Natalie Coughlin will make a big impact in her only Olympic event
It's crazy that United States swimming superstar Natalie Coughlin will be swimming one event at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
It's been a crazy couple of years, with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte broiled in an intense rivalry that has captured the world's attention, and the emergence of a new wave of stars led by teenager Missy Franklin.
The one event Coughlin is swimming, though, will be extremely important. She has to make a difference for the U.S to win a gold medal.
There's little debate about who wins in the medley relay races. There is just no other country that has the quality and depth in all four strokes.
The rest of the world can certainly compete in individual events, but not many can put together a medley relay team that will challenge the United States.
The freestyle relays are another story. There are plenty of great swimmers around the globe to give the U.S. a run for the gold.
Michael Phelps remains America's most versatile swimmer
Let's face it. You're not going to find two swimmers on the face of the earth better and more versatile than Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
Each of them holds a world record in one of the individual relays. It won't matter which one leads off and who swims the anchor. Barring disqualification, the Americans should win their ninth gold medal in the past 11 Olympics in the event. The U.S. has medaled in all 11.
The U.S. holds the Olympic record in the 400 medley relay, swimming a 3:29.34 in Beijing. That was without Lochte. But was with Cullen Jones, Jason Lezak, Matt Grevers and Nathan Adrian, a world-class sprinter, and all of them are in the mix this year.
Italy holds the top time of the season at 3:32.80. The U.S. swam 3:32.06 at last year's world championships in Shanghai.
Missy Franklin is the best overall American swimmer.
Missy Franklin is to the United States women's team what Michael Phelps is to the men's team. In other words, she's going to capture a lot of hearts to go with the pot of gold medals waiting for her to claim at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The 400 medley relay will be closer finish than the men's side, but the Americans should win the event, even if by less than a second.
Australia has produced the top time of the year at 3:52.88. The U.S. won the event at last year's world championships in Shanghai with a team that included Natalie Coughlin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Franklin. They swam 3:52.36, with China edging the Aussies for second place.
Only Soni is absent this time around but there is more than enough to draw from. Franklin is in a better position entering the Olympics because of her wealth of international experience.
Franklin will be swimming four individual events and Vollmer has one. The medley relay is contested over the final two days of the competition, so fatigue may be a factor.
For what it is worth, the U.S. is never too tired to win another gold medal.
Cullen Jones will play a part in the men's 400 free relay.
The list of potential swimmers in the men's 400 free relay at the 2012 London Olympic Games reads like a Who's Who in American swimming.
It starts with Nathan Adrian, one of the fastest swimmers on the planet and goes through Cullen Jones, Jason Lezak, Jimmy Feigen, Ricky Berens, Conor Dwyer and Matt Grevers.
What's impressive about that lineup is that it does not include Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte, who have produced two of the world's sixth best times.
Lezak is ranked third in the world, Adrian is fifth, Grevers is seventh and Jones eighth. Any coach will win with that lineup.
The U.S. will be looking to recover from last year's third-place finish at the world championships. Australia won, with France finishing second.
France owns the top time in the world this year at 3:13.55, while Italy has gone 3:14.71 and Russia 3:15.13.
At their best, though, Americans dominate, owning the Olympic record set in Beijing at 3:08.24. Jones and Lezak were on that team.
Lia Neal (left) with other possible members of the 400 free relay team
The Netherlands own the world record in the women's 400 free relay. Germany, Sweden and Italy are also top contenders.
This is the event, more than any other, where the experience of Natalie Coughlin and Amanda Weir come into play. If the U.S. strives for a gold medal here, Coughlin and Weir will set the tone. Even if they don't swim in the finals, those are two of the most respected female swimmers in the nation. They speak and people listen.
Weir has the top 100 free time in the nation this year, Coughlin has recorded the third best time. Missy Franklin, Alison Schmitt and Jessica Hardy are also on the top 10 list.
Lia Neal, Weir and Coughlin will most definitely swim in the preliminaries. Franklin, Schmitt and Hardy will go in the finals.
This will be a race to watch and it comes early in the competition: July 28. The suggestion here is to watch, because it will take an extraordinary effort for the U.S. to capture gold.
Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps will bring home the gold in the 800 free relay
There's just no way the Americans finish anywhere but first in the men's 800 freestyle relay. Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps as teammates? Other countries may as well call it in.
Phelps and Lochte helped the U.S. win the event at the world championships last year. They helped the Americans win in the last Olympics with a record time of 6:58.58.
Germany has the fastest time in the world this season at 7:09.27.
There's quality to support Lochte and Phelps too: Matt McLean, Charlie Hochin and Davis Tarwater.
If the U.S. qualifies for the final, they've already won.
Dana Vollmer and Co. seek a gold in the 800 free relay
The top three female American 200 freestyle swimmers are Alison Schmitt, Missy Franklin and Dana Vollmer.
Those three are also members of the U.S. women's 800 free relay team that give the United States another gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games on August 1.
Australia has swam a 7:44.31 in the event. The U.S. has gone as fast as 7:42.56.
Lauren Perdue, Shannon Vreeland and Alyssa Anderson will have the honor of helping the U.S. qualify for the finals and one of them will join the terrific trio in swimming in the championship race.
There is gold in them there pools of London.