2016 Rio Olympics Preview: Kaneto Favored in 200 Breast Sans Americans


  • 2012 Olympic Champ: Rebecca Soni (USA), 2:19.59
  • 2015 Worlds Champ: Kanako Watanabe (Japan), 2:21.15
  • World Record: 2:19.11 | Rikke Moller Pedersen (Denmark) | 07/28/2013

It’s grown more and more common to see a swimming event where Americans aren’t favored to win the gold. In the women’s 100 free or the men’s 400 free, American’s aren’t even favored to win a medal this summer. The women’s 200 breast takes it to a new level, as Americans haven’t even cracked the world top 12 this season.

Kanako Watanabe (JPN), World Champion in women's 200m breaststroke with 2:21.15 2015 FINA World Championships (courtesy of Tim Binning, theswimpictures.com)

Kanako Watanabe (photo: Tim Binning, theswimpictures.com)

Japan’s Rie Kaneto sits atop world rankings this season, and the 2008 Olympian turned heads with a sub-2:20 swim earlier in the year. Kaneto didn’t qualify for the 2012 Olympics, but touched 4th at the 2013 World Championships, 2nd at the 2014 Pan Pac Champs, and 6th at last summer’s World Championships. She battled with countrymate Kanako Watanabe in the latter two races, falling by tenths in 2014 and by two seconds last summer. Despite those podium misses, Kaneto unleashed a 2:19.65 at the Japan Open in April to smash her own national record and become the first Japanese woman under 2:20. This came just two months after she broke her national record at the 2016 Aquatic Super Series in Perth with an impressive 2:20.04, which was also more than a second faster than Watanabe’s World Championship-winning time of 2:21.15 from Kazan.

Looking to sandwich herself between the two Japanese stars is Viktoria Zeynep Gunes, who represents Turkey internationally. Gunes, who competed at the World Junior Championships in Singapore last summer, won the 200 breast title with a 2:19.64, a time that would have won the senior World title by a hefty margin. She’s yet to best her season top time from November, a 2:22.87 from the Dubai stop of the FINA World Cup, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see her back under 2:20 in Rio. She’ll likely feel the heat from Watanabe, too, who is the defending world champion.

Yulia Efimova, under huge scrutiny for the drawn-out, back-and-forth doping scandal that marks her second positive test for a banned substance in her career, has been cleared to swim in Rio. Having been under 2:20 way back in 2013, prior to her first doping ban, Efimova has the speed necessary to medal in this event.

Rikke Moeller Pedersen, DEN (courtesy of Jesper Nielsen | www.sttfoto.dk)

Rikke Moeller Pedersen (photo: Jesper Nielsen | www.sttfoto.dk)

Taylor McKeown of Australia won the trials in her country with a 2:21.45, and she’ll be competitive for a bronze along with world record holder Rikke Moller Pedersen. Denmark’s Pedersen swam a mind numbingly-fast 2:19.11 during the semifinals of the 2013 World Championships, but was unable to repeat that time in the final and settled for silver. Last summer, she faded terribly in the final 50 and tied with Spain’s Jessica Vall and China’s Shi Jinglin for the bronze. Pedersen certainly has the potential to medal in this race, if not win it, but she hasn’t been in top form since she won the 2014 Euro title with a 2:19.84. Vall, meanwhile, won Barcelona’s Female Athlete of the Year award and was the only breaststroker nominated to Spain’s Olympic squad.

Rising British talent Chloe Tutton sits fifth in the world this year after dominating at the British Nationals in April. Her time of 2:22.34 is a touch faster than what Watanabe, Vall, and Gunes have all been this season. The 19-year-old from Wales swam her way to a bronze medal in the 100m breast at the 2016 European Champs, and was on the gold-winning GBR 400 medley relay, as well.

Shi Jinglin (CHN) split 1:06.35 to help China's 4x100m medley relay qualify 1st for the final. 2015 FINA World Championships (courtesy of Tim Binning, theswimpictures.com)

Shi Jinglin (photo: Tim Binning, theswimpictures.com)

Rounding out the world’s top ten in this event are China’s Shi Jinglin and Iceland’s Hrafnhildur Luthersdottir. Both are contenders to make the Olympic final in the 100 breast as well. Shi dominated this race at Chinese Nationals with a 2:22.98– just two hundredths behind Luthersdottir’s 2:22.96 that won her the bronze at Euros this past May.

Kierra Smith, who made an appearance in the final last year in Kazan, took a redshirt year at the University of Minnesota to focus on this meet. She’s broken 2:23 in the last year, and looks to have a strong shot at placing top 8 in Rio.

The highest-ranking American this season is Katie Meili at 2:23.69, though she swam significantly slower than that at the U.S. Trials and missed qualifying in that event (she made it through in the 100). Finishing first was sprinter Lilly King at 2:24.03, ahead of Molly Hannis‘s 2:24.39. King, who broke the 200y breast American record at NCAAs this past season with a 2:03.59, seems to have more to drop in this race. She’s always been better at the 100, but seeing as she broke the American record in yards by half a second, and considering that she had never broken 2:29 until this past December, she could certainly surprise and lop off another second or two to make the final here. But it’s not incredibly likely. This looks like it will be an Olympic final with no Americans.

Last summer’s final in this event was one of the most tightly-packed, with 2nd through 8th all within 1.2 seconds of each other. With that in mind, this event’s depth has our top 8 predictions on the fast side, assuming this year’s final reflects the depth the same way last year’s did.

Place Swimmer Country Best Time (Since 2012 Olympics) Predicted Time in Rio
1 Rie Kaneto Japan  2:19.64  2:19.5
2 Viktoria Gunes Turkey  2:19.65  2:19.5
3 Rikke Pedersen Denmark  2:19.11  2:20.0
4 Yulia Efimova Russia  2:19.41  2:20.1
4 Kanako Watanabe Japan  2:20.90  2:21.5
5 Taylor McKeown Australia  2:21.45  2:21.7
6 Kierra Smith Canada  2:22.82  2:22.5
7 Hrafnhildur Luthersdottir Iceland  2:22.96  2:22.9
8 Chloe Tutton GBR  2:22.34  2:23.3

**UPDATE** Yulia Efimova is one of the Russian swimmers who FINA has claimed will NOT be allowed to compete in the Olympics due to previous usage of a banned substance, which is why her name has been struck through.

Dark Horse: Lilly King of the USA. King was 2:24.08 to win this event at the U.S. Trials. This is one of the weakest events on the American side, but King is an absolutely tenacious racer. “I know I have a 2:20 in me,” she said after the 200 breast in Omaha. According to her coach, Ray Looze, the first thing she said after that race was “that was slow.” King has had a huge year, and it’s hard to bet against her intense drive for winning.


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6 years ago

I think Lilly King is the dark horse….she is improving steadily….and if she upsets Kaneto none should be surprised…

Reply to  Shibly
6 years ago

Absolutely no way Lilly King wins the 200. She is a great swimmer and could final and maybe get a bronze here if she has a killer swim and everyone else doesn’t. To expect her to upset the best in the world is a slap in the face to ladies like Kaneto and Pedersen

6 years ago

No real objections to the proposed podium. Efimova has to be seen as a wildcard on a number of fronts. Watanabe may be a spoiler and if she has it mentally together, McKeown isn’t without a shot at bronze

Reply to  commonwombat
6 years ago

Why questioning the mental toughness of Watanabe?

She’s still 19 yo, and here’s her international record the past 2 years in 200 breast:
2014 Asian Games – Gold
2014 Pan Pacs – Gold
2014 World SC Champs – Gold
2015 World Champs – Gold

That’s 4 out of 4!

I think you mistook her for Kaneto who is not so mentally together when it counts in major competitions.
Remember also that this time around Watanabe will only swim 100/200 breast (in Kazan she also swam 200 IM in addition to breast events), so she will be even more focused.

6 years ago

This is Kaneto’s to lose. First and most important, her stroke is absolutely flawless. She is pulling serious water. There is very little splash or extraneous movement. Second, she’s been around awhile and knows this is probably her last Olympiad. She’s been second, third, fourth, at big meets before, so she’s hungry. Kaneto has been knocking on the door of greatness for awhile, but Japan is loaded with world-class breaststrokers, and she hasn’t been able to put it together at the right time. If she can get off the walls and the blocks a little quicker, she’s not just going to win, she’s going to destroy the world record. I hope she gets her golden moment in Rio.

6 years ago

Sadly the medals will probably be between Efimova, Solnceva, Kaneto and Watanabe. There is probably no way that Efimova and Solnceva will finish outside the Podium. The other 4 spots in the final will go to 4 out of Tutton, Renshaw, Smith, Vall, Jingli, Luthersdottir, McKeown and Pedersen in my opinion. I hope that Luthersdottir, Pedersen, Tutton and McKeown will make it.

bobo gigi
Reply to  thomaslurzfan
6 years ago

no way….
unless Russia is banned from Rio.
And looks like Russia is banned.

King in da norf
6 years ago

Viktoria Gunes’ 2:19.64 at 2015 Junior Worlds in Singapore. Her interview reaction is cute.


King in da norf
6 years ago

Empress Watanabe
Turkish Delights Gunes
Dowager Empress Kaneto

bobo gigi
6 years ago

Rie Kaneto’s 2.19.65 at last Japanese olympic trials

He Gets It Done Again
6 years ago

I’d love to see The King in this final. Yeah 2:24 is not gonna cut it. But she went a 2:03(!) in yards, and Dave Marsh is a genius who recently got Micah Lawrence to 2:21 and a silver at Worlds, so I’m hopeful.

Reply to  He Gets It Done Again
6 years ago

If Lilly King further drops her 200 breast to 2:21, this means she will have improved by 8 seconds in less than a year.
You know what people would have said if she were a Russian or Chinese…

He Gets It Done Again
Reply to  NotSoFastSwimmer
6 years ago

It was 2:23.06 to make the final in Kazan, 2:24 in London. 2:22 high will probably get it done. At 2:24.03 already, she needs to drop a little over a second in a 200 breast. Definitely possible.

What you guys are forgetting is that King never really swam a rested 200 breast in ’14-’15. She went a 2:29.83 after her junior year, and then the summer after her senior year she went to WUG’s but didn’t swim the 200. She dropped from a 1:07.9 to a 1:06.6 during that span, so she probably could have gone a 2:27, maybe 2:26. Also, she went a 2:24.47 in December ’15, so all we’re talking about is a second and a half faster… Read more »

Jim C
Reply to  NotSoFastSwimmer
6 years ago

If Lilly does swim a 2:21 in Rio it would seem dishonest to describe an improvement from a 2:29.83 in August 2014 to a 2:21 in August 2016 as an improvement in less than a year. By the same reasoning Ye Shiwen had a more than 5 second improvement in less than a day.

Reply to  He Gets It Done Again
6 years ago

I agree. I predict King to have a huge breakout meet and drop time in both the 100 and 200. She is going to be a star.

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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