5 Bears seek gold at World Aquatics Championships

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Ethan Epstein/File

After the incredible success that Cal swimmers had last summer, the question became would there be a second act.

The main attraction this summer will be the swimming portion of the World Aquatic Championships, spanning eight days in Budapest, Hungary starting July 23, where Team USA will continue the legacy and dominance established by past stars.

Veteran Matt Grevers missed the Olympic team last year because of young upstarts such as Cal’s backstroke duo Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley, but he’s managed to qualify for this summer. On the other end of the spectrum, Josh Prenot, a breakthrough athlete last year, won an Olympic silver medal but missed the team this year.

Michael Phelps’ retirement certainly opens many doors, but Prenot and other young swimmers failed to capitalize on their opportunity to qualify despite the noticeable decline of veterans. Former Bear Natalie Coughlin — a longtime member of Team USA — hasn’t officially retired yet. After a disappointing year, Missy Franklin hasn’t returned to the competition pool. Cal alumni Anthony Ervin and Tom Shields seem to be losing the battle against age. The list goes on.

Nevertheless, five Bears and Cal head coach Dave Durden, who will be the head coach of USA’s men’s team, will be in Budapest competing next week.

Nathan Adrian will compete in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and will likely be a part of three or four relays. While Adrian is always a threat for a medal in individual events, he has become an elite asset on Team USA’s relays for almost a decade. Adrian will face serious heat from Florida’s Caeleb Dressel, who has successfully challenged the “old guard” in sprint freestyle and butterfly events.

Joining Grevers in the backstroke events will be Murphy and Pebley. Murphy, who has been a dominant force at the collegiate level, proved he was worthy of international fame last summer with three gold medals and a world record in the 100-meter backstroke. Certainly, the majority of the spotlight will be on Murphy as he attempts to continue Team USA’s and Cal’s dominance in backstroke. Even outside of Team USA, he faces stiff competition from contenders such as Australia’s Mitch Larkin and China’s Xu Jiayu, among others.

On the women’s side, Kathleen Baker will also be trying to extend the backstroke dominance when she competes in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter backstroke. While Baker has maintained a steady stream of success in recent years, Abbey Weitzeil has struggled. Although Weitzeil qualified for the Olympics last summer, she didn’t come away with the accolades that Team USA members are accustomed to winning.

Her struggles continued through the NCAA Championship and U.S. Nationals, which served as the qualifying meet for World Championship, but managed to squeak in with a spot in the 50-meter freestyle.

Finally, Cierra Runge, who currently competes for Wisconsin but spent her freshman year as a member of the 2015 NCAA Championship winning Cal team, will be a member of the 800-meter freestyle relay again.

While it’s unclear which of Cal’s international swimmers will compete in Hungary, several Bears will have more interesting stories to tell in the future.

Christopher Zheng covers women’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].

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  • Brian Rostron

    Geez, Coughlin hasn’t competitively trained in a year since Olympic Trials. She’s retired.