WOMEN’S 200 BREASTSTROKE
- 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.
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.
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.
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|
**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.