Florent Manaudou at the 2012 Olympics
Courtesy of: Rob Schumacher - USA Today Sports
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PHOENIX, Arizona, July 22. THE 50 freestyle is one of the most unpredictable races on the swimming schedule. A botched start, a mistimed breakout or a wrongly-judged finish could keep a swimmer off the medal stand. Even though the men and women who will swim the 50 freestyle in the world championship final are professionals in this event, it doesn't keep them from making even the tiniest mistake. The winner, usually, is the one who makes the least amount of mistakes.

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 50 freestyle

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Florent Manadou
Silver: Cesar Cielo
Bronze: James Magnussen
Dark horse: Nathan Adrian

Picking the 50 freestyle is akin to playing pin-the-tail on the donkey, especially when there is not one obvious winner. Can Nathan Adrian add another event to his gold medal roster? Can lightning strike twice for Florent Manadou? James Magnussen was not what we expected he would be at the Olympics last summer, but we'd like to assume that won't happen twice for him. And then of course you have Cesar Cielo, bronze last summer, gold at the Beijing Olympics and the World Champion in this event in both 2009 and 2011. When it comes down to it, Cielo definitely has the most experience when it comes to winning this event, but experience might not always be a good thing. I think Florent Manadou will repeat his win from last summer. James Magnussen is ranked second in the world this year with a time set back in April, leaving plenty of time to get stronger between then and now. Adrian is my dark horse, not in the sense that I think he may or may not get a medal: he is ranked first in the world this year, and I am confident he too will be on the podium. I just don't know where. Adrian's biggest win in this event comes from 2010 Pan Pacific Championships, but he didn't have the chance to flex his muscles in the 50 last summer.

Commings
Gold:
Nathan Adrian
Silver: Vlad Morozov
Bronze: Florent Manaudou

Nathan Adrian didn't get to swim the 50 freestyle at the 2012 Olympics, the result of a miscalculation at the Olympic Trials that left him off the roster in that event. After his gold medal-winning race in the 100 free in London, the world is anxiously awaiting to see his full potential in the splash-and-dash. Adrian's 21.47 from world trials ranks first in the world, and I'm inclined to believe there was more in Adrian's tank in that event in Indianapolis. Don't expect much of a time drop from Adrian in the final. I expect a 21.2 will be the fastest time we see on the board. Vlad Morozov is this year's sprinting golden boy, and while he will come up short of gold in this event as he will in the 100 free, his time is coming. The experience at the top level will only increase his confidence in the coming years. This time last year, Florent Manaudou's biggest claim to fame was being Laure's little brother. Now, he is Olympic champion, and none of last year's gold medalists should be counted out in their events. As for dark horses ... well, everyone in the final should be considered a dark horse for a medal. Anthony Ervin. Cesar Cielo. Roland Schoeman. James Magnussen. Fred Bousquet. They've all tasted gold at various points in their careers, and will be hungry for a bite of a golden medal for the photographers in Barcelona.

Rieder
Gold
: Nathan Adrian
Silver: Florent Manaudou
Bronze: Cesar Cielo
Darkhorse: Roland Schoeman

After dominating performances by Cielo at the 2011 Worlds and by Manaudou at the Olympics last year, I expect an extremely tight race in the 50 free. I almost picked Manaudou for the win here, but I'll go with Adrian redeeming himself after missing the Olympic team in the event last year. Expect a very fast winning time, likely in the 21.3-range; for certain, 21.90 won't earn a silver medal, as was the case at the 2011 Worlds. Adrian, Manaudou, Cielo, James Magnussen, and Vlad Morozov could all have a chance to win at the end. Former world record-holder Fred Bousquet could be factor, along with 2000 Olympic champ Anthony Ervin. Meanwhile, I'll be interested to see if Roland Schoeman has enough for one more sworld title chase. A consistent finalist in the 50 free internationally, he has not medaled since winning gold at the 2005 Worlds. At age 33, he might not have many more chances.



Women 50 freestyle

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Ranomi Kromowidjojo
Silver: Cate Campbell
Bronze: Aliaksandra Herasimenia
Dark horse: Britta Steffen

I think Cate Campbell is on track to have a fantastic World Championships this summer. Clearly, her performances from last year lit a fire underneath her this season, with top-ranked times in both the 100 and 50 freestyle. But will that fire be enough to hold off Kromowidjojo? Maybe in the 100, but I am not sure about this event. Last summer, Kromowidjojo won this event by over two tenths, which is a lot in the Olympic final of the 50 freestyle. Campbell, on the other hand, did not make it past the semi-finals. Although something like that might not seem like it matters a year later, in an event where every little tiny detail matters, I think it could make the difference. Aliaksandra Herasimenia is ranked fourth in the world this year, was the silver medalist last summer, and won this event at the 2012 Short Course World Champs in Istanbul. There are new reports saying that, even though Britta Steffen was too sick to qualify for this at German trials, one of the two original qualifiers for Germany may scratch the 50 free at World Championships to allow Steffen the chance to get on the podium. If she followed through with this plan, I think any swimmer would absolutely make the most of the situation, and we will see a great swim from Steffen.

Commings
Gold:
Ranomi Kromowidjojo
Silver: Cate Campbell
Bronze: Fran Halsall

As I mentioned in my predictions for the men's 50 free, never count out the reigning Olympic champion. Kromowidjojo didn't need to put in a full taper to get on the Dutch world roster, so her 24.30 from the Eindhoven Swim Cup. "Kromo" won gold at last year's Olympics with a 24.03, and just might approach that time in the final. Can Cate Campbell go faster than the 24.27 she posted at the Australian trials and contend for gold? It's tough to drop two tenths in a 50 freestyle, especially when you've just gone a lifetime best in a taper in the same year. But Campbell has been having a banner year, and she will get close to Kromowidjojo, but not make it to the top of the medal stand. Fran Halsall was shut out of the medals at the 2011 world championships and 2012 Olympics, but her 50 free at the British trials looked better than it has in a long time, and that has to help her confidence.

Rieder
Gold:
Cate Campbell
Silver: Ranomi Kromowidjojo
Bronze: Aliaksandra Herasimenia
Darkhorse: Natalie Coughlin

Campbell leads the world rankings in the 50, but this hasn't been a slow rise to relevance in the ladies' splash-and-dash for the Aussie. She earned bronze medals in this event at both the 2008 Olympics and 2009 Worlds, and she has returned to form following a disastrous performance in London, where she missed the final. She will have competition from Kromowidjojo and Herasimenia, the 1-2 finishers at last year's Olympics, along with Fran Halsall, Sarah Sjostrom, Jeanette Ottesen Gray and her sister Bronte. Coughlin, meanwhile, has swum the 50 free just once at a World Championships, way back in 2007. She has been the top American in the event this year, having swum a lifetime best -- her first in any event since 2008 -- in the spring and won the event at U.S. Nationals. I don't think she will medal, but as one of the all-time greats, she often finds herself in the mix in any event she enters.

Tomorrow: 400 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 ---- 50 breaststroke ---- 200 individual medley ---- 50 backstroke ---- 100 freestyle ---- 800 freestyle relay ---- 50 butterfly ---- 200 breaststroke ---- 200 backstroke ---- 1500 freestyle

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