And here, we’ll delve into our string of Olympic previews ahead of the Games that are now just three weeks away. With more events (34 to be exact, including relays and open water) and less time in which to complete them in, we’ll try and be a bit more concise with our analysis, though still paint a full medal picture for each event. With most Americans distracted this morning by recovery from 4th of July festivities, we’ll appeal a bit to a more international audience, and pick on a race where the Americans aren’t immediately seeming to have great medal hopes: the 100 freestyles
Men’s 100 Freestyle
The United States’ big medal hope, Nathan Adrian, fell a bit flat at the Olympic Trials, and leaves the Americans unlikely to break their 5-Olympic streak of not winning gold in this event.
The power in this race has shifted drastically to the Southern Hemisphere, where defending World Champion James Magnussen has put up times in the last 12 months that nobody else in the world has been close to. After a 47.10 at the Australian Olympic Trials in March, there is no other favorite in this race aside from Magnussen. Upsets always happen, but he is the favorite.
If James Roberts can get in a lane next to Magnussen in the final and repeat what he did at that same meet (47.63 – second-best ever in textile), then the Australians are easily in contention for two medals in the race.
After those two, the field is wide-open (don’t be fooled – it’s still incredibly difficult to get under 48 seconds in this race). Now that France’s Yannick Agnel has moved from a 200-400 guy to a 100-200 guy, he has been out-of-his-mind in the two shorter races and has to receive huge consideration. Adrian still was as good already at the U.S. Olympic Trials as he was all of 2011 with a 48.10, but will need to figure out how to really get a “killer” mentality going at the Olympics to gun-down the confident swimmers who sit at the top of this field.
And then there’s Cesar Cielo, Brazil’s national swimming hero and the defending Olympic champion. Even though he failed to medal at last year’s World Championships (he was 4th), psychologically he’s got the best chance at taking down Magnussen. Cielo takes his 100 freestyle out incredibly hard, and if he gets a good start (not always a certainty) and feels good going into the turn, then he can put some big-time pressure on Magnussen’s impressive closing speed.
Last year’s World Championship bronze-medalist William Meynard wasn’t able to earn an individual swim in this race, and though Fabien Gilot is swimming well I’m not sure he’s medal-worthy. The Russians could be the big difference-makers from last season: the men’s squad as a whole flopped last year and didn’t even have a sprinter make the final in this race. But their young star Danila Izotov is swimming as well as ever, however, and one bad taper doesn’t sink a career.
Canada’s Brent Hayden took silver at last year’s World Championships, and along with the two Aussies above is one of the few men in history who has been under 48 seconds; just because he isn’t great in-season doesn’t mean that he can be discounted.
The darkhorse is Cuba’s Hanser Garcia. He’s one of the best raw sprint talents we’ve seen in quite some time. He needs to do a lot of work still on his starts and turns, but he’s one of the few swimmers who can make big progress in the next three weeks. With a long training setup in Europe, he can’t be discounted.
Cullen Jones surprisingly made his way onto the Olympic Team in both sprint events, and so deserves to not be discounted, but he’ll be more in the conversation in the 50.
Top 8 picks, with best times in 2012:
1. James Magnussen (Australia) – 47.10
2. Brent Hayden (Canada) – 48.53
3. James Roberts (Australia) – 47.63
4. Cesar Cielo (Brazil) – 48.28
5. Yannick Agnel (France) – 48.02
6. Nathan Adrian (USA) – 48.10
7. Danila Izotov (Russia) – 48.27
8. Nikita Lobintsev (Russia) – 48.21
Darkhorse: Hanser Garcia (Cuba) – 48.89
Women’s 100 Free
Last year in Shanghai, we had a tie for the World title in this women’s 100 free between two women whom few had picked: Jeanette Ottesen and Aleksandra Herasimenia. This year, however, with both of those swimmers looking still very strong, this women’s 100 free field has become extremely crowded.
Herasimenia has already been 54.0′s at two different meets this year (being fast in season is nothing new for her – but even those times are two-tenths better than their equivalents from 2011). Her return from the depths of doping at a very young age has revived what was once among the most promising careers in the sport.
Ottesen, similarly, has been 54-low already this year, which is just enough faster than normal to show “progress” without showing a premature taper.
But there will be no shortage of swimmers gunning for that gold medal in London. Sarah Sjostrom actually was the fastest 100 freestyler in 2011, after swimming a 53.0 in December. This is a talent that she didn’t really begin to fully explore until after the World Championships, and since that meet she has been better than 54 seconds four separate times. Nobody else in the world has done that.
At her most recent appearances over the last 8 weeks, she has finally started to show a little bit of a “breakdown” in her results, indicating that she’s begun to build for a final descent and taper into London. I don’t know how much better she can get than her 53.0 at the Games, but even that time will be more-than-enough to end up on the podium somewhere.
Anything she can do, however, the Dutch can do better. While Marleen Veldhuis seems better targeted to perform in the 50 this year, her Netherlands teammate Ranomi Kromowidjojo has been absolutely on fire. After two years dealing with freak illness, one of history’s most talented sprinters has already become the first woman under 53 seconds in textile this season. And she’s been great swimming different ways – sometimes getting off the blocks hard,and sometimes closing hard instead. She’s been nearly unbeatable both in the 50 and the 100, and even though she took only bronze last season, she’ll be hard to beat this year.
In addition to Veldhuis, there’s a big group of sprinters who are probably better candidates to medal in the 100 than the 50, but when someone can get out fast, crazy things happen. That includes swimmers like Great Britain’s Fran Halsall, Germany’s Britta Steffen, and Australia’s Cate Campbell.
Campbell’s Australian teammate Melanie Schlanger is an interesting case. She all-but-disappeared between the 2008 Olympics and late 2011, but came back with a vengeance this year to take a coveted second spot on the Australian roster.
The Americans will have two new swimmers taking the sprint freestyle spots at this year’s meet. Jessica Hardy, the winner at last week’s Trials, will have three weeks to focus on nothing but her sprinting after her breaststroke efforts came up short. Missy Franklin at times in Omaha looked tapered (her American Record in the 100 back), and at other times didn’t (200 back). Her ultimate 54.15 in this race leaves her in position to final, but with that final coming toward the end of the meet, and shortly after a 200 back semi, it will still make it a big challenge for her to medal. She was a 53.6 at the post-Olympic National Championships, though, so even on a second swim of the day she could be dangerous.
The Darkhorses in this race are Denmark’s Pernille Blume and Great Britain’s Amy Smith. Both perhaps are overshadowed by their higher-profile countrymates, but both have been outstanding in 2012. Smith we’ve mentioned several times as part of the group who, in an Olympic year, has been multiple best times this season. But Blume is a lesser-known quantity: the 18-year old has been a 54.0 already this season, and with the Danish Team swimming as well (or better) than any in the world right now, the conditions are ripe for her to sneak into the final.
Kromowidjojo gets the edge because despite her stumble last season, she’s back on course to become the next legendary Dutch sprinter – it’s almost her destiny to win this gold medal.
1. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (The Netherlands) – 52.75
2. Sarah Sjostrom (Sweden) – 53.29
3. Jeanette Ottesen (Denmark) – 53.90
4. Fran Halsall (Great Britain) – 53.57
5. Missy Franklin (USA) – 54.15
6. Cate Campbell (Australia) – 53.84
7. Aliaksandra Herasimenia (Belarus) – 54.02
8. Yi Tang (China) – 53.71
Darkhorse: Pernille Blume (Denmark) – 54.06