Michael Phelps

Races That Would Actually Be Cool

For all the name recognition involved, I think we can all agree that Thorpe vs Usain Bolt or Phelps vs Conor McGregor would be terrible to watch. Have you seen the swimming scene from Rocky 3? That's what I picture guys like Usain Bolt or Conor McGregor swimming like:

Although, watching it again, Paulie does have a good point about the principle of specificity. These races also have zero chance of happening, which is good because, like Phelps versus the "shark", they would not be entertaining.

So here are a few suggestions for races that we're not likely to get for any number of reasons, but that I'd actually love to see:

Thorpe vs Sarah Sjöström in a 100 free

Think Billy Jean King versus Bobby Riggs except Thorpe is closer to his prime and without the rampant sexism. I think a short course race would be best, if only because it might be easier for Thorpe to get back in shape for it. You might say a 50 would be better but Thorpe was never good for a 50 and I think Sjöström at her current peak would demolish him in such a short race.

Tim Duncan vs Kris Humphries in a 50 free

If I had an unlimited money pit, I would be using it to sponsor Tim Duncan to compete in masters swimming now that he's retired from basketball. For those that don't know, early in Duncan's basketball career it was always mentioned how he was a "swimming champion" in the Virgin Islands before a hurricane destroyed his pool and forced him to play basketball.

Only the swim nerd himself has thrown a little bit of water on the theory that Tim Duncan was some kind of age group stud. 

Meanwhile, Kris Humphries is not half the NBA player Duncan was, but he was actually an age group stud, going 27.7 in the 50 free (LCM) as a TEN YEAR OLD.

Now tell me it wouldn't be fun to watch two guys north of 6'10 with some swimming in their background go head to head in a 50 free.

Caeleb Dressel vs Shark

I'm stealing this one from my friend Garrett McCaffrey, who aptly pointed out the biggest problem with Phelps vs Shark: we had the wrong guy in the race. Looking back at the race film, the shark did not win by much. What kind of shape was Phelps in?

Does it even matter? Dressel proved this summer that he can get it done in any kind of race. He's got the underwaters. He could easily make up the two second deficit that Phelps had to that great white.

Dara Torres vs Katie Ledecky in a 25 free

Katie Ledecky is making her case for greatest swimmer of all time. She is young. Although she is getting more raw speed, the foundation of her swimming is crazy speed endurance.

Dara Torres is still only 50 years old and only five years off from a credible Olympic bid in the 50 free.

Although you might think that the short distance would give Torres some advantage, neither swimmer is or was particularly strong off the blocks. So this would be a knock down, drag out fight for 25 yards.

Now I just have to figure out how to make that unlimited money pit so we can get this show on the road. 



Pellegrini Has a Strategy and Sticks to It

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Federica Pellegrini will go down as one of the all-time greats. Yesterday, she beat the world's best swimmer, Katie Ledecky, in the 200 free. It was her seventh World Championship medal in a row, dating back to 2005. The result is remarkable, and Pellegrini remains somehow underrated.

The hallmark of a Pellegrini victory is her dangerous final 50. Even a superhuman like Ledecky can fall victim to Pellegrini's late race heroics. While she doesn't always win, she's won a lot of races against a lot of worthy competitors by sticking to her guns and executing a race strategy that works for her.

Let's look at some of the examples of this from the past. In 2011 Pellegrini won gold in the 200 freestyle. Look how "out of the race" she looks halfway through that one:

While Allison Schmitt and Femke Heemskerk tighten up, Pellegrini seems to calmly glide to the front of the field and then take a decisive victory, despite trailing by a body length halfway through. 

Again, it matters little to Pellegrini what the other swimmers in the water are doing. Go out fast? She believes she can catch you. Wait around? You risk leaving her too close at the final lap.. Here is Pellegrini also dispatching Heemskerk (and Hosszu) when the pace was a little lighter on the first 100 at the 2014 European Championships in Berlin:

I often think of Pellegrini as the reverse Pieter van den Hoogenband. Hoogie had a nasty habit of stealing 200 freestyles from all-time greats by setting an uncomfortable pace on the first 100. He was able to use that both to beat Thorpe in a home pool 2000 Olympic race.

Thorpe was ready for that move four years later, but a less experienced Michael Phelps would have to wait four more years for history when caught in the whirlwind of those two:

Anyway, Pellegrini's particular style means that even when she loses, it's exciting to watch her race. You never know if she's out of it, and at 28 she's still ready to teach a younger swimmer something in a World Championship final. Bravo.