Picks: Kitajima Shoots for Olympic Triple

  36 Braden Keith | July 12th, 2012 | Featured, London 2012 Olympics, News

As we continue to work through the 100 meter races, you can check out all of our race-by-race picks on the channel page here.

Men’s 100 Breaststroke

This men’s 100 breaststroke will have a pall of sadness over it, as the 2011 World Champion Alexander Dale Oen passed away earlier this year, and won’t be able to contend a race where he would have been a favorite to win gold.

But the race will go on, and it will have a very unusual feel to it for many other reasons. The defending Worlds silver medalist, Fabio Scozzoli of Italy, doesn’t seem to impress anybody despite a 59.4 at last year’s World Championships. South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh has been phenomenal this year, and will be a strong contender as well.

But most of the focus will be on the battle between Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima and the United States’ Brendan Hansen. The two will renew a rivalry that has raged for the last decade, though it has been dormant with neither earning a single global podium spot since 2008. It will be hard to not get caught up in the excitement of the great battles that these two have had in the past, even if they aren’t clear favorites for the top two spots. Kitajima has shown that he’s still probably the world’s best breaststroker, though last year he wasn’t able to do it at the right meet. Hansen is at least in the conversation too, but we have to remember that even before his temporary retirement he didn’t take an individual medal in either breaststroke in 2008.

If Michael Phelps doesn’t win the 400 IM (though that could still happen), then that makes Kitajima in this race the next opportunity to be the first-ever man to win three-straight gold medals in the same individual event.

But that excitement can’t overshadow the first two mentioned – the returning medalists. Scozzoli and van der Burgh have both been a hair better, year-over-year, this season than they were in 2011, so neither of them is going to go away quietly.

Breaking a minute in the finals of this race makes for a medal-worthy swim – last year at Worlds, only 5 swimmers cracked the barrier in three rounds, and only the medalists did it in the finals. So even though a big group have done so already this year, don’t think that 59’s are going to come easy in London.

New Zealand’s Glenn Snyders is another member of the Kiwi national team that outperformed expectations at Worlds; he’s looked very good again this season and could be a factor. He’s one of those swimmers who broke a minute last year, though he didn’t do it in finals.

There’s two big names in this race who weren’t factors in Shanghai, but should be big players in 2012. The first is Australia’s Christian Sprenger, who was under a minute for the first time in textile at the Australian Trials. The 200 breaststroke World Record holder gave up his primary event last year (he didn’t swim it at Worlds either) to focus on this 100, which seems to just-now be paying off for him. That gives him the potential to “break out” even at 26-years old.

The other is Brazil’s Felipe Silva. His story this year is well-known: he has dropped roughly 20 pounds since winning the 50m world title by simply improving his diet and cutting out cheeseburgers. That’s already made a drastic improvement on his times, as this weight was the only thing keeping the world’s best 50 breaststroker from even finaling in the 100. His teammate Felipe Lima should be in the hunt as well.

Ryo Tateishi is the big smoke-screen in this race. Yes, he’s currently ranked number-two in the world. But as good as he’s been in his career, he has never done his best time when it counts, usually peaking at one-or-the-other of Japan’s National Championship meets.

Among other fast swimmers this year, remember that Britain’s best Daniel Sliwinski had shoulder surgery and pulled out, and though Eric Shanteau has had maybe more speed this year than he ever has in his career, I don’t know if he can get low enough for the medal stand.

Kitajima has already been crazy-fast this year, but I’m going to guess that he and his coaches learned from the mistakes made in 2011 and will straighten things out for the three-peat in somewhere around a 59.2. Van der Burgh seems to be on a mission this year, and will pick off Scozzoli, while the timing of trials will hurt Hansen.

Don’t sleep on the ultimate sprinter Damir Dugonjic either. He was on a tear at the European Championships before a ripped suit derailed him in the finals. He’s always been a short course guy (one of the best), but with college in his rear-view and nothing to focus on but long course, he could be ready to explode.

Here’s the top 8 picks, with their best times for 2012:

1. Kosuke Kitajima (Japan) – 58.90
2. Cameron van der Burgh (South Africa) – 59.73
3. Fabio Scozzoli (Italy) – 1:00.43
4. Felipe Silva (Brazil) – 59.63
5. Brendan Hansen (USA) – 59.68
6. Glenn Snyders (New Zealand) – 1:00.04
7. Christian Sprenger (Australia) – 59.91
8. Brenton Rickard (Australia) – 1:00.13
Darkhorse: Damir Dugonjic (Slovenia) – 1:00.60

Women’s 100 Breaststroke

This race for gold seemed like it would come down to two swimmers: the United States’ Rebecca Soni and Jessica Hardy. But then a funny thing happened in Omaha, and the newcomer Breeja Larson upset them both to take the second American spot in front of the defending World Champion Soni.

However, Soni didn’t go a best time in that race, and will still be walking into London as the favorite to sweep the breaststrokes. But that swim by Larson, ranked number two in the world, showed that Soni is infinitely more vulnerable in this 100 than she is in the 200.

The big reason why is finishing the competition. At her big focus meet every year since the 2008 Olympics, she’s been faster in the preceding round than she was in the final. That includes Worlds in 2009, Pan Pacs in 2010, Worlds in 2011, and even at the Olympic Trials. If she doesn’t go her best time in the last round of this race, and Larson does, it could spell trouble.

Australia’s Leisel Jones will have her eyes on an upset as well. Now on her 4th Olympic Team and as the defending champion in this race, she didn’t look great at Australia’s Olympic Trials. She claimed to have been battling a bug at that meet though, which adversely affected her performance. Last year, she still looked pretty good at the Olympics, so at 26 she’s far-from-done. Still, the other Aussie entrant Leiston Pickett looked outstanding at Aussie Trials with a 1:06.88 to sit 5th in the world this year (4th after the exclusion of the 3rd American).

China had the 3rd-and-5th-place finishers in this race at last year’s World Championships, but stunningly didn’t submit either swimmer in the event for the Olympics. Instead Sun Ye (China’s fastest 100 breaststroker) and Liping Ji will both focus on the 200 breaststroke. Their two replacements, Xiaoyu Liu and Jin Zhao are not nearly as accomplished, and will have to do something special to put themselves on the podium.

Russia’s Yuliya Efimova, at only 20 years old, is the most likely candidate to fill in the vacated podium spot. She was outstanding last year in the 200, and much like her Russian team does so well in the 100 breaststroke as well. Japan’s Satomi Suzuki, in true Japanese fashion, has also been lights-out this year as she hit a 1:06.80 at Japan’s Trials this year.

There’s a slew of swimmers who will come in with 1:07-low’s, and all of them are just about a two-or-three-tenths drop away from a top 5 finish. Among the best bets there include Canada’s Jillian Tyler, and the stunning British-trained Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte at only 15 years old. Sweden’s Jennie Johansson and her 1:07.10 from the international wing of Britain’s Trials in March can’t be ignored, but I think she’s maxed out in terms of the medal hunt.

We’ll pick Soni the victory and the gold medal in 1:05-2 or so; just because of the timing of US Trials, I don’t know if Larson can repeat her 1:05, but she’s certainly good enough to land on the podium. Russia has some momentum though, so I’ll take Efimova to pick her off for silver.

Here’s the top 8 picks, with best times from 2012.

1. Rebecca Soni (USA) – 1:05.82
2. Julia Efimova (Russia) – 1:06.92
3. Breeja Larson (USA) – 1:05.92
4.Leiston Pickett (Australia) – 1:06.88
5. Leisel Jones (Australia) – 1:07.37
6. Satomi Suzuki (Japan) – 1:06.80
7. Jennie Johansson (Sweden) – 1:07.10
8.  Jillian Tyler (Canada) – 1:07.18
Darkhorse: Ruta Meilutyte (Lithuania) – 1:07.30

In This Story

Comments

  1. aswimfan says:
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    If Jones wins medal in this, she will be the first swimmer, male or female, to win an individual medal in 4 olympics, consecutive or otherwise.

  2. Rafael says:
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    França will lost about 3 to 5 kilos more after Maria Lenk.. he was not at his Peak there according to his Coach..

    • DDias says:
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      Yeah, and coach Ari wants a 58 something…but till its done, will be a wish.
      I hope he keep the pace and consistency through the prelims to final.I dont want to see a 58.80 in semis and a 59.2 in final…

      • Nadador says:
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        Well, how come his coach said he wasn’t at his best, when he himself was telling everybody that he was going to break the world record at Maria Lenk Trophy!?

        • Rafael says:
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          Nadador.. I just know that his coach (and the nutriciniost and fitness personell on BRA team) said that he had to lose 3 to 5 kilos until London.

          he was about 99 kilos on Maria Lenk… they are probably aiming for 95..

  3. WHOKNOWS says:
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    I look for a major upset in the breaststroke event…. the favorites will be upset!

  4. Jack says:
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    Maybe 17 year old Craig Benson could make another breakthrough? 60.4 at national trials and an untapered 61 last week at what could arguably be his heaviest training period just 3 weeks out.

    • Craig H says:
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      Why would he be in his heaviest training period three weeks out from the games?

      • Jack says:
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        It is quite common in young swimmers to have shorter tapers than their older counterparts and if he is on a similar cycle as to just prior to Nationals, 3 weeks to a month out from trials is a very heavy training time for him. So as taper is a risky thing to alter, especially coming into a home games, I’d imagine it will be almost exactly the same.

  5. WHOKNOWS says:
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    Anything can happen… remember that Breeja best time going into the trials was a 1:08.08 in the 100!!!!

    • beachmouse says:
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      Although since Breeja Larson is not Cindy Tran, a lot of people who follow women’s NCAA swimming were expecting a pretty big drop at Trials from her since the 1:08 was quite slow compared to where she was short course. (I’d assumed she’d go a 1:06 mid to high and wind up third in the event in Omaha.)

      If Larson hadn’t been sick for the 2011 summer long course season, she probably would have been going into Trials with a decidedly better seed time. She’s kind of like this generation’s Ed Moses in terms of talent trumping years of training. I just hope she doesn’t share Ed’s extreme love of golf.

      • WHOKNOWS says:
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        Long course is a different beast than short course. A person with great underwaters will have to take less successive number of strokes to get to end of length! Long course – individual has to take alot more strokes to get to the end. Performance in short course does not necessarily predict what the swimmer will do short course.

        Another example – Scott Weltz entered the 2012 trials with a 2:12.37 (lcm) and finished winning it at 2:09.07 (lcm). (best yard time – 1:54.91 in 2009). (yes I know it is not a top three time going into olympics)

        • beachmouse says:
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          It’s different, but breaststroke is less different than the other strokes because you can’t do 15M of dolphin kicks off every wall. (see Cindy Tran, who would utterly kill on the SCM World Cup circuit after college because of her underwaters on back & fly, but is very ordinary on the national level long course.)

  6. bobo gigi says:
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    Men’s 100 breast. Kosuke Kitajima in 58.80
    Women’s 100 breast. Rebecca Soni in 1.04.90
    On the men’s side Kosuke Kitajima is much better than last year.
    On the women’s side only Rebecca Soni can beat Rebecca Soni. She wasn’t fully tapered at the trials. She had a big margin to qualify so it was smart. The big show will be in London. If she could improve her start it would be good. And the other thing is to stop the crazy races in the heats and in the semi-finals. It’s useless. Keep your energy for the final! If she is at her level she’s unbeatable.

    • beachmouse says:
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      Though keep in mind, Rebecca Soni is perfectly capable of beating Rebecca Soni if she tries to take it out too hard. The last 50 of her 200 breast in Rome in 2009 was a gorilla on the back of a piano dragging her back kind of swim that you’ll usually only see at the end of a 200 fly. Do I think she’d misjudge another race that badly? Not likely, but there’s a reason why we still swim the race and all.

      • Braden Keith says:
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        I think she’s hyper-aware of not over-swimming her first 100 meters. That’s part of why she might not get to the WR, but it should prevent disaster from happening.

      • aswimfan says:
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        Soni’s 200 Rome was the most painful last 50 swim I’ve ever seen on such level.

      • bobo gigi says:
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        Yes but here we talk about the 100 breast. And I didn’t talk about her crazy splits but just her crazy races in the heats and in the semi-finals. Look at last year in this race at the world championships. In the heats she has swum 1.05.54 and in the semi-finals she has swum 1.04.91. What’s the use of doing that? It’s useless! Keep your energy for the final Rebecca!

    • Keith says:
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      I certainly think Soni can improve from her trials swim but the Trojans don’t taper.

      • Lisa says:
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        What do you mean by that??

        • Keith says:
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          They don’t do large yardage, heavy training, and then taper at USC. They post quick times year round. That doesn’t mean those athletes can’t improve from one meet to the next it just means the whole tapered/untapered discussion is meaningless in the context of Salo’s swimmers because they focus on racing sets.

          • bobo gigi says:
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            Yes but last year she has swum 1.04.91 so why wouldn’t she do that in an olympic year? She was 1 second slower at the trials (with a poor start as usual for her) so she will improve her times in London. And if she swims under 1.05 no other swimmer in the world can beat her.

          • Keith says:
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            Bobo, it’s not always that simple. Coughlin went 59.1 last year, “so why wouldn’t she do that in an olympic year.” Soni might be quicker but if she is it won’t be because she was then “fully tapered.”

          • Lisa says:
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            Well I do sort of get what you are saying but Ricky Berens has mentioned tapering a few times over the last few weeks and he trains with Salo…

          • Sean says:
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            Ricky Berens may have mentioned tapering a few times but he was a long shot to make an individual event at the games, Soni is easily the best breaststroker in. the world and I’m sure Dave Salo tapered her with that in mind, the Olympics are what matter

  7. REAL says:
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    A little off topic here, but is there any word on what Missy Franklin will be swimming in London….will she chase the 100 and 200 freestyles even though it jepordises her backstroke chances ever so slightly??

    • Braden Keith says:
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      REAL – as of now she’s entered in all four individual events. I can’t imagine she wouldn’t have scratched one to make room for someone else to swim by now if the plan was to not swim them, so looks like she’s going for 7!

      • Rafael says:
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        she will have to choose carefully what she will shoot for real in London… on 100 free she has no way of Beating the Dutch.. and if she tries could bring more harm than benefit for her..

        • euroswimfan says:
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          I think Missy is always going to give her very best and hardest efforts to every final she races, regardless of her present underdog status in the free events.

          Reckon Franklin won’t be completely gutted if she doesn’t even medal in the 100 or ends up with a minor medal in the 200 free. Wouldn’t surprise me if she’d be happy to just know that she tried her utmost at the highest level of the sport, medals or not.

          Now as for the inflated expectations of the American press (thank you NBC & Mr. Gaines), that might be a completely different story! Achieving gold potentially in both back races and 1-2 relays might not be “good enough” for them unfortunately…

    • bobo gigi says:
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      It’s simple. If Missy swims the 200 free she says goodbye to the gold medal in the 100 back. It would be a pity. It would be stupid. I repeat that for many months now. And in the 200 free she has no chances to win. For me 1 gold medal is by far much better than 1 bronze and a 6th place. I continue my lobbying and I hope Todd Schmitz will take the right decision.

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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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