By John Lohn
GILLETTE, New Jersey, May 21. 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 Butterfly
Reigning Champion: Libby Trickett (Australia).
Past Champions: Shelley Mann (1956); Carolyn Schuler (1960); Sharon Stouder (1964); Lyn McClements (1968); Mayumi Aoki (1972); Kornelia Ender (1976); Caren Metschuck (1980); Mary T. Meagher (1984); Kristin Otto (1988); Qian Hong (1992); Amy Van Dyken (1996); Inge de Bruijn (2000); Petria Thomas (2004); Libby Trickett (2008).
World Record: Sarah Sjostrom (Sweden) 56.06.
Notable: The United States has won this event in just two of the past 11 Olympiads, with Amy Van Dyken being the latest victor for the Stars and Stripes. Meanwhile, Jenny Thompson, in 1999, is the last American to have set a world record.
The Headliners: Although the United States hasn't had a great deal of success in this event, Dana Vollmer has the potential to change her country's fortunes. Vollmer made herself the woman to beat at last summer's World Championships when she registered a best time of 56.47 in the semifinals before holding on to win gold in the championship final. Vollmer has maintained that momentum, routinely posting fast times during midseason competition.
Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom was fourth at the World Champs, but will play a huge role in determining the outcome. Sjostrom is the world-record holder, achieved during the high-tech suit era, but has proven her worth in textile and will certainly give Vollmer a major fight. Meanwhile, Australia's Alicia Coutts will be a gold-medal contender, having won silver at the World Championships while breaking the 57-second threshold.
The home nation will be well represented, thanks to the presence of Ellen Gandy and Fran Halsall. Gandy was fifth at the World Championships and, given her prowess in the 200 fly, shouldn't have any trouble making a surge late in the race. China's Lu Ying, who won the bronze medal at the World Champs, will make additional noise.
Australia will turn to Jessicah Schipper as its second option behind Coutts. Schipper edged out Libby Trickett, the reigning Olympic champion, for a berth to London. Dutchwoman Inge Dekker has the ability to advance to the championship final, along with Japan's Yuka Kato.
What Else?: What is the possibility of a performance pushing the 56-second barrier? It might sound like a real reach, but with the way Vollmer and Sjostrom have looked, especially during training, it might not be out of the question.
Event: Men's 100 Butterfly
Reigning Champion: Michael Phelps (United States).
Past Champions: Doug Russell (1968); Mark Spitz (1972); Matt Vogel (1976); Par Arvidsson (1980); Michael Gross (1984); Anthony Nesty (1988); Pablo Morales (1992); Denis Pankratov (1996); Lars Frolander (2000); Michael Phelps (2004); Michael Phelps (2008).
World Record: Michael Phelps (United States) 49.82.
Notable: When Pablo Morales won the gold medal in the 100 fly at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, it was one of the best comeback stories of the Games. Morales failed to qualify for the 1988 Olympics as a heavy favorite and temporarily retired from the sport, only to return and deliver the finest performance of his career.
The Headliners: At the last two Olympics, Michael Phelps has used every last inch of the pool to mine a pair of gold medals. In 2004, he ran down Ian Crocker at the wall. Four years later, Phelps clipped Milorad Cavic by a hundredth of a second in one of the greatest finishes in swimming history. Surely, Phelps would love an easier win this time around.
Phelps is coming off another world title in the 100 fly and will be the favorite against a field that isn't nearly as deep as some of the other events on the schedule. If Cavic can regain the form he realized in Beijing and at the 2009 World Championships, where Phelps also prevailed, Cavic could potentially give his rival a scare. Otherwise, Phelps will be a big favorite.
Poland's Konrad Czerniak has seen his profile rise over the last year, in part due to his silver medal in this event at the World Championships. The United States' Tyler McGill was the bronze medalist at the World Champs and continues to improve in each of his international appearances, meaning he could push for a silver medal.
Kenya's Jason Dunford has been a steady performer for the last several years and Germany's Benjamin Starke cracked the 52-second barrier at German Nationals. Australia's best chance at a medal will be Chris Wright, who clocked a mark of 51.67 at the Aussie Trials, and Japan will turn to Takuro Fujii.
What Else?: The 100 butterfly is one of four events in which Phelps could capture a third consecutive gold medal, joining the 200 fly, 200 individual medley and the 400 individual medley. The 400 IM, of course, remains a question mark on Phelps' schedule.
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