fifth and sixth, respectively, in the 200 and 400 individual medleys. He’s seeded third in both events in Indianapolis. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him pass gold medalists Tyler Clary or Conor Dwyer (Ryan Lochte might be a stretch) to snatch a world championships spot.
Becca Mann: Could 15 be the magic age for U.S. female swimmers? Seven-time world champion Katie Hoff made her Olympic debut at 15. Missy Franklin was 15 when she swam in her first major international meet. Katie Ledecky won 800 free gold in London at 15 as well. Mann, a novelist, tried to beat them all by flirting with the London Olympic team at age 14 last year, making three trials finals with two fifth-place finishes. She’s already on the worlds roster for open-water swimming and has five more events to try to make the team in the pool. Her best shot may be in the grueling 1,500 free, a non-Olympic event where she’s seeded third.
Maya DiRado: No U.S. woman has medaled in the 200 butterfly at an Olympics since Misty Hyman stunned Sydney in 2000. It’s the longest drought for USA Swimming in any individual event – man or woman. DiRado could be the answer. She’s shaved five seconds off her personal best in the event in 2013, capped by a second-place finish to make her first world championship team Tuesday. The Stanford star is scheduled for several more swims in Indianapolis, including the 400 IM, where she’s seeded fourth.
Jack Conger: Conger, 18, was a high school sensation in the D.C. area and will begin swimming for NCAA powerhouse Texas next season. On the national scene, Conger’s task is tough. Of his four events at nationals, he was seeded highest in the 200 backstroke – third – looking up at the last two Olympic champions Clary and Lochte. There’s also his prep rival, Florida’s Ryan Murphy, to contend with on the road to Rio.
Kevin Cordes: If there’s one opening for a young U.S. man to break through internationally, it’s in the breaststroke. It’s the only discipline Phelps and Lochte haven’t taken up at major meets. It’s also lacking star power with Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau not competing this week. Enter the Arizona Wildcat Cordes, 19, a threat in the 50, 100 and 200 breast. How good is he? Cordes won the 200-yard breast at the NCAA Championships in a time two seconds faster than anyone else ever and lowered his American record in the 100 en route to being named NCAA Swimmer of the Year – as a sophomore.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:39 AM EST
But a “50-50″ shot at qualifying for the Olympics this summer.
Mar 4, 2015, 8:56 AM EST
France may have to qualify for Rio with a team led by Tony Parker.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:20 PM EST
Previously, Phelps and USA Swimming agreed he would withdraw from the World Championships team due to his DUI arrest.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
The Olympic champion competes next week for the first time since July.
Mar 3, 2015, 11:07 AM EST
How do the versions for Toronto 2015 compare to previous Pan Am Games medals?
Mar 3, 2015, 10:27 AM EST
Even if baseball is re-added to the Olympics, Fukushima might not be a logical choice to host games.
Mar 2, 2015, 4:59 PM EST
Team GB’s men and women were ousted in the 2012 Olympic quarterfinals.
Mar 2, 2015, 2:28 PM EST
The Olympic judo bronze medalist is compared to a former dominant heavyweight boxer.
Mar 2, 2015, 11:47 AM EST
Walsh Jennings also had breakfast with a beach legend in Rio de Janeiro.
Mar 2, 2015, 11:11 AM EST
IOC member and former South Africa Olympic Committee president previously said the nation was readying to bid.
Mar 2, 2015, 10:21 AM EST
Bowe skated with dominance not seen since 2003.
Mar 2, 2015, 5:47 AM EST
Vonn is three away from another World Cup mark.
Mar 1, 2015, 9:44 AM EST
Austrian rival puts on a dominating performance in Garmisch.
Mar 1, 2015, 8:31 AM EST
Vonn will get another chance on Monday.
Mar 1, 2015, 12:05 AM EST
Rousey is undefeated in 11 pro fights since winning Olympic judo bronze in 2008.
Feb 28, 2015, 10:03 AM EST
Meyers Taylor improved from silver medals at the 2013 Worlds and 2014 Olympics.
Feb 27, 2015, 3:55 PM EST
Rio government organization published two videos looking at the construction of Olympic Park.
Feb 27, 2015, 2:22 PM EST
Nibali might not be able to defend his Tour de France title as an Astana rider.
Feb 27, 2015, 12:52 PM EST
Ashton Eaton, Brianne Theisen-Eaton are taking different paths to potential gold in Rio.
Feb 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
“Athletes have wanted this changed for a very long time. It’s been a very long discussion.”
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