Christian Sprenger at the 2012 Olympics
Courtesy of: Rob Schmacher - USA Today Sports
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PHOENIX, Arizona, July 13. THE 50s of all the strokes are tough to predict at any major international meet. No swimmer this year has broken away from the field so much that they are gold-medal favorites -- and that makes these events exciting to watch. The winners of the 50 breaststrokes in Barcelona will need to combine speed, power and technique to get to the wall first. Who is the person that can manage all three?

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.


Men 50 breaststroke

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Christian Sprenger
Silver: Kevin Steel
Bronze: Kevin Cordes
Dark horse: Joao Gomes

The top 10 in the world are separated by half a second right now, second through eighth by only two tenths. I do think that the only man to go sub-27 seconds this season, Christian Sprenger, will come away with the win. Arriving at the meet in a whole different "second category" is a huge mental boost for a swimmer, even if it were only by two hundredths (which it's not -- he is seeded first by three tenths). Plus, this 27-year old former world record holder in the 200 breaststroke is clearly more focused on sprinting, which is what I would have done had I kept swimming until I was 27: for that, he gets my vote. Kevin Steel and Kevin Cordes have been training side-by-side all season, and now are training together at staging camp heading into World Championships. This is going to give them a huge advantage over the rest of the world: not many people get to go all the way to the top with their collegiate training partner, and I think we will see improvement from both in Barcelona. Joao Gomes will be one to watch as well, currently leading the world pack behind Sprenger, and has swum in the final of this event on the world stage before.

Commings
Gold:
Christian Sprenger
Silver: Fabio Scozzoli
Bronze: Kevin Steel
Dark horses:Damir Dugonjic and Joao Gomes

I'm keeping the world record holder, Cameron van der Burgh, out of the conversation in this event because any kind of knee injury will definitely put a crimp on the necessary power and speed needed in the 50 breast. The 50 breast will be such a close finish that the medal order I've predicted could be shaken up in the final meters. I counted out Kevin Cordes for a medal for the same reason I'm counting out Breeja Larson to win the women's event. He's yet to find his comfort zone in the ultra-sprint breaststroke, but will still be in the hunt. Damir Dugonjic would be a logical choice to be in the medal hunt in the 50 breaststroke, but the former NCAA champion has trouble in the final 25 meters without a turn to execute.

Rieder
Gold:
Cameron van der Burgh
Silver: Christian Sprenger
Bronze: Damir Dugonjic
Darkhorse: Hendrik Feldwehr

If Cameron van der Burgh's knee injury does not prevent him from competing in Barcelona, he should have enough to win the 50 breast, the event he established himself in before he became the Olympic champion in the 100. Christian Sprenger, a former world record-holder in the 200 breast, has really established himself in the shorter events, leading the world rankings with a 26.90, but van der Burgh still has the most speed of any breaststroker in the world. Damir Dugonjic has never earned a medal at a big international meet, but his powerful stroke translates best to the 50 in long course. American Kevin Steel, another 50 specialist, could be a factor after an impressive performance at U.S. Nationals, as could Kevin Cordes, Brazil's Joao Gomes, Italy's Fabio Scozolli, and Germany's Hendrik Feldwehr. Feldwehr, another 50 specialist finished fourth at both of the last two World Championships, and he has already swum under 27.5 this year.

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Women's 50 breaststroke

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Ruta Meilutyte
Silver: Breeja Larson
Bronze: Jessica Hardy
Dark horse: Yuliya Efimova

Just like my pick for the men's 50 breaststroke, I am inclined to choose Ruta Meilutyte for the gold, since she is the only swimmer who has broken 30 seconds this season: again, the mental advantage is there for her. However, I know that Breeja Larson will not be affected by this "advantage" that Meilutyte may have--she just does not get intimidated by anyone--and Larson has already shown us never to underestimate her. Besides, have you seen how jacked Larson is? Clearly she was born to sprint. Jessica Hardy is still the world record holder in this event, and the lower Meilutyte drops into the 29-second range, the more motivated Hardy will become, simply because it could come down to having to win the race to protect her world record. Yuliya Efimova has been showing some great speed already this season, with her world second-fastest 100 breaststroke at World University Games. Assuming she is not rested and can maintain her composure, she too will be a podium threat in Barcelona.

Commings
Gold:
Ruta Meilutyte
Silver: Jessica Hardy
Bronze: Yulia Efimova

Jessica Hardy is the world record holder and reigning world champion, but both of those titles might be transferred to Meilutyte, who will be riding a high after what should be a successful 100 breast. Hardy's world record is 29.80, and it is well within Meilutyte's reach after posting a 29.96 at one of the Mare Nostrum meets last month. Hardy could challenge for a sub-30 second swim, and she might need to do that to hold off Trojan Swim Club teammate Yulia Efimova, who was the bronze medalist in this event in 2011. Breeja Larson could break into the top three, but like her American teammate Kevin Cordes, she seems to have difficulty with her stroke in the shorter distances.

Rieder
Gold:
Ruta Meilutyte
Silver: Jessica Hardy
Bronze: Yuliya Efimova

Ruta Meilutyte enters the 100 breast as the easy favorite, but Jessica Hardy will give her much more of a push in the 50 distance. Hardy holds the world record at 29.80, but the young Lithuanian has come close to that this year, clocking a 29.96 on the Mare Nostrum circuit. Hardy, meanwhile, won this world title in 2011, and she won U.S. Nationals in 30.24, giving her the world's second-fastest time entering Barcelona. Breeja Larson ranks third in the world after a second-place finish behind Hardy, and she should challenge 2011 silver medalist Yulia Efimova and Sweden's Jennie Johannson. Alia Atkinson could be another one to watch; the Jamaican finished fourth in the 100 breast Olympic final after winning a swim-off to qualify.

Tomorrow: 200 individual medley

Missed our previous previews? Click the links below.
400 freestyle ---- 400 freestyle relay ---- 100 butterfly ---- 100 backstroke ---- 200 freestyle ---- 100 breaststroke ---- 800 freestyle ---- 200 butterfly

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