By John Lohn
GILLETTE, New Jersey, May 14. 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 Individual Medley
Reigning Champion: Stephanie Rice (Australia).
Past Champions: Claudia Kolb (1968); Shane Gould (1972); Tracy Caulkins (1984); Daniela Hunger (1988); Lin Li (1992); Michelle Smith (1996); Yana Klochkova (2000); Yana Klochkova (2004); Stephanie Rice (2008).
World Record: Ariana Kukors (United States) 2:06.15.
Notable: The world-record time, posted by Ariana Kukors at the 2009 World Championships and at the height of the high-tech suit era, is widely considered to be untouchable. While several tech-suit records are expected to tumble soon, this world mark is nearly three seconds quicker than anyone has been in a textile suit.
The Headliners: A wide-open field will battle it out in this event, but if there is a slight favorite, that title must go to China's Ye Shiwen. The reigning world champion, Ye put that victory away last summer with a stunning freestyle leg which left her competition flailing. With that kind of finishing speed, Ye will be a real danger.
Australia brings a powerful tandem to the table, headlined by Stephanie Rice, who is out to defend her Olympic title. Rice was fourth at the World Championships, but has looked sharper in 2012 and is positioned to challenge for gold. However, one of her biggest rivals will be countrywoman Alicia Coutts, who was the silver medalist at the World Champs.
The American arsenal, although still to be officially determined, looks to be in good shape, especially with the likes of Ariana Kukors and Caitlin Leverenz, the women who represented the United States in international action last summer. Kukors was the bronze medalist at Worlds and Leverenz was fifth. Elizabeth Pelton, too, has a chance to advance to London.
Hungarian Katinka Hosszu was sixth at Worlds and has enjoyed a strong preparation campaign while Great Britain's Hannah Miley, like Hosszu, is a contender for medals in both medley disciplines. Don't sleep on Spain's Mireia Belmonte, whose performances seem to get better with each passing month.
What Else?: Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry gave Stephanie Rice all she could handle at the Beijing Games before settling for the silver medal. It will be interesting to see what Coventry can muster this time around and whether she puts herself in the medal chase.
Event: Men's 200 Individual Medley
Reigning Champion: Michael Phelps (United States).
Past Champions: Charles Hickcox (1968); Gunnar Larsson (1972); Alex Baumann (1984); Tamas Darnyi (1988); Tamas Darnyi (1992); Attila Czene (1996); Massimiliano Rosolino (2000); Michael Phelps (2004); Michael Phelps (2008).
World Record: Ryan Lochte (United States) 1:54.00.
Notable: When Ryan Lochte clocked 1:54.00 at the World Championships in Shanghai last summer, he became the first individual to take down one of the high-tech suit records. Finishing behind Lochte in that race was Michael Phelps, who checked in with a personal-best effort of 1:54.16.
The Headliners: The top-two positions in this event are pretty much locked up by Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. The question is which man will emerge victorious. While Phelps is the two-time defending champion, Lochte owns the world record and has prevailed at the past two World Championships. The duel between Phelps and Lochte should be one of the highlights of the Olympic Games.
The silver medalist in the 200 IM at the Beijing Games, Laszlo Cseh will certainly be a factor in the medal hunt. Despite a subpar meet, the Hungarian was the bronze medalist at the last World Championships. For the bronze medal, Cseh will be fighting it out with a number of athletes, including Brazil's Thiago Pereira and Japan's Kosuke Hagino, a rising star.
Great Britain's fans will put their support behind the duo of James Goddard and Joseph Roebuck, each of whom cracked 1:58.50 at the British Trials. Austria's Markus Rogan, a longtime fixture on the international scene, was fifth at the World Championships. South Africa's Chad Le Close and Darian Townsend warrant watching.
What Else?: How much quicker will Phelps and Lochte be than the rest of the field? At the World Championships, Cseh was more than three seconds behind his rivals. Look for the winner to be in the 1:53-mid range, if not faster.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn