The start of the 2012 Olympic Games are drawing near. Click here to read all of our race-by-race previews.
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