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