Chloe Sutton competes in the women’s 1500m freestyle during the 2012 Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center on May 10, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
By Phil Minshull, Special to Universal Sports
Swimmer Chloe Sutton could end up as one of the most unpopular winners in London if she fulfills her dream and wins the women’s 800m freestyle.
To be fair to Sutton, it will be nothing she will have done apart from show off her superlative skills in the pool, but to see the Stars and Stripes being raised will mean that she will have left the British heroine Rebecca Adlington trailing in her wake.
Adlington won the event four years ago in Beijing, coming home in the world record time of 8:14.10. She was hailed as the sport’s Golden Girl by the country that hosts this summer’s Olympics, winning a myriad of awards at the end of the year as the top British sportswoman of the 2008.
The 23-year-old Briton has continued to be the woman to beat over the distance and also took the gold medal at last year’s World Championships, when Sutton came home fourth, but the California native’s swim in Shanghai last July confirmed her as a genuine medal contender.
A self-confessed military brat born on the Vandenberg Air Force Base, Sutton initially shone at open water swimming and contested the 10km event at the last Olympic Games, in which she finished 22nd at the tender age of 16.
For a year or so after Beijing, Sutton tried to juggle being both an open water swimmer and a success in the pool.
She swam in three events at the 2009 World Championships – the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle competitions – and made the final in the later, before turning professional late in 2009.
Going pro meant she passed up on the opportunity to go to college and the following year graduated from high school through an independent study program which was also around the time she showed she was a pro in her attitude and decided to concentrate on the shorter distances rather than spread her resources.
“It was what was making me happy. When I closed my eyes and tried to picture myself on the medal stand, I pictured myself at a pool instead of on the beach,” reflected Sutton recently.
Now, regardless of her result in London, she stands on the verge of Team USA swimming history by becoming the first American to be an Olympian in both open water and pool events.
However, if she is to bring that mental picture to reality then she knows she will have to raise her game and improve from her best time of 8:24.05, which she swam in Shanghai.
Adlington leads the world again this year with the 8:18.54 she clocked in the British Olympic Trials.
Denmark’s 2009 800m freestyle world champion and 2011 silver medalist Lotte Friis is also in great shape; and lies second in the world rankings with the 8:22.10 she produced to win at the big Rome meet on June 16.
In addition to the European challenge, China’s new 15-year-old sensation Xin Xin should be in the hunt for medals.
Sutton’s coach, the Mission Viejo swimming guru Bill Rose, reckons it will take times of 8:18 to get on the podium in London but his pupil has been ahead of the curve for the last two years since focusing on the pool and could make that leap into new territory.