Women’s Breast, Fly, and Relay picks here.
In part 1 of our women’s predictions, we looked at the freesytles, backstrokes, and IM’s. In those races, there were a slew of tightly-packed races that resulted in very difficult selections. As we move into the breaststroke, butterfly, and relay events, however, things become considerably clearer. In most of these races, the medalists can be limited to no more than 4 or 5 quality candidates.
We will also see an influx of American success in this quadrant of the events. Out of the 9 events that we will look at here, the Americans seem to be near a lock for at least 5 gold medals. Also in contrast to to the three events we’ve already looked at, this portion of the meet will be dominated by traditional world powers like the United States, Russia, China, and Sweden, and see fewer medalists from less powerful programs like Belarus and Denmark.
As we did in the first part, we will break into the picks from time to time with a few thoughts on what we’ve just seen, and what we haven’t just seen, in the picks.
Women’s 50 breaststroke
1. Jessica Hardy (USA)
2. Yulia Efimova (Russia)
3. Leiston Pickett (Australia)
Darkhorse: Rebecca Ejdervik (Sweden)
Breakdown: When USA Swimming added Hardy to this event, in place of Amanda Beard who was entitled to the spot based on 2010 performances, they all-but guaranteed themselves another gold medal. Despite falling flat in the 100 breaststroke at Nationals, she opted to swim the 50 at Pan Pacs and posted a 30.03 for an all-time textile fastest swim to go with her overall World Record in the race. This woman is pure speed, which makes Dave Salo’s Trojan Aquatics the perfect spot for her. The only small hiccup is a quick turnaround with the 50 free, but this final comes first so she should be fine. Her recent USC teammate and 19-year old Yulia Efimova and Australia’s newest breaststroker, 19-year old Leiston Pickett, will duke it out for the silver in a battle of the future of women’s breaststroking. I’m too impressed with how Pickett has been swimming this year to give her anything less than silver in this race. There are a ton of great darkhorse candidates in this race, but Ejdervik, who was sneakily the 2nd-best 50 breaststroker in the NCAA last season for Arizona State, could surprise a lot of people in what is usually one of the tightest races, one through eight, on the schedule.
Women’s 100 breaststroke
1. Rebecca Soni (USA)
2. Leisel Jones (Australia)
3. Yuliya Efimova (Russia)
Darkhorse: Leiston Pickett (Australia)
Breakdown: With Jessica Hardy out of this 100 breaststroke (she’s number two in the world this year), this becomes a relatively easy top three to choose. If Soni were to go down in either the 100 or 200 breaststrokes, this would be the one where it would happen, with Leisel Jones being the likely culprit. Still, I don’t see that happening. Efimova’s training with Trojan Aquatics has paid off big time, and chronologically I see this as her first of multiple medals. Pickett is a bit of a cop-out on the darkhorse, but I just don’t see many swimmers being able to contend with the top three in this race. Pickett should definitely have the lead at the turn. Then it’ll just be a matter of whether she can hang on or not.
Women’s 200 breaststroke
1. Rebecca Soni (USA)
2. Yuliya Efimova (Russia)
3. Annamay Pierse (Canada)
Darkhorse: Liping Ji (China)
Breakdown: This is a possible World Record opportunity for Soni – probably her best of the three races. With Leisel Jones not competing this event at Aussie Trials, it seemed as though Soni winning here would be the biggest slam-dunk of the meet…until Efimova’s 2:23.6 from the TYR Meet of Champions which ties as her best time ever. She’s training with Soni now, so one would presume their taper cycles are pretty similar…that makes her scary here. Pierse doesn’t get enough love as the World Record holder; she took the biggest hit at the Commonwealth Games by contracting Dengue Fever, but has bounced back now. Ji gives China their best breaststroke medal hope overall.
Dave Salo, much? There’s no two-ways around it, this World Championship will confirm what we already knew about Dave Salo and Trojan Aquatics: they’re the best breaststroke program in the World. It seems surefire that Trojan will win 6 out of the 9 medals in the women’s breaststroke races. Efimova, still only 19, could become the first woman to medal in all three breaststroke races at World’s since Leisel Jones did it in 2007.
Women’s 50 fly
1. Therese Alshammar (Sweden)
2. Sarah Sjostrom (Sweden)
3. Jeanette Ottesen (Denmark)
Darkhorse: Katerine Savard (Canada), Melanie Henique (France)
Breakdown: Have the Swede’s ever gone one-two in a race at a World Championships before? They’ve certainly never done it at an Olympics. Well, it’s a new era in Sweden, and one of the country’s oldest and most popular sports is finally coming into a sustainable level of international prominence. Alshammar won’t be touched in this race, and I give Sjostrom the inside-edge for silver. The bronze will come down to Ottesen and whichever of the Dutch speedsters that happen to be swimming it, but after she took bronze at short course World’s last year, I think it’s just Ottesen’s time to finally add a long course medal to her trophy case. For the first time, I’ve picked two darkhorses in this race. Katerine Savard was on fire at the Canada Cup a few weeks ago, and smashed the Canadian Record in this race. Teenager Melanie Henique was the European bronze-medalist last year (which is the toughest continental meet in this event), and already looks well ahead of her pace this year.
Women’s 100 fly
1. Sarah Sjostrom (Sweden)
2. Dana Vollmer (USA)
3. Alicia Coutts (Australia)
Darkhorse: Ellen Gandy (Great Britain)
Breakdown: Sjostrom’s talent-level is through the roof. There aren’t many swimmers who have been this good as young as Sjostrom has (think Missy Franklin), and in 2009 she was already the World Record holder just shy of her 16th birthday. All three of these swimmers have been fantastic in-season this year. I bumped Vollmer over Coutts because Coutts has two swims in the session (this is the first, but there could still be a little mental fatigue there with the 200 IM being more glamorous this year), whereas Vollmer dropping the 200 free makes her a bit more focused. Gandy doesn’t qualify as a darkhorse in the 200 fly, but she swam great in this 100 as well at British Nationals in March, and while her time was bettered by countrymate Lowe at the June ASA Nationals, Gandy could surprise people with her pace.
Women’s 200 fly
1. Liu Zige (China)
2. Ellen Gandy (Great Britain)
3. Jiao Liuyang (China)
Darkhorse: Zsu Jakabos (Hungary)
Breakdown: On paper, it looks like the two Chinese swimmers are well ahead of the pack. But I’m going to go against the grain here and pick Zige to win, but Liuyang to finish only 3rd. Her decision to swim at the World Military Games in Brazil, and return to China only two days before the start of competition, is going to affect her more than she might hope. It already cost her an entry in the 100 fly, where she took bronze in 2009. Lowe and Gandy will likely take the other two spots in the top four, but I’ve given Gandy the nod on concerns that Lowe blew too much of her taper at ASA Nationals while trying to earn a spot in the 100. Jakabos is often overshadowed by the likes of Katinka Hosszu and Hungary’s other female stars. But the past year or so, she’s really begun to come into her own, and I like her chances at a high-placing in this 200 fly.
These butterfly events are going to look a lot different than they did in 2009. I only see two swimmers from Rome repeating as medalists in the same events. Oh, what a difference two years can make.
Women’s 400 free relay
1. The Netherlands
2. United States
Breakdown: Despite the distraction of Hinkelien Schreuder’s removal from this relay, the Dutch women are just way too experienced to let anything bother them. If you lined up the 10 best sprinters in the world, half of them might be Dutch. The United States’ relay will have a very “Golden Bear” feel to it, with three former Cal swimmers likely to be a part of the finals group. There’s not much in the way of event conflicts for the Americans (only a 100 fly semi-final for Vollmer at the beginning of the session). The Australian women have been on fire. What’s going to hurt them is that Coutts, their likely anchor, will be going on her third swim of the night (with 200 IM and 100 fly semi-finals already in the session). They’ll also be without Emily Seebohm, who was their fastest leg last year. They’ll have to watch out that they don’t get nipped by China or Germany. The Canadian relay always seems to outswim the sum-of-their-parts, which always makes a great darkhorse in these relays. They were only outtouched by Australia by under a tenth at Pan Pac’s last year. If they can post four 54-lows, they might scare for a medal.
Women’s 800 free relay
2. United States
Breakdown: The Aussies looked so good at their National Championship meet (starting with a pair of 1:55.7’s), it would be foolish to pick against them. All of the names won’t be familiar (Jade Neilsen, Angie Bainbridge), but this Australian program has some scary depth. Their trials were early enough that I think they can hold off challengers. The US versus China will be a tight battle for 2nd, but the race will come down to the US’ bookends (Schmitt and Vollmer) being stronger than China’s Yi Tang and Zhu Qianwei. Qianwei was sick earlier this season, but China entered her in the 200 free anyways, which says a lot for her conditioning. If Tang’s development has advanced the way her early-results indicated it has, however, she could be the hammer that China is missing. The Swede’s are surprisingly deep in this relay, which somewhat belies their sprinting reputation.
Women’s 400 medley relay
1. United States
Darkhorses: Sweden, Russia
Breakdown: This is going to be the most exciting and interesting of the three relays. The US handled Australia pretty efficiently at Pan-Pacs last year, but Australia’s relay was significantly younger than the Americans: The four Aussies averaged 19.5 years old; the four Americans 24.75 years old. With that in mind, I’d expect the Australians to show a whole lot more improvement than the Americans have since then to close the gap. Rivals China and Japan are the real battle for the bronze, and I think the home crowd gives the edge to China.
There are several relays in the 400 medley that are one star away from being gold medal contenders. Russia, for example, has among the best opening-halves in the world in Anastasia Zueva and Yuliya Efimova, and they’re both 21-or-younger. They’ve got a solid anchor in Veronika Popova, only 20, who is the Russian Record holder. Their challenge will be the butterfly leg, where they’ll lose almost two seconds to the top relays. By London 2012, Russia will be a medal favorite. This year, I think they come up just a bit short on balance.
Along the same lines, Great Britain is phenomenal on the back, fly, and free legs; but with Jones and Soni so far ahead of the world, they could be short three seconds on that breaststroke leg.
Out of these teams, the Swedes definitely have the most options as to how to make their pieces fit the relay. They seem to be shy a backstroker, but Sjostrom is actually the National Record holder and easily has the talent to get close to a 1:00. Jennie Johansson and Therese Alshammar probably swim the middle legs, and then they will likely rely on one of their lesser-known sprinters, like Ida Marko-Varga or Gabriella Fagundez, to close things out. If they swim it this way, then their strong legs aren’t as good as the two mentioned above, but at the same time their weakness is nowhere near as glaring. There should be some interesting strategies there.