By John Lohn
GILLETTE, New Jersey, May 28. 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 Freestyle
Reigning Champion: Britta Steffen (Germany).
Past Champions: Fanny Durack (1912); Ethelda Bleibtrey (1920); Ethel Lackie (1924); Albina Osipowich (1928); Helen Madison (1932); Rie Mastenbroek (1936); Greta Andersen (1948); Katalin Szoke (1952); Dawn Fraser (1956); Dawn Fraser (1960); Dawn Fraser (1964); Jan Henne (1968); Sandra Neilson (1972); Kornelia Ender (1976); Barbara Krause (1980); Nancy Hogshead/Carrie Steinseifer (1984); Kristin Otto (1988); Zhuang Yong (1992); Le Jingyi (1996); Inge de Bruijn (2000); Jodie Henry (2004); Britta Steffen (2008).
World Record: Britta Steffen (Germany) 52.07.
Notable: When Dawn Fraser captured the gold medal in 1964, she became the first swimmer to capture an event in three consecutive Olympiads. Only Krisztina Egerszegi (200 backstroke) has matched Fraser's feat.
The Headliners: The bronze medalist in the 100 free at last summer's World Championships, the Netherlands' Ranomi Kromowidjojo has established herself as the top contender in an impressive field. Kromowidjojo popped an effort of 52.75 earlier this year, the fastest time ever produced in a textile suit. She figures to have more left in the tank for London.
Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom, who will tackle a full schedule at the Games, has already been 53-low this year and will find herself firmly in the medal mix. Sjostrom has shown impressive range from the 50-200 freestyle and has been churning out quick times throughout the year. She'll be joined in the hunt for a podium position by Great Britain's Francesca Halsall, who clocked in at 53.57 at the British Trials.
Although she is still regaining the form that made her the Olympic champion in Beijing, Germany's Britta Steffen can't be overlooked. Steffen looked solid at the European Championships, a good sign for London. Meanwhile, keep an eye on Denmark's Jeanette Ottesen and Belarus' Aliaksandra Herasimenia, who shared gold at the World Champs.
The United States' Missy Franklin, in the middle of a hefty slate, is expected to be at the front of the field and tabs must be kept on China's Tang Yi and Australia's Melanie Schlanger and Cate Campbell. Natalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer could also represent the United States, but will have to negotiate a deep field at the American Trials in a month.
What Else?: Look for this event to be significantly faster than it was at the World Championships in Shanghai, where 53.45 was good for a piece of the gold medal. It wouldn't be stunning to see sub-53 be required to earn a medal.
Event: Men's 100 Freestyle
Reigning Champion: Alain Bernard (France).
Past Champions: Alfred Hajos (1896); Charles Daniels (1908); Duke Kahanamoku (1912); Duke Kahanamoku (1920); Johnny Weissmuller (1924); Johnny Weissmuller (1928); Yasuji Miyazaki (1932); Ferenc Csik (1936); Walter Ris (1948); Clarke Scholes (1952); Jon Henricks (1956); John Devitt (1960); Don Schollander (1964); Michael Wenden (1968); Mark Spitz (1972); Jim Montgomery (1976); Jorg Woithe (1980); Rowdy Gaines (1984); Matt Biondi (1988); Alexander Popov (1992); Alexander Popov (1996); Pieter van den Hoogenband (2000); Pieter van den Hoogenband (2004); Alain Bernard (2008).
World Record: Cesar Cielo (Brazil) 46.91.
Notable: A new champion will be crowned in this event after Frenchman Alain Bernard failed to qualify for the London Games in his prime event. Bernard, however, is expected to represent France in the 400 free relay.
The Headliners: This event can be examined from as many angles as possible, and one outcome will be apparent: The 100 freestyle is James Magnussen's to lose. Yes, the Australian youngster has been so dominant, it's difficult to foresee anyone else on the top of the podium. The reigning world champion, Magnussen tops the world rankings with a mark of 47.10, easily the fastest in textile.
Magnussen will have company in the event by countryman James Roberts, who checked in with a time of 47.63 at the Aussie Trials. That performance was a major jump for Roberts and a sign of big things ahead for Australian swimming. In the hunt for the silver medal, Roberts will be joined by the likes of France's Yannick Agnel and American Nathan Adrian, provided Adrian handles his chores at the United States Trials.
Russia presents a formidable duo in Danila Izotov and Nikita Lobintsev while Cesar Cielo, the world-record holder, is lurking as the No. 1 force from Brazil. A name that has not received enough credit during the runup to the Games has been that of Brent Hayden, the Canadian star who was the silver medalist at last year's World Champs. Hayden typically performs well under pressure, a trait which could prove beneficial in London.
France's second slot behind Agnel belongs to Fabien Gilot and the United States will bring another solid performer to the mix behind Adrian. However, it remains to be seen who will emerge from Omaha. As impressive as those in the field is the list of athletes who failed to qualify for an individual swim in London, including Andrey Grechin of Russia and Australia's Matt Targett.
What Else?: One of the big questions of the Olympics will be whether James Magnussen can break into the 46-second range and challenge Cesar Cielo's world record of 46.91. Given that Magnussen was 47.10 at the Australian Trials, it appears he has that type of performance in his arsenal.
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