With the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games less than two years away, Ryan Lochte is happy as ever to keep his critics on their toes.
“I’m not thinking about what (events) I’m going to be swimming in Rio,” Lochte told reporters on a conference call last month. “It’s a pop up. I’m going to keep you guys guessing for the next couple of years.”
Swimming fans can study up further on Lochte’s form — and try and predict his to-be-chosen events — this coming weekend at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Doha, Qatar. The meet, better known as short-course worlds because it takes place in a 25-meter pool instead of the Olympic-length 50-meter pool, will feature 36 athletes from Team USA, including Natalie Coughlin, a 12-time Olympic medalist.
“I’m really excited,” Coughlin, a Vallejo, California, native, said on the same conference call. “My focus the past few years has been on long-course meters, but it’s really good practice for me. I think it should be a great meet.”
Short-course worlds was a great meet for both Lochte and Coughlin the last time they competed there, with Lochte winning eight medals and setting two world records in 2012 while Coughlin won four medals in 2010.
“We have a nice blend of veterans and a handful of high schoolers (five in total) that will be joining us in Doha,” said U.S. women’s coach Ray Looze. “It’s a very talented and versatile group, and I think we’re going to be very competitive at the top stage.”
No distance greater than 200 meters in individual events and 800 meters in relays is swam at short-course worlds, meaning swimmers who are stronger in longer distances tend to skip the event, including Olympic champion Katie Ledecky, who will compete at the U.S. Winter National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, over the same weekend.
Other notable Americans going to Doha include Tyler Clary, Matt Grevers and Katie Hoff.
“This is an outstanding team and we have plenty of potential to have a great team meet,” said David Marsh, the U.S. men’s coach, who works with Lochte year-round in Charlotte. “One of the fun things about short-course worlds is the pure racing that goes on. We don’t race short course that often here in the U.S., so our athletes are going to give their best aggressive efforts, and I think that’ll lead to plenty of outstanding performances.”
March and Lochte identified Australia and Russia as the teams to beat in Doha, though mainstay names like Chad le Clos (South Africa), Katinka Hosszu (Hungary), Federica Pellegrini (Italy) and Adam Peaty (Great Britain) will also figure into the individual medal mix.
In 2012, U.S. swimmers landed on the podium 27 times at short-course worlds, winning 11 gold medals. Lochte, 30, sees this meet as another step away from the injury that put him out for close to a year beginning last November.
“I’ve been in and out of the water so much in the last year, but now I’m back in training and my knee is fine,” Lochte said. “Just getting back in shape now is the biggest thing for me. (The next priority is) getting some good racing in this fall. After short-course worlds I want to hammer down and get ready (for the FINA World Championships) this summer.”
Coughlin, now 32, says her push towards Rio is much different than the lead-up to London, where she walked away disappointed having won just one medal (in a relay).
“After London, I wasn’t as successful as I could be,” she said. “I didn’t think going into (the 2012 season) that I would go beyond it, but I didn’t want to end my career on that note. I knew I could do more and I could do better. I have a really great support team to help me achieve my goals. There were a few months where I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do, but I knew I had some more racing in me and I wanted to finish the way that I wanted to.”
Lochte will swim the most races of any American (six) in Doha, while Clary, the reigning 200-meter backstroke Olympic champion, is signed up for four. Melanie Margalis and Elizabeth Beisel will each swim in four events, the most of any U.S. woman.
More than 900 swimmers are set to compete at short-course worlds, which includes 46 events (34 individual and 12 relays) total and 138 medals. A purse of $897,000 is up for grabs, including $7,000 for individual gold medals and a bonus $15,000 for world records.
Nick McCarvel is a freelance writer based in New York. He has covered all four of tennis' Grand Slams, as well as the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games for NBCOlympics.com. McCarvel is a freelance writer for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.