2013LCNationalsKaty Ledecky prepares for the prolims of the 200 freestyle.
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
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PHOENIX, Arizona, July 11. AFTER her stunning gold-medal performance last year in the London Olympics, all eyes will be on Katie Ledecky at the world championships this year. Will she break Rebecca Adlington's world record as she is chased by a talented field? Sun Yang will also be dominant in the men's race, but a host of contenders will look to dethrone the distance king.

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. The men's 800 free final is on July 31, while the women race in the final on August 3, so let's start with our men's predictions.


Men 800 free

Commings
Gold:
Sun Yang
Silver: Ryan Cochrane
Bronze: Connor Jaeger
Dark horses: Jordan Harrison and Michael McBroom

Call this a dress rehearsal for the 1500 free later in the meet. It's interesting that Ryan Cochrane has never won a gold medal at the Olympics or world championships, as he's chased Grant Hackett, Ous Mellouli and Sun Yang up and down the pool, with many silver medals to show for it. This time, he is going to have to settle for another silver medal, with an upstart American named Connor Jaeger likely to pose a shakeup in the top three. Jaeger will likely use his typical back half speed to outsplit Cochrane in the final 400, but will Cochrane have created too much of a gap in the opening half to make a difference? If Jaeger wins silver, expect some major strategy changes in the Canadian and American camps in the days before the mile. Jordan Harrison hasn't swum a shaved 800 freestyle race this year, and if he can hang with Cochrane and Jaeger, it will give him confidence to race for a minor medal in the 1500. The same goes for Michael McBroom, who will make his international long course debut in this race. Though this is a non-Olympic event for the men, expect some serious grit from the finalists. Will that carry Sun to break the world record of 7:32.12 by countryman Zhang Lin? Fingers crossed!

Rieder
Gold:
Sun Yang
Silver: Ryan Cochrane
Bronze: Connor Jaeger
Darkhorse: Gergo Kis

Sun Yang enters as the big favorite to win his second consecutive world title in the non-Olympic distance event. His best time of 7:38.57 from 2011 ranks well ahead of what anyone else in the field has swum before. He has nearly a three-second edge in lifetime best over Cochrane, the Olympic silver medalist in the 1500 who appears who have a step on the rest of the field. Jaeger, meanwhile, swam a 7:46.88 at U.S. Nationals, and he probably won't have to improve much to challenge for a podium spot in a weak field behind the top two. Ous Mellouli should be a factor if he decides to swim the 800, while Italy's Gregorio Paltreneri will be in the mix as well. Kis looks like a perfect darkhorse; he missed out on the Olympic final of the 1500, but he finished third in the 800 at Worlds in 2011. He has experience racing IM and distance free on the international stage, but the 800 is his best event.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Ryan Cochrane
Silver: Sun Yang
Bronze: Connor Jaeger
Dark horse: Gregorio Paltrinieri

Although he has yet to win a gold medal at the World Championships or Olympic Games, Ryan Cochrane has had consistent success over the last half decade. Cochrane ended Canada's Olympic medal drought in the pool when he took bronze in the 1500 at the Beijing Games, and has been on the podium every summer since then, watching the gold medalists change from year to year while he remained consistent. He has the fastest time in the world this year, set back in April at the Canadian Trials, a meet where he had no competition and probably wasn't fully rested. Sun Yang is obviously a huge favorite to win as well, considering he is the world record holder in the 1500 and defending World Champion in both distance freestyle events, but the back-and-forth about whether or not he will even swim this event makes me leery about his preparation, and because I know Cochrane's preparation is rock-solid, I am going to bet on my former teammate. Connor Jaeger has had a lot of success in distance freestyle, and is still fairly new to it, so he has plenty potential to drop time this summer. Gregorio Paltrinieri was fifth in the Olympic final of the 1500 last summer, and ranks the same in the world this year in the 800. He also won gold at short course world championships in 2012 in the 1500, and like Cochrane, his best time this year was set back in April, so he has had lots of time to not only add to his training but taper again for Worlds.

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Women's 800 free

Commings
Gold:
Katie Ledecky
Silver: Jazz Carlin
Bronze: Mireia Belmonte Garcia
Dark horse: Lauren Boyle

Will Katie Ledecky break Rebecca Adlington's world record of 8:14.10? Several factors will weigh heavily into answering that question. This will be the seventh race for Ledecky in seven days, including two 1500 freestyles from earlier in the meet. Will that take the edge off the 16-year-old and present a danger to her endurance as the 800 wears on? There is no one who can challenge her after the first 300 meters, though Carlin will have her recent success at the British trials to fuel her fire. Garcia will have home crowd advantage, and after a surprising silver medal in this event in London, has become a powerful distance swimmer in her own right in the long course pool after some success at short course worlds. Lauren Boyle's medal chances depend on her keeping pace with the field and not being too comfortable in the race's opening stages. I'll have to remember there is a race for the minor medals as I watch Ledecky's fingers tickle the world record line through the race.

Rieder
Gold:
Katie Ledecky
Silver: Jazmin Carlin
Bronze: Mireia Belmonte
Darkhorse: Shao Yiwen

Ledecky posted one of the most amazing swims of the Olympics last summer when she stunned Rebecca Adlington and the British crowd with a gold-medal performance in the 800, and she almost took down Adlington's world record in the process. This time around, no one will be surprised if Ledecky gets to Adlington's mark. Her best time this year of 8:20.64 ranks second behind Carlin, but she posted it at a Grand Prix meet before swimming slower at U.S. Nationals. Ledecky should be at full strength in Barcelona. Carlin has swum 8:18 already this year and will be in the hunt, as will Belmonte, who finished second in the Olympic final with a stunning swim of her own. Shao Yiwen has long been in the mix for big finals, and she has shown flashes of greatness, but she has often fallen one or two places short of getting into the big races. This could be her year.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Katie Ledecky
Silver: Jazmin Carlin
Bronze: Lauren Boyle
Dark horses: Lotte Friis and Maria Belmote Garcia

This is one heck of a field of 800 freestylers, and after watching what Katie Ledecky did last summer, plus the freestyle versatility she displayed at US Trials, I think she is going to be our gold medalist. That being said, Jazmin Carlin will walk onto the deck knowing that she has the fastest time in the world this year, faster than last year's Olympic champion. And then you have Lauren Boyle, who posted a sizzling time at the EDF less than one week ago, and I feel like it is safe to say she is was not rested for that. Together, these girls could push each other down to that world record of 8:14.10, and whoever gets their hand on the wall first will claim the gold medal, and maybe the fastest time ever. Lotte Friis was the 2009 gold medalist and 2011 silver medalist in this event, but Maria Belmonte Garcia was the sneak attack silver medalist at the London Olympic Games. This final is going to be stacked.


Tomorrow: 200 butterfly

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

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