By John Lohn
GILLETTE, New Jersey, May 7. 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 Freestyle
Reigning Champion: Federica Pellegrini (Italy).
Past Champions: Debbie Meyer (1968); Shane Gould (1972); Kornelia Ender (1976); Barbara Krause (1980); Mary Wayte (1984); Heike Friedrich (1988); Nicole Haislett (1992); Claudia Poll (1996); Susie O'Neill (2000); Camelia Potec (2004); Federica Pellegrini (2008).
World Record: Federica Pellegrini (Italy) 1:52.98.
Notable: Through the 2004 Olympics, this event had been relatively stagnant, with not much development noticeable in the victorious Olympic times. However, the event has boomed dramatically, thanks to the efforts of Federica Pellegrini, and the previous performances of Laure Manaudou.
The Headliners: At one time, Italy's Federica Pellegrini was the undisputed queen of the 200 freestyle. As the defending champion and continuing to produce stellar performances, Pellegrini will be expected to defend her title admirably. However, she's going to have a navigate a mine field in order to repeat.
For starters, Pellegrini needs to only look at her home continent to find a pair of big-time contenders for her gold medal. France's Camille Muffat has been swimming tremendously and has already dipped into the 1:54 range this year. Meanwhile, Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom, a multi-event standout, has been 1:55-low and appears to have much more in her arsenal.
For the United States, Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt will be expected to shine. Franklin had the No. 1 time in the world last year while leading off the American 800 free relay. In terms of Schmitt, she's been producing fast times on a regular basis and has the talent to improve on her sixth-place finish from last year's World Championships.
Australia will turn to the tandem of Kylie Palmer and Bronte Barratt, with Palmer the reigning silver medalist in the event from the World Champs. Add in the Netherlands' Femke Heemskerk and the field gets even better. A year ago, Heemskerk was ranked No. 2 in the world.
What Else?: What kind of time will it take to stand on the podium? Put it this way: There won't be much shock if the three medalists are all under 1:55 and closer to popping times near 1:54-low.
Event: Men's 200 Freestyle
Reigning Champion: Michael Phelps (United States).
Past Champions: Fred Lane (1900); Michael Wenden (1968); Mark Spitz (1972); Bruce Furniss (1976); Sergey Kopliakov (1980); Michael Gross (1984); Duncan Armstrong (1988); Yevgeny Sadovyi (1992); Danyon Loader (1996); Pieter van den Hoogenband (2000); Ian Thorpe (2004); Michael Phelps (2008)..
World Record: Paul Biedermann (Germany) 1:42.00.
Notable: The last three winners of this event, Pieter van den Hoogenband, Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps, have combined for a total of 32 Olympic medals. Phelps has accounted for 16 of those medals, with Thorpe checking in at nine medals and van den Hoogenband sitting at seven.
The Headliners: The 200 freestyle could be the premier event of the London games, given the star power and depth which will be on display. For starters, the United States will offer the talents of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. While Phelps is the defending champion, Lochte prevailed at last summer's World Championships. It wouldn't be surprising if the Americans earn gold and silver, but in what order?
Beyond Phelps and Lochte, the duo of South Korea's Tae Hwan Park and China's Sun Yang will be dangerous. Park was the silver medalist in the 200 free at the Beijing Olympics and finished fourth at last year's World Champs, just shy of the bronze medal. As for Sun, he's the favorite to win gold in the 1500 free, but also possesses the speed necessary to contend in the four-lap event.
After he won the 2009 world title, with the aid of a high-tech suit, Germany's Paul Biedermann was vilified in some circles as being merely a suit swimmer. However, he proved his worth at last summer's World Champs by taking the bronze medal. While Biedermann will never threaten his world record of 1:42.00, he could medal. If that scenario is to play out, Biedermann will have to deal with the likes of France's Yannick Agnel, a rising star in the freestyle events and fifth in the 200 free at the World Champs.
Several other names need to be included in the conversation, such as Japan's Takeshi Matsuda and Russian Danila Izotov. Also keep an eye on France's Amaury Leveaux and Australia's Thomas Fraser-Holmes. The semifinals of this event should be extremely quick due to the difficulty of landing a spot in the championship final.
What Else?: The longer this event is examined, the more it seems a 1:43 clocking will be needed for a medal. It doesn't seem as if anything in the 1:44 range will be good enough for the podium, unlike the scenario that unfolded at the World Champs in Shanghai.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn