Coming into this year’s World Championships in the men’s 200 IM, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps have the 13 best times in history in the event.
One of those swimmers, one (Phelps) is retired, which means the man left with the title as the best by fair margin is the World Record holder Lochte.
But suddenly, a new contender enters the fray. Though Lochte was a full second faster at the Olympics than any other returning swimmer, Japan’s Kosuke Hagino has shown this year that he is more-than-capable of contending with a Lochte who, while still very good, keeps trying to convince us all that he’s not in good shape.
Those two currently sit 1-2 in the world this year, and along with Hungary’s defending Olympic bronze medalist Laszlo Cseh, are the three big medal favorites. Of the three, the 18-year old Hagino and Lochte are the two most likely to get down to a 1:54.
Looking at the specialties of the three, they’re all very good at the same things: butterfly and backstroke. That’s not to say, though, that the three will be even at the halfway mark of this 200 IM.
Lochte and Hagino will very-likely be even at the halfway mark. As Lochte’s breaststroke continues to improve, Hagino really struggles on that leg, which would give Lochte an advantage.
One would think that Cseh would be even as well, given how good he is in the backstroke and butterfly events by themselves. He takes a different tact than his competitors, though; instead of really hammering away at his best strokes, he relies on “easy speed” and goes after his breaststroke leg. Fortunately for him, there’s not the same issues of wake in breaststroke as there is in other strokes if he gets caught behind.
The other really big medal contender in this event is Brazil’s Thiago Pereira. He’s waffled about what events are his focus a few times this year, but when the dust settled, he came out looking pretty good in this 200 IM. He was a 1:57.4 at Maria Lenk this year. He, though, isn’t the fastest Brazilian in 2013. That title goes to Henrique Rodrigues, who was a 1:57.3 at Maria Lenk (and ranks 3rd in the world behind Lochte and Hagino). The question for Rodrigues is can he hold that through to Worlds? He didn’t make it out of the semi-finals in London; he can probably final in Barcelona, but is unlikely to medal.
The wildcard in this race is South Africa’s Chad le Clos. He hasn’t swum the race all that well in 2013, but he did qualify for the final in London, before withdrawing to focus on the prelims and semi-finals of the 100 fly instead.
In Barcelona, the 200 IM final wouldn’t have any conflict for him, though the 200 IM semi-final would come after the 200 fly final. We’ll count him as not swimming the 200 IM for now, but keep him in the back of your mind.
The rest of the race is probably a battle for relay spots. The 2nd American, Conor Dwyer, has been looking very good since training with Bob Bowman, and was a 1:57.7 at U.S. Trials. he’d need another second for a medal.
The Australian champion is Daniel Tranter, who was a best time of 1:47.5 at his country’s trials. Wang Shun was a best time at China’s Trials as well with a 1:57.50, part of the sudden explosion of IM’ers from the Asian continent.
There’s been a lot of 200 IM’ers dipping down to new levels this year; a 1:58 doesn’t quite mean what it used to. We still don’t have a full idea of which French swimmers will do what, but their Jeremy Stravius was a 1:57.8 at French Nationals – a meet where he was clearly the star swimmer on the men’s side. Britain’s Roberto Pavoni went a best time of 1:58.1 at British Nationals, too.
Daiya Seto will replace Olympic finalist Ken Takakuwa on this year’s roster as the second Japanese swimmer. He was 1:58.1 at Japan’s Nationals. Germany’s Philip Heintz was 1:58.3, and even Kenneth To from Australia got down to a 1:58.72 – despite having never broken two minutes at a Trials meet before.
I really have a good feeling about Germany’s Markus Deibler in this race. Every year, he gets better and better as a swimmer (he’s only 23), but with the relative leniency afforded by the Germans relaxing their qualifying standards, and making their qualifying meet much earlier, he should be able to peak at Worlds. He hasn’t even come close to that since the European Championships in 2010, and so his 1:57-mid is probably good enough for a top 6 finish, if not higher (things could end up with him on the podium).
Top 8 picks are below, with best times from January 1, 2010 onward.
1. Ryan Lochte, USA, 1:54.00
2. Kosuke Hagino, Japan, 1:55.74
3. Wang Shun, China, 1:57.50
4. Thiago Pereira, Brazil, 1:56.74
5. Laszlo Cseh, Hungary, 1:56.22
6. Markus Deibler, Germany, 1:57.82
7. Conor Dwyer, USA, 1:57.74
8. Daniel Tranter, Australia, 1:57.55
Darkhorse: Philip Heintz, Germany, 1:58.34