WOMEN’S 100 BREASTSTROKE
- 2012 Olympic Champ: Ruta Meilutyte (Lithuania), 1:05.47
- 2015 Worlds Champ: Yulia Efimova (RUS), 1:05.66
- World Record: 1:04.35 | Ruta Meilutyte (Lithuania) | 07/28/13
Ruta Meilutyte was just 15 when she denied American breaststroke sensation Rebecca Soni an Olympic title in the 100 breast in London. Meilutyte, though born in Lithuania, was home (in a way) in London. She trains with Plymouth Leander, a club located a few hours drive west of England’s capital.
Meilutyte set the world record in the 100 breast at the 2013 World Championships bu has since battled injury after breaking her elbow and getting subsequent surgery last fall. Rio won’t be very much like home, and no longer carrying the aura of a young underdog, the Lithuanian 19-year-old will have her hands full with… well, another 19-year-old. Her name is Lilly King, and she is ready for the biggest test of her career in Rio.
King has stormed to relevance over the last year or so– she was a highly-touted recruit in high school, one of the only sub-1:00 breaststrokers in the class of 2015. After one season with Ray Looze and the Indiana Hoosiers, she blew past American records in the 100y and 200y breaststrokes, dominating at the NCAA championships. “Experience” doesn’t seem to be a requirement for King, who handily defeated a field at the 2016 Olympic Trials that included 2012 Olympian Breeja Larson, American record holder Jessica Hardy, and 2015 Pan American Games champion Katie Meili.
King and Meilutyte are separated by just over a month in age, and in Rio, hundredths could separate two of the fastest (and youngest) sprint breaststrokers in the world. While Meilutyte has experience, the world record, and an Olympic crown to boast, King has been on fire recently, continues to improve, and is not a swimmer to back down from a challenge.
Katie Meili, who’s just as new to the international stage as King (both went to their first senior level international meet last summer– Meili at Pan Ams, King at World University Games), put up the fifth fastest time this season with her 1:06.07 from Trials. She sped her way to a 1:05.64 last summer in Toronto, but that was done in prelims. She added almost six tenths in the final, however, and adding time in an Olympic final doesn’t usually yield medals. That said, she was faster in semifinals in this event at Trials than she was in prelims, and then was faster yet in the final to take the 2nd Olympic team spot behind King. Meili looks to have gained more racing experience under high pressure, which will certainly help in Rio.
Yulia Efimova. Russia has included her on their approved roster for Rio, and after an oddly long wait to hear the verdict, FINA has dropped the charges against her. Despite having tested positive for banned substances twice now in her career, FINA has cleared her to swim in Rio, and she will be a gold medal threat. Efimova has been 1:05.70, and while it’s unclear if she’s been training full-force for Rio in the midst of her doping scandal, she looks very likely to medal. Things are heating up, too, as Meilutyte called out FINA for the Efimova verdict on Twitter. In a sport that regularly fails to appeal to mass audiences outside of swimmers, coaches, and parents, this could turn out to be one of the most entertaining races of the Olympics with Efimova’s storyline.
Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson has been smashing through barriers (both racial and time-wise) since December of 2014 when she set the world record in the 100 SCM breast. At the 2014 World SC Championships in Doha, she tied Meilutyte’s SCM WR (which FINA recognizes as a new record) and out-touched the Lithuanian by a tenth to become the first black person to earn a world swimming title. Then, last summer, her bronze medal in this race at the Kazan World Championships made her the first Jamaican swimmer to medal at a World Championships. Her 1:05.93 from November was a new lifetime best, and a sub-1:06 performance in Rio could mean a minor medal.
Kanako Watanabe, Japanese record holder, is a big name out of the group of 1:06’s that have peppered the international scene this season. She, like King and Meilutyte, is just 19 years old, though she made an appearance in the 200 breast in London at 15 like the Lithuanian. She’s been under 1:06 in her career, but focuses more on the 200 breast and 200 IM. She was 4th behind Atkinson in Kazan, .01 from bronze, and should be a player in this field in the Olympic final.
Two swimmers from the northern realm of Europe will look for spots in the finals, too: Hrafnhildur Luthersdottir of Iceland and Jennie Johansson of Sweden. Luthersdottir, a University of Florida grad, won silver at Euros behind Meilutyte, while Johansson swam to a new Swedish record in the 100 breast (1:06.63) at the Australian Trials in April.
A couple more 1:06’s this season to watch for: Georgia Bohl of Australia and Shi Jinglin of China. Bohl is young and a bit of a wild card, but her 1:06.12 from the Aussie Trials suggest a 1:05 next to her name is coming soon. Shi, meanwhile, was 5th in the final in Kazan last summer, touching ahead of Luthersdottir and Johansson.
|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: Jennie Johansson of Sweden is another swimmer who has posted a sub-1:07 in the past year. The Swedish record holder posted a lifetime best of 1:06.63 at the 2016 Australian Trials this spring.