Ruta Meilutyte
Courtesy of: Richard Mackson
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PHOENIX, Arizona, July 10. A medical issue might keep a reigning Olympic champion out of the world championships ... or at the very least, hamper his chances for winning gold in the 100 breaststroke at the FINA world championships. On the women's side, it appears a Lithuanian teenager's Olympic conquest was just the beginning of a dominant reign in the sprint breaststrokes.

Swimming World correspondents Jeff Commings, David Rieder and Julia Wilkinson-Minks offer their medal predictions for each event throughout this series and a brief analysis of their top-three selections. With the men's 100 breast final taking place before the women's event, we'll start with our picks for the men's race.


Men's 100 breaststroke

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Christian Sprenger
Silver: Kevin Cordes
Bronze: Fabio Scozzoli
Dark horse: Cameron van der Burgh

With uncertainty surrounding the health of Olympic champion Cameron van der Burgh, it would look like the gold medal is there for the taking in the 100 breaststroke. Australia's Christian Sprenger was second last summer behind Cameron van der Burgh, the only other swimmer under the 59-second barrier at the Olympic Games. Sprenger owns the fastest time in the world this year for not just this event, but the 50 breaststroke as well, so we know he will be out fast. Kevin Cordes is ranked fourth in the world in this, and second in the 200: he has back-half speed to chase after Sprenger in that final. Even though Cordes is a rookie to this level of competition, he has been having an incredible season, and that confidence should be enough to carry him to the podium. Fabio Scozzoli owns the second fastest time in the world this year, set back in April, so there is a good bet that he will be faster than that time.

Commings
Gold:
Christian Sprenger
Silver: Fabio Scozzoli
Bronze: Kevin Cordes
Dark horse: Brenton Rickard

Reigning Olympic champion Cameron van der Burgh, long before he hurt his knee that potentially will keep him out of worlds, hadn't put up any swims that made him a medal contender in this event. Christian Sprenger has posted a couple of sub-1:00 swims this year, a clear sign that he's looking to have gold draped around his neck in Barcelona. Only four swimmers have broken 1:00 so far this year, but only three get on the medal stand. Ross Murdoch broke 1:00 for the first time in his life at the British trials, and will have to be better than that just to secure a spot in finals, as we could see an entire field of finalists under the magical barrier. Kevin Cordes has difficulty controlling his stroke in the shorter distances, but has the potential to win a medal with the guidance of his coach Eric Hansen, who is part of the world championship team. Never count out Brenton Rickard. He won in 2009 and has been in every major final since.

Rieder
Gold:
Cameron van der Burgh
Silver: Fabio Scozolli
Bronze: Christian Sprenger
Darkhorse: Daniel Gyurta

World record-holder van der Burgh skipped last weekend's French Open with a knee injury, but I think he'll be ready to go for Barcelona. He has been too good over the past few years, and he has better speed than any other breaststroker in the world. Scozolli, meanwhile, has been fairly consistent in posting top swims outside of the Olympic final, where he finished seventh. He won silver at the Worlds two years ago, while Sprenger won silver in London, and he leads the world rankings so far this year with a 59.05. American Kevin Cordes will be in this field, and can improve upon his 59.99 from U.S. Nationals, but I'm not sure it will be enough to put him in the medals yet. My darkhorse here finished fourth in London, but Gyurta, the gold medalist in the 200 breast, has never won a medal in the 100 on the big stage. If he's close with 15 meters to go, watch out.

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Women's 100 breaststroke

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Ruta Meilutyte
Silver: Rikke Pedersen
Bronze: Breeja Larson
Dark horse: Jessica Hardy

With a season-best from June that is almost a second faster than the rest of the field, Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte is going to be very hard to beat in this event. Rikke Pederson, who owns the second fastest time in the world, also posted her time in June. It is extremely unlikely that either of these women were rested for their race, and it is frightening to think how fast they might be able to go once they reach the final in Barcelona. Although Breeja Larson was rested for World Championship Trials, her improvement in the 200 breaststroke from Olympic Trials would indicate that she didn't rest quite as much as last summer's trials. She has one international meet under her belt, and if we have learned anything since Larson's break-out season where she went from walk-on at Texas A&M to American record holder, you can't count her out of any race. Jessica Hardy has the fourth-fastest time in the world this year, and is very experienced on the international stage, so if she gets out fast enough, may be able to get on the podium.

Commings
Gold:
Ruta Meilutyte
Silver: Breeja Larson
Bronze: Rikke Pedersen
Dark horse: Jessica Hardy

Ruta Meilutyte will not be challenged in this event, especially with Rebecca Soni taking the year off. It's likely we'll see a sub-1:05, and possibly a legitimate shot at Jessica Hardy's world record of 1:04.45. The rest of the field will be bunched together, and the key for anyone to get on the medal stand will be not spinning their wheels at the finish. Hardy tends to do that as she tires, but could sneak into the top three if she can control her opening 50 meters and remain aggressive in the final 15 meters. Larson's confidence in long course is brimming over after a successful national championships, and it's likely she'll be able to earn her first individual international medal. Pedersen has been a force in the breaststroke events for many years, and her 1:06.05 from the Mare Nostrum tour makes her someone to watch.


Rieder
Gold:
Ruta Meilutyte
Silver: Jessica Hardy
Bronze: Rikke Moeller Pedersen
Darkhorse: Yuliya Efimova

Since shocking the world to win the Olympic gold last summer, Meilutyte has looked nearly unstoppable in the 50 and 100 breast. Her best time this year stands at 1:05.20 -- faster than she clocked at the Olympics last year -- and almost a second ahead of anyone else, as second-ranked Pedersen has not swum under 1:06 yet. Meilutyte looks like she can get under 1:05, though Hardy's world record of 1:04.45 looks a bit out of reach. I think Hardy puts together a good swim here to finish second; she faded down the stretch in losing the U.S. National final to Breeja Larson, but she will be hard to catch if she saves just enough for the finishing stretch. Larson, Pedersen, and Olympic bronze medalist Satomi Suzuki look like big threats, but watch too for Efimova. The silver medalist at the 2011 Worlds, Efimova finished seventh in London and has not swum under 1:07 yet in 2013. She's better at the 200, but she has the credentials and experience to pull off a big swim here.


Tomorrow: 800 freestyle

Missed our previous previews? Click the links below.
400 freestyle ---- 400 freestyle relay ---- 100 butterfly ---- 100 backstroke ---- 200 freestyle

Agree or disagree with our world championship medal predictions? Sound off below in our comments section.