It’s still a little too early for USA Swimming to finalize the roster for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio. But after this year’s FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, the organization will have an idea of where the country’s elite swimmers compare to the rest of the world.
As reigning World Champions, the Americans have a lot to prove. Despite having several swimmers ranked in the top-10 of multiple events, the rest of world is outpacing them. With Michael Phelps off Team USA’s roster (he was forced to withdraw from the meet after his six-month suspension), here are three American men to watch take on the world’s best when the World Championships take place.
Events: 50 meter freestyle; 400 meter freestyle relay
College: University of California, Berkeley
Why you should pay attention: After winning the gold medal in the 50 meter freestyle at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Anthony Ervin auctioned the piece of hardware off on eBay and donated the $17,101 it raised to the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake tsunami. Roughly eight years after he retired from the sport in 2003, Ervin returned to the pool to train for the 2012 Games in London, but failed to reach the podium, placing fifth in the 50 free. Ervin’s past performances certainly don’t guarantee him a spot on the podium, but considering he is one of the most decorated sprinters in the world, he may have a few tricks up his sleeve.
Events: 50 meter backstroke; 100 meter backstroke; 400 meter freestyle relay
College: Northwestern University
Why you should pay attention: He’s a current reigning world champion and he’s looking to keep it that way. Grevers has medals from the Olympics, World Championships and Pan American Games (12 gold, nine silver and three bronze, combining for 24 medals). Currently ranked in fifth place in the 100 meter backstroke, the 30-year-old’s 53.27 is not far off from Great Britain’s Christopher Walker-Hebborn (52.88), who is currently the world leader. Grevers was in a similar position leading up to the 2013 World Championships and is known for turning on the power in the second half of the race.
Events: 400 meter freestyle; 800 meter freestyle; 1500 meter freestyle
College: University of Michigan
Why you should pay attention: If you’re into watching people swim up and down a 50 meter pool for minutes on end, Connor Jaeger is your guy. At 19, Jaeger qualified for the London Games in the 1500 meter freestyle, an event he had only swam five times previously. There he placed sixth with a time of 14:52.99. Now toting several more years of experience, Jaeger ranks fourth in the world in the 1500-freestyle with a time of 14:56.43, and is roughly eight seconds off his best time of 14:47.96. Jaeger still needs to drop time in order to catch Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri, who holds the top spot with a time of 14:43.87. With strong performances during the short course season in the 1650 yard freestyle, Jaeger may be in the best position to take the gold at this year’s World Championships.