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Men’s 200 Fly
Michael Phelps was undefeatable in this 200 fly until last year, when all of a sudden he was defeated more than once. But that was the story of 2011. Now, when he’s back in shape, he’s out of reach of mots of the world. If Phelps gets to a 1:52, there probably isn’t anybody else in the world who is going to get there. But if he swims a 1:53 like he did last season, it leaves him moderately vulnerable.
If Phelps were asked which single race he’d most like to win, one would have to imagine that this 200 fly would be at the top of his list. It’s where he made his first Olympic Team in 2000, where he won his first World Championship in 2001, and where he broke his first World Record earlier that year at 15 years, 9 months old. Fate doesn’t always cooperate with destiny, but in this case I think Phelps takes the win.
Here’s the thing about this 200 fly: it’s a race where swimmers perform well in the finals. Last year, 6 of the 8 finalists were faster in the finals than in the semi’s, and the other two missed by just about two tenths. It’s quite impressive, in an event as physically-taxing as this one, for the entire field to do that well on a third swim. There are no easy places to stumble into in this race.
Also consider that at Worlds, 7 of the 8 finalists came from the 2nd heat of semi’s. That says swimmers like Tyler Clary and Kaio Almeida might have felt like they’d be fairly safe at 2nd and 3rd in their heat. They were far from safe with their 1:56 lows, and ended their bids there.
The men with the best chance of picking Phelps off are Takeshi Matsuda of Japan and Nick D’Arcy of Australia.
Matsuda is another member of the Japanese team, who even in this grueling event, manages to swim fast all year long. He should be able to swim a 1:53 in this race, which will be enough for a definite podium spot, and most likely silver.
Nick D’Arcy is the interesting case. He wasn’t able to swim at last year’s World Championships, because of health issues keeping him out of their Trials. But was still outstanding in other big meets that year. He’s had distraction-after-distraction outside of the pool, including his ongoing legal saga over the bar-brawl that cost him a chance at the 2008 Olympics and his latest gun-shop incident with teammate Kenrick Monk. But his talent is undeniable.
I don’t know that Wu Peng has the ability to upset Phelps. But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t knock off either of the above men for silver. He trained hard all year long, and that just paid off recently at the Canada Cup the week after the United States’ Olympic Trials, where he dropped into the 1:54’s already. His teammate Chen Yin is a little bit older and not as well known, but is almost as good.
South Africa’s Chad le Clos and Hungary’s Bence Biczo are the two young stars who have been improving-and-improving. Le Clos was outstanding in short course, winning the FINA World Cup Series, but has always been great in short course. Biczo hasn’t swum quite to the level of le Clos just yet, but he too has been on a collision course with 2012. Biczo has the impressive history of Hungary’s success in this 200 fly behind him as well.
A big part of that history is Biczo’s decade-older teammate Laszlo Cseh. Biczo far outperformed him at Worlds in 2011 in this race, but it won’t be easy to to repeat that this year. Cseh has really picked up some speed this year – earlier in 2012 at the Hungarian Championships, he beat both le Clos and Biczo head-to-head in the 100 fly, and then went a best time at the European Championships. If he can get out in around a 55.0, then a top 5 finish or even a medal is in range.
1. Michael Phelps (USA) – 1:53.34
2. Takeshi Matsuda (Japan) – 1:54.01
3. Chad le Clos (South Africa) – 1:55.07
4. Laszlo Cseh (Hungary) – 1:54.95
5. Nick D’Arcy (Australia) – 1:54.71
6. Wu Peng (China) – 1:54.67
7. Bence Biczo (Hungary) – 1:54.79
8. Tyler Clary (USA) – 1:55.12
Darkhorse: Kaio Almeida (Brazil) – 1:55.22
Women’s 200 Fly
The Americans have a lot of excitement in this women’s 200 fly after Trials. Kathleen Hersey is swimming well, and Cammile Adams pulled off a win (that really wasn’t that much of an upset) to win the race at Trials.
But either woman has a lot of work to do if they want to medal in this race. Both can surely final – like the men’s race, this is an event where the semi-final times aren’t that fast. But both still have a big jump to make if they want to medal.
At both the last World Championships and Olympic Games, the Chinese duo of Liu Zige and Jiao Liuyang have occupied two of the three spots on the podium. Zige is the defending Olympic champion, and Liuyang is the defending World Champion in the event. Neither swimmer is past her prime, either. Liuyang is just 21 and Zige is 23, so despite years of success neither is close to falling off based on age.
Britain’s Ellen Gandy and Jemma Lowe will be in the conversation for gold as well. They won their respective semi-finals at Worlds in 2011, though they’d settle for just one medal with Gandy taking silver. Japan’s Natsumi Hoshi has been a 2:04 already this year and blew-away her National Record. The 5 of them have all been 2:04’s and 2:05’s, and none of them have tapered as recently as the two Americans. By comparison, neither of the two Americans have been better than 2:06.5 in the qualifying period.
There’s no Stephanie Rice in this year’s race, as she’s focusing on the IM races this year, but her teammate Jessicah Schipper (a two-time World Champion, and defending Olympic bronze medalist) swam as well as she has in two years at Australia’s Trials in March. Schipper had a bit of a health scare, though, since then: having her appendix removed and a cyst removed from her ovaries.
In an event where they are always so good, Hungary has two contenders for medals as well – after not even getting a single semi-finalist in 2008. Katinka Hosszu has never been quite as good in this race in long course as she has in short course, and is probably a better bet in the IM’s. Her countrymate Zsu Jakabos has burst into the spotlight in 2012. This is her third Olympic Team, but she’s never been as close to a final as she is headed into this year’s Olympics (both in this race and the 400 IM).
Mireia Belmonte-Garcia is a short course World Champion in this race, but this was yet another swim where she ended up just one spot out of the final at Worlds last year. This race comes closer to the end of her schedule, after the two IM’s and the 400 free. Though she may end up scratching one of those races, I don’t see her having the energy by this point of the meet to final.
The two Chinese women like to take the race out early and push the pace. That resulted in not great times last season from anyone in the field, but I think it kept the times from going as low as they could have (got their competitors out of their games). Just about everyone else, including Adams, tries to close in this race. So far, it seems to be the pace-pushing Chinese who are winning that battle. If anyone wants to keep them from a gold-silver sweep, it will take patience and confidence. Hersey would need to be better going out than she has been, but definitely is the harder starter of the two.
Top 8 picks, with seed times.
1. Jiao Liuyang (China) – 2:04.44
2. Liu Zige (China) – 2:04.40
3. Jemma Lowe (UK) – 2:05.36
4. Natsumi Hoshi (Japan) – 2:04.69
5. Ellen Gandy (UK) – 2:05.59
6. Zsu Jakabos (Hungary) – 2:06.35
7. Kathleen Hersey (USA) – 2:06.89
8. Katinka Hosszu (Hungary) – 2:07.03
Darkhorse: Martina Granstrom (Sweden) – 2:08.01