This week in Indianapolis the famed IUPUI Natatorium will host the top swimmers in the United States. At stake are roster spots for the FINA World Championships, the first big meet of the international competitive swimming schedule since last year’s Rio Olympics.
The team that USA Swimming to Rio completely dominated the podium, winning 33 medals, 16 of them gold. To give context to this, Australia, second place in the gold medal standings, won only three.
Since then a lot has changed. Michael Phelps, of course, retired. Ryan Lochte continues his post-Rio debacle tour of atonement. The rest of the stand outs from Rio, Ryan Murphy, Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Lilly King, and more, are back and are vying for spots to go to Budapest in July.
But first, they need to qualify in Indianapolis.
Here are three of the big storylines to watch out for:
1. Katie Ledecky looks to expand repertoire with 100m freestyle.
In 2013, a couple years after Worlds in Barcelona, Ledecky sat down with her coach at Nation’s Capitol Swim Club, Bruce Gemmell, and put together a set of goals for the next few years. They included goal times for the 400m and 800m freestyles, events she’d just won in Spain, the latter in world record time. The decision was made then to go for the 200m freestyle as well. In Rio Ledecky would hit this target, sweeping the 200-400-800 freestyles, a feat not done since Debbie Mayer did it in Mexico City in 1968.
This time around, Ledecky has her sights set on the next shorter event, the 100m freestyle. On the world stage she will be in deep against the likes of Sarah Sjostrom, who just last week posted a time that was only 2 one-hundredths of a second off the world record in Canet, France on the Mare Nostrum circuit.
This will be the first time we’ve seen Ledecky attempt to swim the 100m freestyle internationally (she’ll pick up a relay birth as well if she makes the team in this event, giving her a shot at an additional medal in Budapest at Worlds).
Domestic competition is no less stiff, the gold medalist from Rio in the 100, Simone Manuel, is not only her teammate at Stanford but will be looking to solidify her position as one of the top sprinters in the world.
2. Caeleb Dressel looks to challenge sprint royalty.
Last summer the Americans dominated the pool, from backstroke events with Ryan Murphy to the breaststroke with the brash and confident Lilly King. The domination was completed on the last night by Anthony Ervin, who completed the longest bookend between Olympic gold medals by winning gold in the 50m freestyle to go with his gold from 2000.
In the other sprint event, the 100m freestyle, Nathan Adrian of Cal-Berkeley has been the unquestioned champ domestically since his Olympic gold in London in 2012. Legendary for his size and consistency, Adrian belts out 48 lows in the 100 with seeming ease.
Meanwhile, there is Caeleb Dressel, a sophomore from Florida, who had an career-defining NCAA season, repeating as champion in the 50 yard and 100 yard freestyles. The latter was the most impressive, as he nearly became the first human being to break 40 seconds over four laps of short course yards swimming.
The big question, as it always is with high yield NCAA performances, is how well it translates to long course meters swimming. Dressel has already shown he has the speed—he swam a 21.53 in the 50m free in 2015 putting him in the top handful of American sprinters of all time—it’s just that the guys ahead of him on that list are still racing.
3. Matt Grevers and the return of the champ.
At the London Games the American men continued a long-standing tradition of dominating the medal podium in the backstroke events. Matt Grevers, the 6’9” All-American from the University of Arizona won the 100m backstroke in 52.16, bettering the American and Olympic record in the event.
Four years later, however, it was not meant to be.
He would place behind phenom Ryan Murphy—who would break the world record in this event in Rio—and veteran David Plummer. Grevers was heartbroken with the loss, but after some soul-searching has continued swimming and will be looking to make the team going to Budapest.
He very well may qualify in the 100m freestyle as well—he swam in the preliminaries of the 4x100m freestyle relay in London and swam a very respectable 47.59.
While predictions are fun to make, it’s the swimmer that no one saw coming that will steal the limelight and assume their place among the USA Swimming national team this summer in Budapest.