Picks: Gyurta’s Heat or Kitajima’s History in 200 Breast

  25 Braden Keith | July 23rd, 2012 | Featured, London 2012 Olympics, News

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Men’s 200 Breaststroke

The favorite in this men’s 200 breaststroke should be indisputable. Since finishing 5th at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Gyurta has won just about every title that mattered for a European from 2009 onward. He took four European Championships (2009/2011 in short course; 2010/2012 in long course), and he’s won both long course World Championships (2009/2011).

Yet, I still find myself wanting to pick someone different, and that’s Kosuke Kitajima of Japan. He’s the two-time defending Olympic Champion, but (in part because of Gyurta’s success) he hasn’t won much since Beijing. He sat out the 2009 World Championships and took silver in 2011. He didn’t compete at short course Worlds in 2010 either. He hasn’t won an Asian Championship since the Olympics, though he did take the 2010 Pan Pac Title so it hasn’t been a total drought.

So why is there a chance at the upset? Aside from having not lost an Olympic final individually since 2000, Kitajima wasn’t that far behind Gyurta at Worlds – .22 seconds at the final touch – and Kitajima didn’t have a good meet. He had some small leg problems last year that might have cost him some training time, and I think with a healthy year, he gets the win. Plus, Gyurta’s awkward stroke sometimes leaves him without the best finish, giving a swimmer with hands as quick as Kitajima’s to sneak in for a gold medal.

Keep in mind that this race comes after the 100 breast, after the 200 fly, and after the 400 IM, so if all of those attempts fail, this would be Kitajima’s second chance (after the 100 breast) at becoming the first man to three-peat.

The men’s 200 breast really shapes up to be one of the more competitive finals of the men’s meet in terms of possible winners. Kitajima’s countrymate Ryo Tateishi took the second Japanese position away from a struggling Naoya Tomita at Japan’s Olympic Trials. Tateishi will now be the number two seed overall.

Germany’s Marco Koch has swum outstandingly this year. At three separate meets in May and June, he went under 2:10, after having never been even close in textile the previous two years. There’s not a lot of good historical comparisons to know if he can hold a time like that through the Olympics, but being under 2:09 puts him in the conversation regardless. His teammate Christian vom Lehn hasn’t been as good this year, but is the defending World Championship bronze medalist in the event, so maybe having paced his taper at Trials will be a blessing in disguise.

Britain lost some power in their 100 breaststroke with the Daniel Sliwinski injury, but their 200 is still set up very well between Andrew Willis and Michael Jamieson. Both are still fairly young, and both have been best times already this year.

There’s two swimmers from non-traditional swimming powers who could be factors for medals in this race as well. Panagiotis Samilidis went a best time for bronze at the European Championships, and Luxembourg’s Lauren Carnol was also under 2:10 for the first time in January.

Carnol would be a great upset pick to medal for those who are more adventurous. He last tapered in January, which leaves plenty of time to peak and taper again. He made the semi’s in Shanghai but is much better already than that. He trains at Loughborough in the UK, a team that has been on-fire lately, which also means he won’t have to travel far from home for the Games.

As for the Americans, had Eric Shanteau made this 200, he would’ve been a great pick for a silver or bronze. As things are, though, he will only swim the 100, leaving Scott Weltz and Clark Burckle to carry the flag for the stars and stripes. To the international community, this will be an introduction to both men (heck, for a large portion of the American community, Trials was the first sight of the pair).

For Weltz, his meet at Trials says that he was clearly tapered; we have no idea what his ability is to come back four weeks later. But look at Burckle’s marks this year: his wasn’t even a season-best in Omaha. He was a 2:09.7 in Indy in March, and with newfound confidence, we should expect him to be able to repeat, or better, that swim as well.

Lithuania’s Giedrius Titenis was great in the first round of this race at Worlds, but wasn’t so hot in the later rounds. He won’t final if he has the same decline this year. The only other finalist from last year who has not been mentioned is South Korea’s Kyu-Woong Choi. He was a bit of a surprise to get into the final in 2011, and hasn’t done much yet this season.

Somebody will come out of nowhere and at the least make some noise in this race. The 2011 times just weren’t fast enough to prevent a big leap by one or multiple swimmers. Look out for Chinese 20-year old Cheng Chen. He is a very strong young swimmer who this year has reinvented himself from a mediocre 100 breaststroker to an outstanding 200 breaststroker.

Top 8 picks, along with seed times:

1. Kosuke Kitajima (Japan) – 2:08.00
2. Daniel Gyurta (Hungary) – 2:08.41
3. Christian vom Lehn (Germany) – 2:08.97
4. Ryo Tateishi (Japan) – 2:08.17
5. Laurent Carnol (Luxembourg) – 2:09.78
6. Clark Burckle (USA) – 2:09.72
7. Michael Jamieson (Great Britain) – 2:09.84
8. Marco Koch (Germany) – 2:08.74
Darkhorse: Cheng Chen (China) – 2:11.76

Women’s 200 Breaststroke

When one looks through the recent results in this women’s 200 breaststroke, though it feels like Rebecca Soni is untouchable, there’s still a little bit of a window open. After all, her margin at Worlds over part-time training partner Yulia Efimova of Russia was less than a second, which in the herky-jerky breaststroke is a bad finish away from a silver medal.

But Soni can go a 2:20. She was a 2:21.1 at Trials, and certainly wasn’t fully tapered there. Then again, in the Dave Salo USC system, the definition of “fully tapered” has to be modified; she’s not going to have a huge drop. But if only for the increased level of the stage, she can certainly be better, as she looks to repeat her 2008 gold medal.

As for Efimova, she hasn’t been better than a 2:24-mid this year. She’s used to having a big taper, but this is too much even for her. She’s going to be hard-pressed to drop the more than 3 seconds it would certainly take to clip Soni even on a bad day by Soni. She’ll have to settle for silver.

Those two both swam well at Worlds, but after that there was a huge drop-off in the final. A 2:24.81 from Canada’s Martha McCabe took bronze. Eleven swimmers world-wide have already been faster than that in 2012. McCabe is not one of them, though she was exactly the same time at Canadian Nationals. On the other hand, she was already locked-in to this spot based on her medal in Shanghai, so she wasn’t necessarily too rested for that meet. Her 100 has looked very good this season, so she can be at a 2:23 in London, most likely. Her countrymate Tera van Beilen has been better than the bronze-medal time last year, but not as of late.

Micah Lawrence made her international introduction by swimming the number-three time in the world this year and placing 2nd at US Trials. But those who have been watching her career weren’t really surprised by the swim. She’s been nothing but kinetic potential since her freshman season at Auburn. She’s hurtled toward the Olympics for years, and just this year hit her stride. She’ll have to really pull out something special to catch Soni, but those who train with her believe it’s possible; that she has a 2:21-high in her.

The Japanese have a pair of medal contenders as well. Satomi Suzuki is the relative veteran at 21-years old is the better of the two, and has been a 2:22 this year (just barely). But she struggled mightly at Worlds, swimming more than three-seconds off of her season best. Her teammate Kanako Watanabe is only 15-years old, though. Her lifetime best has come this season (not surprisingly), and she is clearly still a child. Sometimes 15-year old’s who are this good are very tall, very muscular, but the last we saw Watanabe, she still looked like she had plenty of room to grow and fill out.

Denmark’s Rikke Moeller-Pedersen has done well despite a bit of a nagging injury, but she had to demonstrate her fitness as recently as June. We’ll find out very quickly how well her fitness has held up.

China’s Ji Liping and Sun Ye both gave up the 100 breaststroke to focus on this 200 this year. Very much a head-scratcher of a move, but the Chinese obviously saw an opening here for a medal spot, with such a weak time earning that spot last year. Ji, however, didn’t even make it out of prelims last year.

With no Leisel Jones for the second-straight year, Sally Foster carries the torch this year for the 200 breaststroke for the Aussies. She swam a best time at Aussie Trials, but it was a fairly lackluster race.

With such an open door for the medal stand, Spain’s Marina Garcia-Urzainqui could sneak onto the podium. She just turned 17 a month ago, and hasn’t yet peaked this season.

Russia’s Anastasia Chaun, finally healthy again, was very good at Russian Nationals (faster than Efimova). She was the swimmer who had the scary blood-clot incident that cost her a swim at World’s last year after an allegedly-flubbed drug test. We don’t know where exactly she’s at coming into this meet, so we’ll leave her at darkhorse status; if she finals (as her times indicate she should), then somebody is going to be hugely disappointed to not get a third swim in this race.

Our top 8 picks, with seed times:

1. Rebecca Soni (USA) – 2:21.03
2. Yuliya Efimova (Russia) – 2:22.22
3. Kanako Watanabe (Japan) – 2:23.56
4. Sun Ye (China) – 2:24.24
5. Martha McCabe (Canada) – 2:24.43
6. Micah Lawrence (USA) – 2:23.03
7. Maria Garcia-Urzainqui – 2:24.83
8. Satomi Suzuki (Japan) – 2:22.99
Darkhorse: Anastasia Chaun (Russia) – 2:24.13

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25 Comments on "Picks: Gyurta’s Heat or Kitajima’s History in 200 Breast"

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4 years 3 months ago

“herky-jerky” doesn’t even begin to describe how weird the breaststroke beast is – but a very funny one at that!

Kitajima, Sloudnov, Jones have the most technical technique. Soni and Gyurta get the title for the most herky-jerkyiest ones. Amanda Beard has the most beautiful technique (although it has changed a little).

But I digress: Kitajima and Soni are their own competition.

No Tomita means Tateishi will be as good as silver.
And I think Suzuki will be faster than Watanabe.

And, the indisputable loser is the timing of the US Trials: don’t get me wrong, I wish all the best to the swimmers who made the team (lot of respect!) – But….well, strange things have happened between Trials and the OGs.

bobo gigi
4 years 3 months ago

Again agree about the timing. We’ll see how many american swimmers will swim in London as fast as in Omaha or faster than in Omaha. I don’t forget that the best overall results of the american team in the past years have been in 2007 and in 2011 when swimmers had time to prepare well before the meet.

bobo gigi
4 years 3 months ago

Men’s 200 breast. Kosuke Kitajima in 2.07.90
Women’s 200 breast. Rebecca Soni in 2.20.02

Kosuke Kitajima is the king of breaststroke and his technic is so beautiful to watch. It will be close but I think he will be ready to win.
Rebecca Soni is fantastic and swims great times for many years now. I think she whould deserve to have much more credit from swimming fans and media. I hope she will beat the world record made in magic suits. Again only Rebecca Soni can beat Rebecca Soni. Stop to swim so fast in the heats and in the semi-finals. It’s useless. Keep your energy for the final Rebecca! And don’t start too fast your race. The gold medal is much more important than the world record.

4 years 3 months ago

There’s a good chance Soni is not reading these sites, so… Keep your energy for the rest of us, Bobo! 🙂

Also, I think Soni will win in 2.20.12 … That will be her 2nd Olympic gold in the 200 breast in 2012 🙂

4 years 3 months ago

Braden, Gyurta hasnt won everything that mattered for a European since 2009, he didnt compete in Eindhoven 2010 and he didnt win the 2010 World Short Course Championship in Dubai, he finished second behind Naoya Tomita.
But I agree with you that Kitajima will win in London with Gyurta finishing second but there should be a great battle for third between Jamieson, Koch, vom Lehn and Tateishi. Now I know Tateishi never performed well outside of Japan but I think he learned his lesson and he should be ready to take a medal.

4 years 3 months ago

I would pick willis over Tateishi for the fight for Bronze. Considering Tateish record he will be locked out of 100 and 200 breast even being the second fastest entry..

4 years 3 months ago

This is probably the event I’m most looking forward to on the men’s side. I’m interested in how fast the field goes as much as who wins. Before the LZR in 2008 there were only 4 men under 2:10 in textile, and obviously the event has gotten a lot faster. If everyone is on their game, I think they can push each other to the WR.

4 years 3 months ago

I think if Kitajima and Gyurta race in two separate heats, Kitajima wins. However, history says that Gyurta is an unbelievable racer down the back half, and the nature of breaststroke always means that Kitajima won’t see him coming. I say a repeat of last year’s worlds, just with faster times. I’m hoping top 2 get under 2:08

4 years 3 months ago

Feel free to accuse me of trolling, but I would like to take a poll. What is your LEAST favorite event to watch?

When the races are broadcast on NBC, I guess I’d have to say the distance races because they’ll cut to commercials for 3/4 of the race. But usually in distance you can visibly see people picking up their tempo and making moves at different parts of the race.

My guess is, unless you are/were a breaststroker, the 200 breast is most boring to watch. The 200 breaststrokers are just trying to maintain the same rhythm for the entire race. Sure, some will hit a wall on the last 50, but that feels a little like watching nascar for the crashes. Plus, they’re moving slower than any other event. And most swimmers have no idea what it even feels like to swim fast breaststroke (aside from the oxymoron “fast breaststroke,” it’s most swimmers’ worst stroke.

Okay, sorry for the rant, Kirt. I’m a huge swim nerd, but this is the one race that I just can’t get into. The upside is that I think it’s the race most likely for a world record (for both sexes!).

4 years 3 months ago

1500 free is quite boring, the only up is seeing Sun going for WR again, but for that I could easily start seeing the race at 1300m mark..

4×200 Men race is not one of my favorites also..

4 years 3 months ago

Personally, the 200 strokes don’t appeal to me as much (other than freestyle). I feel that the 200fly, back and breast on both men’s and women’s side are not as competitive and usually have a clear standout. This year, the men’s 200 breast stroke is a major exception, and even if the men and women 200fly are going to be extremely fast races (and Phelps’ “baby”) I still find less joy in watching them I’m not too sure.

I also find the womens breaststrokes very uncompetitive. Especially on the 200 side, 2:24 is only a second faster than the winning time in 1992. As much as it is nice to appreciate Soni’s dominance, I do not feel that I’m watching a once-in-a-generation type athlete as she has yet to separate herself from her predecessor in jones. This is in contrast to Sun Yang’s performances, which somehow just have more flair.

4 years 3 months ago

Of course this is a preference issue. But I like 200 breaststroke much more than 200 backstroke. The turns are just as important, if not more so, and I see fewer start to finish wins in breaststroke. Soni is a great example. Often not in front early, but she takes her races in the 2nd half. Breaststrokers also have much greater variation in their style and technique. Somewhat old school like Leisel, quick short armpulls like Soni, textbook beautiful like Kitajima – all kinds to watch.

4 years 3 months ago

I personally think it is a domestic matter. I tend to like events in which GB are good at haha. Do NBC really go to commercials? that seems incredibly rude if it is true, either don’t show the race or do.

I like the breastroke the least probably too, I struggle to be enthused by it’s lack of variation and things rarely change throughout the race unless we see a Soni ’09 which is not common. It is not like Back, Free or Fly where things can be so tactical. For example in the 200m free somebody could try and break the field between 100-150m by going to their feet early, then hold on down the final stretch, which is always exciting. Breast is too tedious as times, it is about sustaining, not very exciting to me 🙂

4 years 3 months ago

I´m not into a lot in womens events… which events GB has a shot of? Not to take offense, but I am considering 0 medal chanche for Men side..

4 years 3 months ago

tancock in the 100 backstroke.

4 years 3 months ago

Backstroke is tactical? I never saw Peirsol, Lochte, Phelps, Krazelburg, etc. do anything interesting in backstroke from a tactical perspective. The only interesting thing to me is who is better on surface vs. underwater.

4 years 3 months ago

Actually, the men’s (not the women’s, because soni always wins) breaststrokes have been some of the most exciting tactical races over the past few years. There’s only so much strategy in a 200. Breaststroke at least has different styles; in backstroke everybody always looks the same, but at least it’s better than watching phelps in the fly every year. Every race under 400 comes down to maintaining vs. finishing strong really.

4 years 3 months ago

in backstroke, not everyone looks the same.
Have watched the incredibly smooth (and FAST) strokeof Irie?
If only Irie has Lochte’s turn and underwater, he’d be breaking WRs.

4 years 3 months ago

the video os IRIE swimming holding a water bottle over head it´s real?

4 years 3 months ago

Okay, yes, I admit Irie is the exception, he has an amazing stroke, but it’s frustrating seeing his turns fail to improve, and it seems like he will never catch Lochte. Watching Lochte win by 1.5 seconds every time is not my idea of an exciting race. And there’s no strategy going on there.

Des Cairns
4 years 3 months ago

I don’t mind the 200 brst. I think it’s such a tactical race, especially on the mens’ side, everyone just has a look in the first 100.

Des Cairns
4 years 3 months ago

I’ve gotta agree with your pick for the mens’ race. For me it seems like Kitajima has all the momentum at the moment. I think that leg injury he claimed to have had at japanese champs and worlds last year is probably what gave the advantage to Gyurta. It looks to me like this could be another case of the experienced guy pulling it out for the olympic year.

4 years 3 months ago

“Carnol trains at Loughborough in the UK, a team that has been on-fire lately, which also means he won’t have to travel far from home for the Games.”

I love your analysis Braden, it’s the main reason I read this site, but I have to comment on this one. You’ve mentioned it as a factor a couple of times, but trust me, if you show up early enough, by the time the 200 breast (or any other race for that matter) final rolls around, it doesn’t mean jack whether you’ve traveled from Vichy, Croatia, Manchester or across the block to The Village. What I think matters way more is how you handle media attention, your personal headspace and whether you get into a good sleep rhythm leading up to the Games. Might be hard for a 6’8″ Grevers if he’s given the same size bed as a gymnast, haha!

4 years 3 months ago

Oh, and of course… Whether you can restrain yourself in the Olympic cafeteria while on taper and not needing that many calories!

4 years 3 months ago

Betting Weltz rocks at the Olympics. Tweeted that he found some great ways to cut down time at the training camp, and he races very well against Kitajima.


About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

The most common question asked about Braden Keith is "when does he sleep?" That's because Braden has, in two years in the game, become one of the most prolific writers in swimming at a level that has earned him the nickname "the machine" in some circles. He first got his feet …

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