Bronte Barratt at the 2012 Olympics
Courtesy of: Rob Schumacher - USA Today Sports
Swimming World's predictions of the FINA world championships is proudly sponsored by Speedo USA

PHOENIX, Arizona, July 5. FOR the next 20 days, Swimming World will bring you previews of each of the 40 swimming events set to be held at the FINA world championships later this month. Our previews will run essentially in the same event order of the championships.

Swimming World correspondents Jeff Commings, David Rieder and Julia Wilkinson-Minks will offer their medal predictions for each event, with a brief analysis of their top-three selections. Today, we bring you our picks for the men's and women's 400 freestyle.


Commings

Men 400 free:
Gold:
Sun Yang
Silver: David McKeon
Bronze: Connor Jaeger
Dark horse: Kosuke Hagino

With Tae Hwan Park sitting out this year, we will not see the Korean defend his 2011 title. Outside of the gold medal, placings in the other seven spots in the final are tricky to predict. McKeon showed great promise at the Australian world championship trials, and should be able to win silver if he can repeat his performance from April. A trio of swimmers posted times in the 3:45 range this year, and Jaeger shows promise of earning his first international medal against a tough field. But watch out for Hagino. This will be his first of seven events at the meet, and a medal would be a big boost for his confidence headed into his primary events.


Women 400 free:
Gold:
Camille Muffat
Silver: Katie Ledecky
Bronze: Bronte Barratt

Ledecky wasn't fully rested at the world championship trials, so she will be faster than the 4:04.05 she posted last week. But how much faster? Her one handicap is that she will not have Muffat's opening speed ... but Muffat will not have Ledecky's endurance. But Muffat will want to upgrade her 2011 bronze to gold in 2013, and that should push her to a win. Bronte Barratt appeared to have the meet of her life at the world championship trials, and will need to repeat her 4:03.52 effort to be in the race with Muffat and Ledecky. It's unclear if Federica Pellegrini will race the 400 free in Barcelona for a chance to defend her title, but even if she did, her plan to focus on backstroke this year puts her out of the medal picture.

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Rieder

Men 400 free:
Gold:
Sun Yang
Silver: David McKeon
Bronze: Connor Jaeger
Dark horse: Ous Mellouli

Sun should be the clear favorite to earn the first gold medal of the world champs. He won the Olympic final by almost two seconds, and no one returning from that race swam within six seconds of the Chinese distance star. Sun, meanwhile, could finally take down that world record that eluded him by just six hundredths of a second in London, and he might finally break the vaunted 3:40 barrier. McKeon and Jaeger have both been big breakout stories this year, each winning their own national title. Sun's countryman Hao Yun finished fourth in London and has a real shot at contending, while Ous Mellouli could push if he decides to swim the event. He opted out in London to save for his better events, the 1500 and the 10k, both of which resulted in medals for the Tunisian. Open water comes before pool swimming this time, so his schedule may change for this meet.

Women 400 free:
Gold:
Camille Muffat
Silver: Katie Ledecky
Bronze: Jazmin Carlin
Darkhorse: Lauren Boyle

Other than the gold medal favorite Muffat, this event should be very wide open. With Allison Schmitt unable to qualify and Rebecca Adlington retired, no one in the field has the credentials to challenge Muffat. Ledecky could show some big improvements from U.S. Nationals, beginning with this event on day one. Carlin hasn't had any big success internationally, but her performance at Britain's trials gives her a leg-up on much of the rest of the field. Federica Pellegrini has won the past two world titles, but her 200 has been her much-better event over the past two years. Boyle has been in international finals consistently recently, and in this watered-down field, she has a strong shot at making the jump to the next level.

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Wilkinson-Minks

Men 400 free:
Gold:
Sun Yang
Silver: David McKeon
Bronze: Ryan Cochrane

Last summer at the Olympic Games, Sun Yang made a very strong statement: he is very hard to beat. Although he was the favorite for the 1500-meter freestyle, his win in the 400-meter was less expected and propelled him to a whole new level. David McKeon blasted himself into second in the world this year at Australian trials, and has had the last two months to not only amp his confidence by basking in his great swim, but continue to work in the pool. Ryan Cochrane was ninth, because of a single hundredth and an overturned disqualification, last summer at the Olympics. He was also ninth at the Beijing Games, but has an impressive resume in this event including a gold from the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Cochrane has basically no competition in Canada, so often doesn't fully taper for trials. Physically, he will be better. Mentally, there is not motivation like a swimmer who came ninth. Twice.

Women 400 free:
Gold:
Bronte Barratt
Silver: Camille Muffat
Bronze: Katie Ledecky
Dark horse: Federica Pellegrini

Bronte Barratt owns the second-fastest time in the world so far this year, and she posted it at Australian trials back in April, which gives her a two-part advantage. First, she does not have to face the "double taper" that Katie Ledecky and the Americans do, and, she has been piling more work on top of this performance for the last two months. Muffat is the reigning Olympic champion, but, as we have seen in the past, that is a crown that is hard to hold on to the following year. Katie Ledecky is young and swimming very fast, so although she may not take gold in this event this year, I think she will be on the podium. Pellegrini walked away from the London Olympic Games without a medal in her hand, and although her performances this year don't even crack the top ten, I would keep an eye on this former world champion in this women's 400-meter freestyle.

Tomorrow: Men's and women's 400 freestyle relay

Whose predictions were on the mark? Who got it completely wrong? Sound off in our comments section below.