By John Lohn
GILLETTE, New Jersey, June 4. 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 200 Breaststroke
Reigning Champion: Rebecca Soni (United States).
Past Champions: Lucy Morton (1924); Hilde Schrader (1928); Clare Dennis (1932); Hideko Maehata (1936); Petronella van Vliet (1948); Eva Szekely (1952); Ursula Happe (1956); Anita Lonsbrough (1960); Galina Prozumenshchikova (1964); Sharon Wichman (1968); Beverley Whitfield (1972); Marina Kosheveya (1976); Lina Kaciusyte (1980); Anne Ottenbrite (1984); Silke Horner (1988); Kyoko Iwasaki (1992); Penny Heyns (1996); Agnes Kovacs (2000); Amanda Beard (2004); Rebecca Soni (2008).
World Record: Annamay Pierse (Canada) 2:20.12.
Notable: The United States' Amanda Beard, a four-time Olympian, has won a medal of each color in this event. She was the silver medalist in 1996, captured the bronze medal in 2000 and secured the gold medal in Athens in 2004.
The Headliners: It all begins with the Queen of the Breaststroke, Rebecca Soni, who is seeking a repeat of her Olympic title. With the exception of the 2009 World Championships, Soni has been untouchable in this race over the past four years and anything short of another gold medal will be a shocking development. Soni has consistently produced fast times during the season and should be in the 2:20 range in London, if not swifter.
In the push for silver and bronze medals, Japan features a potent tandem in Satomi Suzuki and Kanako Watanabe. Suzuki has been 2:22.99 this year while Watanabe has checked in with a time of 2:23-mid. They will be joined in the medal picture by Russia's Yuliya Efimova, the silver medalist at last year's World Championships and part of the incredible training group of Dave Salo at Trojan Aquatic Club.
The Canadian duo of Tera van Beilen and Martha McCabe, the bronze medalist at the World Champs, is strong while Sun Ye is China's top performer and the fourth-place finisher at the World Championships. The second American berth remains a tossup, among the likes of Amanda Beard, chasing a fifth Olympic bid, Micah Lawrence and Caitlin Leverenz.
Among others with the chance to advance to the championship final are Russia's Anastasia Chaun and Denmark's Rikke Pedersen, who was seventh at the World Champs.
What Else?: It's usually the United States which boasts medal contenders who don't make the Olympic team. In this event, however, it is Japan which is handcuffed by the two-person-per-event rule. Japan has eight women with sub-2:26 clockings and a quartet under 2:24.
Event: Men's 200 Breaststroke
Reigning Champion: Kosuke Kitajima (Japan).
Past Champions: Frederick Holman (1908); Walter Bathe (1912); Hakan Malmrot (1920); Robert Skelton (1924); Yoshiyuki Tsuruta (1928); Yoshiyuki Tsuruta (1932); Tetsuo Hamuro (1936); Joe Verdeur (1948); John Davies (1952); Masaru Furukawa (1956); William Mulliken (1960); Ian O'Brien (1964); Felipe Munoz (1968); John Hencken (1972); David Wilkie (1976); Robertas Zulpa (1980); Victor Davis (1984); Jozsef Szabo (1988); Mike Barrowman (1992); Norbert Rozsa (1996); Domenico Fioravanti (2000); Kosuke Kitajima (2004); Kosuke Kitajima (2008).
World Record: Christian Sprenger (Australia) 2:07.31.
Notable: Japan's prowess in this event has been extremely impressive, with that country owning six victories, including two each from Yoshiyuki Tsuruta and Kosuke Kitajima. Japan has also won three silver medals and two bronze medals in the 200 breast.
The Headliners: The big storyline in this event, as is the case with the 100 breast, is whether Japan's Kosuke Kitajima can collect a third straight gold medal. Entering London, no man has won an event at three consecutive Olympiads, but Kitajima has a pair of opportunities. Placing himself in the position of favorite was Kitajima's time of 2:08.00 at the Japanese Trials.
As the two-time reigning world champion in the 200 breast, Hungarian Daniel Gyurta will undoubtedly find himself firmly in the chase for the gold medal. Gyurta has long been known for his closing surge, but he has also generated more front-end speed than in past years. Another fighter for the gold medal will be Kitajima's countryman, Ryo Tateishi, who touched the wall in 2:08.17 back in April.
For the United States, three names emerge. Eric Shanteau was fourth at the World Championships last summer and has looked good in midseason events. Brendan Hansen, who is blazing the comeback trail, has been training well and appears poised for a big swim in an event where he's been a two-time world champion. The third American to watch entering the United States Trials is Clark Burckle, who went sub-2:10 earlier this year.
Germany has two strong entries in Marco Koch and Christian Vom Lehn, who was the bronze medalist at the World Champs. Also keep an eye on Great Britain's Michael Jamieson and Andrew Willis. Australia's Brenton Rickard and Christian Sprenger are on the radar, too, but must drop some time in order to contend for a medal.
What Else?: Coming off a European championship in this event, Daniel Gyurta is tracking well heading to London. The key for him, however, will be getting the job done when it matters most. Four years ago, Gyurta had his best time in the preliminary heats, but couldn't match that speed in the semifinals or final.
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