Aya Terakawa at the 2010 Pan Pacific championships
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
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PHOENIX, Arizona, July 15. THE 50 backstroke in the long course pool requires proficiency underwater, followed by 35 meters of furious water displacement. It's a mad backwards dash to the other end of the pool, and this year's finals will offer some intriguing possibilities for medals. The men's event, for example, will not feature two-time world champion and world record holder Liam Tancock, while the women's event could bring a longtime international star her first gold medal.

Swimming World correspondents Jeff Commings, David Rieder and Julia Wilkinson-Minks are offering their medal predictions for each event throughout this series and a brief analysis of their top-three selections.


Women's 50 backstroke

Rieder
Gold:
Aya Terakawa
Silver: Fu Yuanhui
Bronze: Rachel Bootsma
Darkhorse: Mercedes Minguet Peris

Over the past two years, Aya Terakawa has shown impressive speed in the backstrokes at every meet she has entered, and I'll say that finally pays off with her first world title in Barcelona's 50 back. Terakawa currently stands second in the world with a 27.51, behind the impressive 27.22 that Fu posted at Chinese nationals. Bootsma, meanwhile, set the American record at U.S. Nationals, and she will swim only this event at the world championships. She has had previous success in the 50 back, earning bronze in a three-way tie at Pan Pacs in 2011. Missy Franklin picked up the bronze in this event in 2011, but she will have a tough race to get back on the podium and many more swims to navigate through this time around. Great Britain's Georgia Davies and Belarus' Aliaksandra Herasimenia both have great speed, while Mercedes Minguet Peris, the seventh ranked swimmer in the world this year, could take advantage of the partisan national crowd to push for a medal.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Aya Terakawa
Silver: Fu Yuanhui
Bronze: Rachel Bootsma
Dark horse: Missy Franklin

Although Fu Yuanhui has the fastest time in the world this year in this event, I am leaning towards Aya Terakawa simply because she is more experienced. Fu qualified for the final of the 100 backstroke last summer in London, but the then-16-year old seemed to crumble under the pressure in the finals, adding seven tenths to her semi-final time. Terakawa, 28, won the bronze medal last summer in the 100 backstroke, and the silver in the 50 at World Championships in 2011. Rachel Bootsma is currently ranked third in the world behind these women, and if she can repeat her performance from Indianapolis, she will be able to make a run at the podium. I chose Missy for my dark horse, because I really have no idea what she can do in this race. At this point in her career, she is more inclined to wow in the 100s and 200s, and is currently ranked eighth in the world in this 50 back, which is quite low by her standards. However, regardless of ranking, I think Missy Franklin is a factor to win in any race she dives into: she won the bronze medal in this event at the 2011 world championships, and that was when she was only "really good" as opposed to the unstoppable force she has become.

Commings
Gold:
Fu Yuanhui
Silver: Aya Terakawa
Bronze: Rachel Bootsma
Dark horse: Zhao Jing

Aya Terakawa has yet to win gold at the international level, a surprise given her long career in the backstroke events that goes back to the 2001 world championships, when she specialized in the 200 backstroke. This 50 backstroke final could be her chance, but China's Fu Yuanhui has posted a time three tenths faster than anyone in the world so far. That's a big gap in a 50-meter event. I had Russia's Anastasia Zueva, the reigning world champion, listed as a dark horse because she's doing well at the World University Games, but her 27.8 from earlier today in Kazan doesn't signal that she'll be competitive, given how rested the Russian team is there. Rachel Bootsma will be a force in her favorite event, and will lower her American record of 27.68. Everyone in the final will be superior underwater kickers, but that only comprises 30 percent of the race. The winner will be the best swimmer on the surface. Zhao Jing could find herself on the medal stand in yet another of these unpredictable 50-meter events.


Men 50 backstroke

Rieder
Gold:
Camille Lacourt
Silver: David Plummer
Bronze: Matt Grevers
Darkhorse: Aschwin Wildeboer Faber

This race might be one of the most wide-open ones of the entire competition. Camille Lacourt took silver behind Liam Tancock two years ago, but Tancock did not qualify for Britain's Barcelona-bound team. Lacourt looks for a bounce-back after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the 100 back Olympic final. David Plummer showed some impressive speed in winning the 50 back at U.S. Nationals with the current world-leading time, while Matt Grevers won the 100 back Olympic title a year ago. Lacourt and the Americans will have to deal with Gerhard Zandberg, a medalist in this event at the past three Worlds and the gold medalist in 2007; Jeremy Stravius; and Brazilians Daniel Orzechowski and Guilherme Guido. Aschwin Wildeboer, meanwhile, could be another Spanish medal chance; although he has been consistent presence in the sprint backstroke events over the past five years, he has struggled to consistently push for medals.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Camille Lacourt
Silver: Jeremy Stravius
Bronze: David Plummer
Dark horses: Matt Grevers, Vladimir Morozov

Camille Lacourt may only be ranked third in the world, but his time is a fairly recent in-season one. This gives him an advantage over fellow Frenchman Jeremy Stravius, whose season-best was likely a tapered swim since it is from French Trials. Lacourt is also the reigning silver medalist in this event and, with the absence of Liam Tancock, looks to be the favorite based on history. Although David Plummer is sitting first in the world right now, he will be hard pressed to improve on that time in a double-taper situation, although that is definitely not any guarantee: Americans rise to the occasion all the time only a few weeks after their trials meet. Vladimir Morozov is riding high on the Russian success in Kazan, and is looking strong as he heads into Barcelona; barring that he hasn't gotten ready too soon, I think we will see some special swims out of him this summer. Matt Grevers is ranked eighth in the world this year, but there are only three tenths separating the top ten in this event. Long arms under the flags are going to come in handy when everyone is barreling toward the wall together.

Commings
Gold:
Camille Lacourt
Silver: David Plummer
Bronze: Jeremy Stravius

The reigning world champion, Liam Tancock, wasn't able to make the British world championship team, so he won't get the chance to win a third-straight global title. That leaves the door open for just about anyone to take the gold medal, and Lacourt gets the advantage after winning silver behind Tancock in 2011. David Plummer had an outstanding 50 backstroke at nationals, and could split up the podium, with Jeremy Stravius a likely third. Gerhard Zandberg, the bronze medalist in this event in 2011 and champion in 2007, is set to make his fifth world final, but might fall short of winning his fifth 50 back medal with such heavyweight talent in the field.


Tomorrow: 100 freestyle

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 ---- 50 breaststroke ---- 200 individual medley

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