By John Lohn
CRANBURY, New Jersey, February 12. MOVING along with SwimmingWorldMagazine.com's Olympic preview series, it's time to turn our attention to the men's 200 butterfly. There's no mystery concerning the favorite in this discipline. That would be Michael Phelps, the defending champion who has taken the 200 fly to unreal heights.
When Phelps made his first Olympic Team in 2000, his berth arrived in the 200 fly. In the years since, he has obviously expanded his program to a never-before-seen level. But, the 200 fly has remained a staple of his repertoire and Phelps has been untouchable in the event. He'll enter the summer as the overwhelming favorite to win gold in Beijing.
Defending Champion: Michael Phelps (United States) – 1:54.04
World Record Holder: Michael Phelps (United States) – 1:52.09
Most Titles: United States (Eight) – William Yorzyk (1956); Michael Troy (1960); Carl Robie (1968); Mark Spitz (1972); Mike Bruner (1976); Mel Stewart (1992); Tom Malchow (2000); Michael Phelps (2004).
Notable: The world record of Michael Phelps, produced at last year's World Championships in Melbourne, is 2.47 seconds faster than history's next-quickest performer, Japan's Takashi Yamamoto (1:54.56). Yamamoto delivered that time while earning the silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Here's a look at the top contenders:
The reigning Olympic titlist is expected to make it back-to-back trips to the top step of the podium. Phelps has established a gap between himself and the competition that is difficult to fathom. When Phelps won the world title last year, he claimed a three-plus second triumph and sliced nearly two seconds off his previous world record.
While the Club Wolverine star will have some challenges in Beijing, this event probably provides the most cushion for an off day. Phelps' dominance is so great that he can win while not at the top of his game. At the international level, that's an almost unheard of safety blanket. Then again, what Phelps has done in the sport was never known until he came around.
The Polish standout was the world champion in 2005 (in the absence of Phelps) and ranked second in the world in 2007 with a best time of 1:54.93, achieved at the Japan International Swim Meet. At the World Champs, Korzeniowski was sixth, but improvement over that finish is expected from a guy who is well proven at the international level.
Count on the hometown crowd getting behind Wu, who has been a steady presence in the world rankings for several years. Last March, Wu garnered the silver medal at the World Championships with a time of 1:55.13. That outing placed Wu in the No. 4 spot in the world rankings. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Chinese swimmer excel on his home soil and wear either the silver or bronze medal.
Four years after Takashi Yamamoto supplied Japan with a medal in this event, Shibata is the best chance to give his country another piece of hardware. Shibata was one of three men to dip under 1:55 last year, doing so by the slimmest of margins (1:54.99). That swim, recorded at the Japan International Meet, placed Shibata third in the world rankings.
Ranked fifth in the world last year, the Russian turned in a best time of 1:55.22, posted at the World Championships. The effort landed Skvortsov the bronze medal in Melbourne and makes him a medal contender in an event that is wide open when it comes to the silver and bronze medals.
The Ukrainian, born in 1976, has been around for a while and was the silver medalist behind Tom Malchow at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Last year, Sylantyev was eighth-fastest in the world with a time of 1:55.48, which he managed at the Paris Open in the summer. Perhaps Sylantyev has another big-time international showing to offer.
Moss Burmester/Kaio Almeida:
From New Zealand, Burmester has a chance to make a major mark for his country. Burmester was ranked sixth in the world in 2007, thanks to a top effort of 1:55.35, and he just missed a medal at the World Championships, placing fourth. As for Almeida, the Brazilian is the top South American contender and was rated seventh in the world last year with a best performance of 1:55.45.
The race to represent the United States in Beijing is expected to be hotly contested in all events. Davis Tarwater, a regular in international action for the U.S., was ranked 11th in the world last year with a time of 1:56.03. He's certainly a leading contender to travel to Beijing. Meanwhile, Gil Stovall is another threat, as the University of Georgia athlete is continually progressing. One of the young guys to watch is Dan Madwed, representing the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and a future University of Michigan swimmer.
Japan's Other Hopefuls:
While Ryuichi Shibata is the top contender from Japan, he first must negotiate his country's Olympic Trials and a pair of swimmers who ranked in the top 10 in the world in 2007. Takeshi Matsuda made the semifinals in Athens and was ninth in the world last year with a mark of 1:55.52. His countryman, Ryusuke Sakata, was 10th in the world in 1:55.92.