Missy Franklin
Courtesy of: Rob Schumacher - USA Today Sports
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PHOENIX, Arizona, July 20. MISSY Franklin made a major statement two years ago at the world championships, winning the 200 backstroke in her first senior international final. One year later, she was an Olympic champion and world record holder. Franklin could continue her streak of wins in Barelona, with a couple of worthy contenders. On the men's side, Ryan Lochte will have the reigning Olympic champion and a Japanese duo to fight off in pursuit of a 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.


Men 200 backstroke

Commings
Gold:
Ryan Lochte
Silver: Ryosuke Irie
Bronze: Kosuke Hagino
Dark horse: Tyler Clary

Ryan Lochte won't have that 200 back-200 IM double weighing on his mind this year, which is why he should not have any problem holding off the Japanese duo of Ryosuke Irie and Kosuke Hagino. Like Lochte, Hagino is tackling a big racing schedule in Barcelona, and with this final falling in the middle of the week, Hagino's endurance might have taken a hit by that point. Irie is always a gold-medal contender and if anyone can chase down Lochte in the final stretches, Irie has the experience from last year's Olympics when he beat Lochte to draw from in Barcelona. I want to believe that Tyler Clary will challenge for gold, and it's hard to say the reigning Olympic champion won't be on the podium, but his performances last month at nationals didn't say much about his ability to race for gold on the big stage. I would be happy to see him prove me wrong.

Rieder
Gold
: Ryosuke Irie
Silver: Ryan Lochte
Bronze: Tyler Clary
Dark horse: Yannick Lebherz

This has no sure winner. Ryosuke Irie holds the world's top time as the only sub-1:55 swimmer headed into the World Championships. The Japanese star has finished as the runner-up to Americans Aaron Peirsol, Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary at three straight major meets, but could finally emerge on top of the podium. I'm not sure where Lochte can finish after what he has admitted has not been his best year of training, while Clary's training looked to be lacking as well in picking up three second place finishes at U.S. Nationals. If any of the three can't swim near their respective bests, look for Irie's countryman Kosuke Hagino to try to break into the top three, while Radoslaw Kawecki also presents a major podium threat. Yannick Lebherz, meanwhile, has consistently made finals at international meets but hasn't yet broken into the big finals. He has a 1:56.79 to his credit this year, a time which would put him in position to contend.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Ryan Lochte
Silver: Ryosuke Irie
Bronze: Tyler Clary
Dark horse: Kosuke Hagino

I still remember sitting in the stands in Melbourne in 2007 when Ryan Lochte did the "impossible" in this event: he passed Aaron Peirsol in the final 25 meters and broke his world record. So maybe I'm a little bit biased, but now that Lochte has been on the other side of a similar scenario (when Tyler Clary passed him last summer), I don't know if he will let it happen again. He beat Clary at Trials, and that is huge from a psychological standpoint for both of these swimmers. Ryosuke Irie sneaked in between them at the Olympics last year, and I think he will again. His time ranks first in the world currently, second goes to his Japanese teammate, 18-year old Kosuke Hagino. I think Hagino could be a factor for the podium, but with a busy schedule, I am not sure how he will perform under the stress and exhaustion of his new-found "versatility". The last thing I want to do is underestimate him, however, and that is why he makes a perfect dark horse.


Women 200 backstroke

Commings
Gold:
Missy Franklin
Silver: Elizabeth Pelton
Bronze: Belinda Hocking

With no offense to Paul Yetter and the work he's done with Elizabeth Pelton over the years in Maryland and Florids, it appears that Pelton is finally breaking through in a big way after one year with Teri McKeever at the University of California-Berkeley. Pelton made the final of the 200 backstroke at the 2009 world championships, but she was shut out of the 2011 worlds and 2012 Olympics despite strong swims at qualifying meets. Now, Pelton is a strong medal contender in Barcelona in this event, her confidence reaching into the stratosphere after a successful world trials. No one will be able to touch Franklin, who will threaten her world record this year. Pelton will put in a challenge in the opening 100, but the key to Franklin's dominance in this event is her ability to keep her splits fairly consistent. Belinda Hocking wasn't able to get on the medal stand at last year's Olympics, but should get a boost from Olympic silver medalist Anastasia Zueva backing out of the event. Meagan Nay could be a strong challenger as well.

Rieder
Gold:
Missy Franklin
Silver: Elizabeth Pelton
Bronze: Meagan Nay
Dark horse: Sinead Russell

In two weeks of predictions, no event winner has seemed more automatic than Missy Franklin in the women's 200 back. She obliterated the world record at the Olympics last year, with her 2:04.06 cutting three-quarters of a second off the previous mark -- one aided by high-tech suits at that. After swimming a world-leading 2:05.86 at U.S. Nationals after earlier that evening winning the 200 free, I expect Franklin to once again challenge for a world record here. Elizabeth Pelton, meanwhile, swam an amazing race to stay close to Franklin in Indianapolis, and without Olympic silver medalist Anastasia Zueva in the field, she should have enough to beat out Aussies Meagan Nay and Belinda Hocking, as well as Elizabeth Simmonds and Darya Zevina. Sinead Russell could also be a factor, having swum in the Olympic final and the NCAA final this year. She has swum in the 2:08-range in the past, which certainly could crack the top eight.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Missy Franklin
Silver: Elizabeth Pelton
Bronze: Belinda Hocking
Dark horse: Meagen Nay

I have been saying this since NCAA's: if there is one woman in the world who can beat Missy Franklin in this event, it's Elizabeth Pelton. It does not hurt that Pelton has a less-saturated event schedule that Franklin, and, I think making the team was the biggest hurdle for her, and she will only be better when she reaches the international stage. That all being said, I'm still confident Missy will win this one. Maybe not by quite the margin she has in the past, but likely pushed to a new world record. Both Belinda Hocking and Meagen Nay have a chance to reach the podium as well, with Franklin the only returning medalist from the Olympics. Hocking has a faster time from trials than Nay, but Nay was a finalist in this event last summer.

Tomorrow: 1500 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 ---- 50 backstroke ---- 100 freestyle ---- 800 freestyle relay ---- 50 butterfly ---- 200 breaststroke

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



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