(Reuters) - USA Swimming was rubbing its hands with glee when it announced a squad packed full of gold medal winners and record breakers for the 2015 world championships, but that was a year ago and the team that lands in Kazan may need time to fire on all cylinders.
Twelve months can be an eternity in the pool and while Katie Ledecky and Ryan Lochte take huge reputations to Russia, the form they were in then and where they are now are likely to be poles apart.
Normally U.S. teams arrive at major global meets battle hardened and razor sharp from do-or-die qualifying events but for Kazan, a group picked from results at last year’s national and Pan Pacific championships has left swimmers idling.
“It is going to be a big challenge for this group, we don’t come off a selection meet,” men’s head coach Dave Durden said.
”This team has been 12 months in the making, so we kind of lose a little bit of the momentum that you have from the trials heading into a championship format.
“We’re going to have to generate that, we’re kind of starting dead in the water.”
There may be some uncertainty about what to expect from the 47-strong squad but even so, the United States is still expected to take home a lion’s share of the medals.
The Kazan championships will also provide a valuable litmus test for a team heading to Russia without talisman Michael Phelps, banned by U.S. Swimming from competing at the world’s after being convicted of a drink driving offense late last year.
Natalie Coughlin, who shares the distinction of being the most decorated American women’s Olympic swimmer of all time, will also be a spectator, having failed to earn a spot on the team.
Even with those notable absentees, the U.S. squad does not lack for depth or quality, with the record-smashing Ledecky and Missy Franklin spearheading the women’s effort, while Lochte will be eager to prove that last year’s woes are behind him.
Winner of 11 Olympic medals, Lochte heads to Kazan coming off what he described as the worst season of his swimming career and will compete in just two individual events, the 200 meters individual medley and 200m freestyle.
“I had a really bad year last year, it was probably my worst in swimming but that was my fault,” he said during a pre-championship teleconference.
“I should have taken care of myself outside the pool but that year happened. I‘m throwing that year out now this year has been a lot better.”
Only 18 and the world’s most dominant swimmer, Ledecky will be much busier in Russia, competing in four individual freestyle events as she defends world titles in the 400m, 800m and 1500m, and adds the 200m free to her program.
Franklin, winner of six gold medals at the 2013 Barcelona world championships, will have another full program in Kazan, racing in the 100m and 200m freestyle as well as the 100m and 200m backstroke and three relays.
Editing by Julian Linden and John O'Brien