ATLANTA — Duel in the Pool? More like Slaughter in the Water.
The United States hasn’t come close to losing one of these every-other-year dual meets since they were launched in 2003 as a way to build interest in swimming during non-Olympic years.
Even with Michael Phelps back home in Baltimore, focusing on training for next summer’s London Games, Brendan Hansen doesn’t expect anything to change when the powerful Americans take on a European all-star team today and Saturday at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.
“It’s hard for me to believe we can lose the way this team feeds off each other,” Hansen said after a practice session Thursday morning at the same pool that played host to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. “When we start rolling at a meet like this, it’s a slippery slope. The meet is over a lot sooner than you think, then we’re just racing each other.”
USA Swimming has assembled a daunting group that features Ryan Lochte – the star of this year’s world championships – along with Olympic gold medalists Hansen, Natalie Coughlin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Amanda Beard. The next wave of American stars is led by 16-year-old Missy Franklin, who captured three golds and five medals overall at worlds.
The Europeans faced a challenge assembling a competitive team, given all the politics and differing objectives of the various national federations. Germany and Russia contributed only one swimmer apiece, and the powerhouse French squad isn’t participating at all.
Still, there’s quite a mix – 41 swimmers from 18 nations, including world champions Daniel Gyurta, of Hungary, and Lotte Friis and Jeanette Ottesen, of Denmark.
“Try having a team meeting,” quipped Markus Rogan, a two-time Olympian from Austria. “It’s very interesting, communications-wise.”