By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)
Courtesy of: USA TODAY Sports
Courtesy of: USA TODAY Sports
POZNAN, Poland, July 14. A mere two days after Yuliya Efimova had us questioning our podium picks for the 100 breaststroke at World Championships, Olympic gold medalist Ruta Meilutyte showed the world that she is still in top form by tying Efimova's time of 1:05.48.
Although no one doubted that Meilutyte was still the favorite, even in the face of Efimova's fabulous in-season swim, this tie is almost too good to be true for swim fans. These two women will now walk into the ready room in Barcelona knowing that, the last time they swam this event, they were equals. And, barring a tie, only one can come out on top. The women's 100 breaststroke is shaping up to be one of the most competitive races at World Championships, and I am sure one of the most anticipated.
Because it is so technical, I think that breaststroke has the highest potential for a swimmer to either come out of nowhere, or, lose their feel. Fast breaststroke is such a paradox: it requires a great amount of relaxation to swim efficiently. Beyond what breaststroke takes physically, I don't think many athletes have the mental strength to not try too hard when racing breaststroke.
So now you are wondering where the heck I get off talking about breaststroke technique as a backstroke/freestyler? Well, my battle with breaststroke regarding whether I was "on" or "off" was that I was usually "off". I had always been a pretty crummy breaststroker, until one day when I was 14 I just did something different (probably also thanks to a growth spurt) and my coach freaked out and told me to do it again. Suddenly, I was a breaststroker. Then, when I was 16, I grew again and I lost it. Since my main focus for most of my career was the 200 IM, I was always fighting an uphill battle to get my breaststroke back; eventually, by the time I moved to College Station, Steve Bultman just rebuilt my breaststroke from scratch. Whatever I had had for those two years in my early teens was long gone.
I remember watching in disbelief when breaststroke superstar Brendan Hansen, who had won gold medals at the World Championships the previous year, did not qualify for the Olympic team in the 200 breaststroke. He did end up qualifying in the 100, but finished 4th in Beijing, a definite step down for the multiple-time Olympic and world medalist and reigning world champion. No one ever talks about "the yips" in swimming, but when a swimmer suddenly loses their "feel" in the stroke, like I did when I turned 16, sometimes this is the only explanation.
I bring this up because, with a breaststroke battle between Meilutyte and Efimova on the horizon, we have to remember than anything can happen. Someone could come out of nowhere. Someone could be rested too soon. Maybe these two will tie for the gold medal at Worlds, maybe neither will reach the podium (although that is highly unlikely). It is impossible to predict, and that's why they don't give out the medals before the meet. Anything can happen.
Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M's first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.
Follow her on twitter @juliah2o