By John Lohn
GILLETTE, New Jersey, May 3. 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 Butterfly
Reigning Champion: Liu Zige (China).
Past Champions: Ada Kok (1968); Karen Moe (1972); Andrea Pollack (1976); Ines Geissler (1980); Mary T. Meagher (1984); Kathleen Nord (1988); Summer Sanders (1992); Susie O'Neill (1996); Misty Hyman (2000); Otylia Jedrzejczak (2004); Liu Zige (2008).
World Record: Liu Zige (China) 2:01.81.
Notable: How dominant was Mary T. Meagher in the 200 fly? Well, she held the world record in the event from 1979-2000 and her victory at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles was by more than three seconds, her 2:06.90 easily bettering the 2:10.56 of Australia's Karen Phillips. While the Eastern Bloc nations boycotted those 1984 Olympics, Meagher wasn't going to be pushed.
The Headliners: A year ago, China's Liu Zige would have been pegged as the favorite to capture the gold medal, what with her world-record-holding status and defending-champion standing. However, Liu didn't perform well at the Chinese Nationals in early April and might not be named to her country's Olympic squad.
Even without Liu, China is in very good shape in this event. Jiao Liuyang has already clocked in at 2:05-low this season and was the silver medalist at the 2008 Olympics. Jiao is also the defending world champion, but will find herself challenged by the likes of Japan's Natsumi Hoshi. The fourth-place finisher at last year's World Championships, Hoshi has been 2:04-mid this season and appears poised for a major international breakthrough.
For the home nation, Ellen Gandy and Jemma Lowe carry the British banner. Coming off a silver medal at the World Champs, Gandy expects to be in the medal mix and will — like her countrymates — have the home crowd behind her. Lowe has some work to do to get into medal contention, but shouldn't be counted out.
The former world-record holder and a longtime staple on the podium in the distance fly, Jessicah Schipper will try to shine when it matters the most. Meanwhile, a couple of multi-event standouts should be watched closely. Spain's Mireia Belmonte and Hungary's Katinka Hosszu will have busy schedules in London and each is capable of winning multiple medals, including hardware in the 200 fly.
What Else?: There wasn't any mention of the United States in the previous section of this event preview because no American women advanced to the final of this event at the World Championships. Still, that doesn't mean a few individuals won't surge at the right moment. Among the contenders will be Kathleen Hersey, Teresa Crippen and Camille Adams, the latter of whom is rapidly rising up the ladder in this discipline.
Event: Men's 200 Butterfly
Reigning Champion: Michael Phelps (United States).
Past Champions: William Yorzyk (1956); Mike Troy (1960); Kevin Berry (1964); Carl Robie (1968); Mark Spitz (1972); Mike Bruner (1976); Sergey Fesenko (1980); Jon Sieben (1984); Michael Gross (1988); Mel Stewart (1992); Denis Pankratov (1996); Tom Malchow (2000); Michael Phelps (2004); Michael Phelps (2008).
World Record: Michael Phelps (United States) 1:51.51.
Notable: The triumph of Jon Sieben at the 1984 Olympics was a big upset as the Australian teenager upended Germany's Michael Gross en route to the gold medal. Gross was the world-record holder, but Sieben set a global standard of 1:57.04 to beat The Albatross, who was timed in 1:57.40.
The Headliners: He broke onto the world stage in this event in 2000 and he should walk away with a third consecutive Olympic title in London. Yes, Michael Phelps is still a heavy favorite in the event that started his legend. Phelps will enter his last Olympics as the reigning world champion and as the owner of the four-fastest times in history.
Japan's Takeshi Matsuda could be the top challenger to Phelps. The bronze medalist at the 2008 Olympics, Matsuda was the silver medalist at last summer's World Championships, finishing 67 hundredths of a second behind Phelps. The third podium finisher from Beijing, Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, should again be a significant factor in the 200 fly. At the 2008 Games, Cseh's silver medal in the 200 fly was one of three medals of that color for the Hungarian.
Australia's Nick D'Arcy will get his chance to compete at the Olympics this summer, four years after he was denied the opportunity following an altercation with Simon Cowley in a bar. That night, D'Arcy threw a punch that broke several bones in Cowley's face and, consequently, received punishment for his actions. This year, D'Arcy has been 1:54-mid in the 200 fly, a time that shows he'll be a contender.
China's Yin Chin and Wu Peng have the chance to break through for minor medals, with Wu having won bronze at last year's World Champs. Other contenders for silver and bronze include South Africa's Chad Le Clos, Poland's Pawel Korzeniowski and Hungarian youngster Bence Biczo. Austria's Dinko Jukic is another individual to follow. For the United States, Tyler Clary and Bobby Bollier follow Phelps.
What Else?: This event is one of four in which Michael Phelps can become a three-time Olympic champion. Phelps also has the chance to pull off the feat in the 200 individual medley, 400 IM and 100 butterfly. No man has ever won an event at three straight Olympiads, and only Dawn Fraser (100 freestyle) and Krisztina Egerszegi (200 backstroke) have three-peated on the women's side.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn