FUKUOKA – The American swim team has had a so-so meet at the world championships in Japan. Meanwhile, Australia and China have been pouring it on.
The American gold-medal count at the worlds is the lowest in at least two decades, although the overall medal count of gold, silver and bronze, is similar to most years.
After winning only four gold medals during the first seven days, they picked up three on Sunday — the eighth and final day — for a total of seven golds and 38 overall. The gold total is still their lowest in a worlds going back as least 20 years. They won only eight in the 2015 worlds.
Australia finished with 13 gold and 20 overall, and China had five gold and 16 overall.
“Obviously, we’d like to win more gold medals and I think we will,” American coach Bob Bowman said going into Sunday's final day.
The slight predicament for Bowman is that two of the swimmers he coaches at Arizona State University, Leon Marchand of France and Hungary's Hubert Kos, have won four gold medals. Marchand has three, and he's sure to be a star at next year's Paris Olympics, and Kos has one.
That's the same gold-medal total for the entire American team through seven of eight days — four gold. The average for the Americans over the last nine championships has been about 15 golds.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, two of the first three questions Bowman fielded were about Marchand and Kos, from French and Hungarian news outlets.
“If you look at swimming, every coach on the U.S. team is coaching a foreign swimmer, an international swimmer. There's always that dynamic," said Bowman, who has legendary status for helping Michael Phelps win 23 Olympic gold medals."
Bowman was cautious about taking credit for Kos, who came to Arizona State late last year. He went from being a good individual medley swimmer to a world champion a few days ago in the 200-meter backstroke.
“I think it’s just the Bob Bowman effect,” said Kos, son of an American father and Hungarian mother. ”That’s as simple as it is."
He said Bowman had a “magic” touch.
Bowman played down his role.
“He (Kos) had an excellent coach at home for 10 years before me,” Bowman said. "He deserved the credit for this. I just helped a little bit at the end.”
Bowman compared Marchand to Phelps. But can he produce and endure the pressure, particularly with the Olympics in his home country?
“It remains to be seen what he can do next year. It’s going to be a lot of expectations,” Bowman said. "But I feel like he’s done a very good rehearsal this year and last year. They’ve been good preparations for what will happen next year and we’ll try to carry that over to Paris.”
Swimming is an individual sport, separate from team sports like soccer. It would be unthinkable for the coach of Real Madrid to be also coaching Barcelona players on the side. But it's normal in swimming, and Bowman said he was “ethically” comfortable with it.
“I mean, the bottom line is I get paid to coach these guys at ASU,” he said. “I’m representing my country for the love of my country and happy to do that. I don’t think there’s an ethical question. It’s not a zero-sum. I’m not taking away from the U.S. guys.”
He said he was interested in coaching the Americans at next year's Olympics, but suggested any decision was still pending.
“I don’t think we know yet,” he said. "I have to go through this week, get home, think about what the scenarios look (like) and then we’ll decide. I always want to do. But we’ll see how it goes.”