Here’s the next in our series of Olympic race-by-race previews. Click here to see all of the previews.
Men’s 100 Fly Preview
The 100 fly at this year’s Olympics all of a sudden has become a much better race than the runaway that it looked like it might be a year ago. Michael Phelps is still clearly the favorite, but this is going to be another barn-burner of a finish like the infamous race between him and Milorad Cavic in 2008.
After a few down seasons in 2010 and 2011, late last year everything seemed to spark again for Cavic, and at the European Championships he was spectacular with a 51.45 that currently sits him 3rd in the world. There may be some small concern about going so fast so late in the year, but what we saw from his American Club Wolverine teammates, they still swam pretty well, as a whole, at US Trials, after having a fast in-season meet as well.
But this year, if anybody’s going to challenge Phelps, I think it will be one of two other men. The first is Tyler McGill. As compared to his countrymate, this will be McGill’s first final of the meet, while it will be Phelps’ 6th. Many elite swimmers have reported that one of the biggest changes from the 2008 suit era (though at that point, they weren’t totally out of control yet) is the fatigue factor by the end of a long meet. In full body suits, it didn’t set in nearly as much as it does back in jammers. McGill’s confidence is riding high after he came within two-tenths of picking off MP in Omaha.
We know Phelps wasn’t tapered at Trials, but we have to assume that McGill wasn’t on a full taper either. He was better than his 51.3 at last year’s Worlds, and the assumption is a swimmer at his age will make some improvements from year-to-year, especially as he moves further-and-further into long course specific training.
The other is a man who’s going to jump up and surprise a lot of fans who have been focusing on just US swimming: Poland’s Konrad Czerniak, the silver-medalist from Shanghai. He’s the youngest contender in this race, having just turned 22 on Thursday. He hasn’t done anything significant this year, but he already had his spot on the Olympic Team locked up so that could work to his advantage big-time. He was still good enough for a 52.0 in March, though, so it’s not as though he hasn’t felt that speed since Worlds, either.
Kenya’s Jason Dunford, now having left Stanford and training in Europe, is in a similar position. He hasn’t been better than a 52.4 in 2012, but was a full second faster than that time at Worlds last year and was automatically qualified for the Olympics coming out of Shanghai.
A pair of Europeans, Germany’s Steffen Deibler and Evgeny Korotyshkin, are having very good years. I like Korotyshkin out of the pair as more likely to get to a 51-low to medal. Deibler, however, didn’t look maxed out in any of his races at German Trials other than maybe this 100 fly, so he could still have some big taper left. Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh wisely scratched this race in 2012 (he swam it at Worlds in 2011) to focus on his better medal chances in the 200 fly and the IM’s.
South Africa’s Chad Le Clos is another swimmer to watch. He’s been crazy-fast in the last year, and even though he finished near the bottom-half of the semi-finals last year, he’s got a 51 in him this year. Like Phelps, though, he’ll come into this race after a brutal meet schedule that will include the 200 IM, 400 IM, and the 200 fly. It will be a challenge for him to sneak through the semi-final, just after getting out of the 200 IM final (that is, if he makes the 200 IM final).
Another 200 butterflier that will be a new factor this year in the 100 is Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda. He’s the world’s number-two in the longer distance, and though he’s not quite as good in the 100, he should semi-final at least.
There’s lots of opportunities in this race, with 4 semi-finalists from last year’s meet not entered in the Olympics. Among those ready to seize the chance is Australia’s Christopher Wright. In 2011, he doesn’t have a single record in the Swimming Australia database for this event, instead focusing on his 200 fly last season. But this year, he put up an outstanding 51.6 at Aussie Trials. If you’re looking for an upset pick to put on the medals stand, he’s it.
As far as a darkhorse to make the final, it’s Belgiums Francois Heersbrandt. He’s already had a fantastic swim earlier this year, but it was in January. He seemed to put only a small rest into his 100 fly at the European Championships, which says he’s still got a strong taper. He could get into the 51-range that it’s going to take to final at this year’s Olympics. Last year, he was 17th in the prelims and didn’t even get out of the first round.
Full top 8 picks, with best 2012 times:
1. Michael Phelps (USA) – 51.14
2. Konrad Czerniak (Poland) – 52.07
3. Tyler McGill (USA) – 51.32
4. Milorad Cavic (Serbia) – 51.45
5. Christopher Wright (Australia) – 51.67
6. Jason Dunford (Kenya) – 52.43
7. Steffen Deibler (Germany) – 52.00
8. Takuro Fujii (Japan) – 51.91
Darkhorse: Francois Heersbrandt (Belgium) – 52.29
Women’s 100 Fly
This women’s 100 fly is a heavy-weight battle that will be one of the races of the meet, alongside the women’s middle-distance freestyles.
The two women in this field who have been swimming unbelievably well this year are American Dana Vollmer and Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom. Vollmer has 6 of the world’s 7 fastest times in 2012, and Sjostrom has the other.
Sjostrom is also the World Record holder in the event, even though she missed the podium last year in Shanghai. Sjostrom has been lights-out this year as a whole; but surprisingly as she’s become one of the world’s best freestylers, her butterfly hasn’t really matched the pace. Make no mistake – she’s still one of the world’s top 3 100 butterfliers without a doubt. Vollmer’s biggest advantage might be that her scheduled is pared way down this year – this 100 fly is her only Olympic event, along with only two, and maybe three, relay spots.
As good as Vollmer has been in the 100 fly this year, that ugly timing of the American Olympic Trials could still rear its head (though she thinks she’s going to get to a 55 this year – which nobody else will be able to do).
China’s Lu Ying typically has pretty big tapers, unlike many of her Chinese counterparts, from Chinese Nationals. If she cuts off as much time this year as she did last, then a 56.5 is in her reach too, which makes her a gold medal contender as well.
Australia’s Alicia Coutts is the oft-forgotten swimmer in this battle. But she has one special trick in her bag, that is not always easy in this women’s 100 fly – she hits her finals swims. She did it at Worlds, she did it at Australian Trials; she does it in the big meets. She can always count on dropping half-a-second or better in the finals of this event, so if she’s close she’ll make the competition very nervous.
The British women, spurred on by stiff domestic competition, were lights-out at British Trials. Ellen Gandy and Fran Halsall were 57.2 and 57.5, respectively. Halsall will likely have her focus on the sprint freestyles, so I like Gandy’s medal chances as the better of the pair.
In the revolving China 100 fly door, Jiao Liuyang took the second spot over last year’s 5th-place finisher Liu Zige, meaning that the Chinese must expect that she’ll be better than a 57.5 in this race.
There’s just a glut of names in this race. Yuka Kato from Japan is swimming at a whole new level this year, and went a 57.7 at Japan’s Trials – a full second faster than she was at Worlds last year. The United States’ Claire Donahue didn’t have her breakout until after last year’s World Championship meet, but went a 57.5 at Trials.
Australia’s Jessicah Schipper doesn’t get all of the glam of some of the other top 100 butterfliers (she’s more recognized for her 200), but she did finish 7th at Worlds last year. Even with a deep field at Australia’s Olympic Trials, she took the 2nd spot with the best 100 time she’s swum since 2009. She’s had some health issues this year, though, which may have derailed her chances a bit. Sinapore’s Tao Li, a finalist in 2008, looks like she’s gotten back on her feet a little bit after a few tumultuous years of hopping-around coaches, and is still young enough to be on an upward climb.
In 2011, Dana Vollmer was able to add four-tenths between the semi-finals and the finals and still win gold. She won’t have that luxury this year, and I think that an upset is coming.
1. Sarah Sjostrom (Sweden) – 56.79
2. Dana Vollmer (USA) – 56.42
3. Alicia Coutts (Australia) – 57.59
4. Lu Ying (China) – 57.48
5. Ellen Gandy (UK) – 57.25
6, Jiao Liuyang (China) – 57.80
7. Claire Donahue (USA) – 57.57
8. Fran Halsall (UK) – 57.56
Darkhorse: Martina Granstrom (Sweden) – 58.07