By John Lohn
GILLETTE, New Jersey, April 30. AS we creep closer to the Olympic Games in London this summer, Swimming World will produce event-by-event previews of the action set to unfold. As part of this series, we'll not only look at the leading contenders in each event, we'll also provide a historical perspective on each discipline. This approach was successful in the leadup to the Beijing Games and we hope our readership enjoys the coverage for this Olympiad.
Event: Women's 100 Breaststroke
Reigning Champion: Leisel Jones (Australia).
Past Champions: Durdica Bjedov (1968); Catherine Carr (1972); Hannelore Anke (1976); Ute Geweniger (1980); Petra van Staveren (1984); Tanya Dangalakova (1988); Yelena Rudkovskaya (1992); Penny Heyns (1996); Megan Quann (2000); Luo Xuejuan (2004); Leisel Jones (2008).
World Record: Jessica Hardy (United States) 1:04.45.
Notable: There has never been a repeat champion in this event, a feat Australia's Leisel Jones will try to pull off. Jones will be making her fourth appearance in the 100 breast, having won a medal of each color in her three Olympiads. She was the runnerup in 2000, earned bronze in 2004 and prevailed in Beijing in 2008.
The Headliners: There is a chance that the podium for the 100 breast award ceremony will be occupied by three club teammates. Training under Dave Salo at Trojan Swim Club, Rebecca Soni, Jessica Hardy and Yuliya Efimova will be expected to push for the hardware, with Soni as the clear favorite. Soni is the reigning world champion and has separated herself from the competition in the breaststroke disciplines.
Hardy, however, has much to prove. After missing the 2008 Olympic Games due to a failed doping test, which prompted her withdrawal from the United States National Team, Hardy has been on a mission to race in London. Hardy possesses pure speed and should be a major contender to Soni. Meanwhile, Efimova is Russia's premier breaststroker and was fourth at last summer's World Championships.
The veteran of the field, Leisel Jones is the defending champion and is gearing up for a run at a repeat. While Jones was second at the Australian Trials, her focus has been on producing her finest results at the Olympics. She'll be joined on the blocks by countrywoman Leiston Pickett, who was timed in 1:06.88 at the Aussie Trials.
This event is heavy on depth, with Satomi Suzuki and Mina Matsushima providing Japan with a strong punch. Suzuki has been 1:06.80 this year. Canadian Jillian Tyler, China's Sun Ye and Sweden's Jennie Johansson will also vie for slots in the championship final.
What Else?: Despite the depth in this event, Rebecca Soni will be the heavy favorite to capture the gold medal. She won the world title last summer by more than a second and has replicated what Leisel Jones did in the mid-2000s, when she established a major chasm between herself and the opposition.
Event: Men's 100 Breaststroke
Reigning Champion: Kosuke Kitajima (Japan).
Past Champions: Don McKenzie (1968); Nobutaka Taguchi (1972); John Hencken (1976); Duncan Goodhew (1980); Steve Lundquist (1984); Adrian Moorhouse (1988); Nelson Diebel (1992); Fred DeBurghgraeve (1996); Domenico Fioravanti (2000); Kosuke Kitajima (2004); Kosuke Kitajima (2008).
World Record: Brenton Rickard (Australia) 58.58.
Notable: Depending on Michael Phelps' success in the 400 individual medley, Kosuke Kitajima could become the first man to win an Olympic title in an event three consecutive times. Kitajima also has the chance to pull off a three-peat in the 200 breaststroke.
The Headliners: Japan's Kosuke Kitajima is the two-time defending champion and showed at his Olympic Trials that he won't be easily defeated in London. Kitajima popped a time of 58.90 at his Trials, which was slightly faster than his winning time from the Beijing Games. Kitajima has long been known for flourishing when it matters most and will be closely watched in London.
Norway's Alexander Dale Oen, who was the silver medalist at the 2008 Games, was expected to be a main challenger to Kitajima. At last summer's World Champs, Dale Oen not only won the gold medal, but also set a textile best with a performance of 58.71. However, Oen died unexpectedly on April 30 from cardiac arrest while training in Flagstaff, Ariz. Oen will long be remembered for the way he handled himself at the World Champs in Shanghai. After capturing the gold medal, he eloquently discussed the tragic mass shooting in his home country and urged his homeland to stay strong and united at such a difficult time. Clearly, Oen saw the bigger picture of life while flourishing in his sport.
The United States has been lacking in this event for a few years, but the return of Brendan Hansen has been a huge positive. Hansen won national titles last summer in both breaststrokes, showing his comeback has matured nicely. The four-time Olympic medalist is mentally refreshed and feeling good about his progress, which is a key to his push for Olympic gold.
The likes of Italy's Fabio Scozzoli and Brazil's Felipe Silva will be factors, with Scozzoli the reigning silver medalist from the World Champs and Silva having clocked 59-mid at the Maria Lenk Trophy. Japan's Ryo Tateishi is the No. 2 performer from Japan and a medal threat, along with South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh and Australians Brenton Rickard and Christian Sprenger. In the chase for a berth to the championship final, there will be no cruising during the semifinal round. The field is just too deep to take that risk.
What Else?: Hansen's return to prominence is not just a quality storyline for him individually, but is a key for the United States in terms of the 400 medley relay. With the rest of the world getting stronger and threatening the Americans, Hansen provides a serious boost to the weakest leg of the relay.
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