Olympic Preview: Men’s and Women’s 400 Freestyle

By John Lohn

GILLETTE, New Jersey, June 11. 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 400 Freestyle
Reigning Champion: Rebecca Adlington (Great Britain).
Past Champions: Martha Norelius (1924); Martha Norelius (1928); Helene Madison (1932); Rie Mastenbroek (1936); Ann Curtis (1948); Valeria Gyenge (1952); Lorraine Crapp (1956); Chris von Saltza (1960); Virginia Duenkel (1964); Debbie Meyer (1968); Shane Gould (1972); Petra Thumer (1976); Ines Diers (1980); Tiffany Cohen (1984); Janet Evans (1988); Dagmar Hase (1992); Michelle Smith (1996); Brooke Bennett (2000); Laure Manaudou (2004); Rebecca Adlington (2008).
World Record: Federica Pellegrini (Italy) 3:59.15.
Notable: Because of the dominance and longevity of countrywoman Dawn Fraser, Australian Lorraine Crapp doesn’t get the recognition she deserves. Aside from being an Olympic champion, Crapp set world records during her career in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 freestyles.

The Headliners: There was a time when this event seemed fairly wide open. Of course, that scenario could reveal itself in London. For now, though, France’s Camille Muffat has put herself in the driver’s seat, thanks to some tuneup performances that were downright eye-opening. During action on the Mare Nostrum Tour, Muffat clocked in at 4:02 to make a statement to her competition.

It woudn’t be surprising, based on her results this year, if Muffat threatens the four-minute barrier, somewhere only Italian Federica Pellegrini has visited. Who else can go that low remains a question, but Pellegrini, the reigning world champ, is a possibility. Four years ago, she was the favorite in this race, but flamed out in the final, only to rebound with gold in the 200 free.

The defending champion, Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington will be a certain factor in the battle for medals, as she has been 4:02 this season. She’ll be joined by the Aussie pair of Kylie Palmer and Bronte Barratt. While Muffat is the leading French hope, her country will also count on Coralie Balmy for a strong showing. Spain’s Mireia Belmonte, who has multiple event options, is also a contender.

The United States group is deep, but whichever women come out of the Olympic Trials in Omaha will have to deliver career outings to figure into the medal mix. Allison Schmitt has been performing tremendously and will find company in the pursuit of London tickets from Chloe Sutton, Kate Ziegler and Katie Ledecky, the rising teenage star. Meanwhile, you have to look at Katie Hoff, if she opts for this event a day after the 400 individual medley.

What Else?: Two names who fly under the radar are those of Denmark’s Lotte Friis and New Zealand’s Lauren Boyle. Both women have proven themselves, especially Friis in the longer distances. Don’t be stunned if one of these women finishes well up the ladder.

Event: Men’s 400 Freestyle
Reigning Champion: Tae-Hwan Park (Korea).
Past Champions: Henry Taylor (1908); George Hodgson (1912); Norman Ross (1920); Johnny Weissmuller (1924); Alberto Zorrilla (1928); Buster Crabbe (1932); Jack Medica (1936); William Smith (1948); Jean Boiteux (1952); Murray Rose (1956); Murray Rose (1960); Don Schollander (1964); Mike Burton (1968); Brad Cooper (1972); Brian Goodell (1976); Vladimir Salnikov (1980); George DiCarlo (1984); Uwe Dassler (1988); Yevgeny Sadovyi (1992); Danyon Loader (1996); Ian Thorpe (2000); Ian Thorpe (2004); Tae-Hwan Park (2008).
World Record: Paul Biedermann (Germany) 3:40.07.
Notable: The champion of the 400 freestyle in 1956 and 1960, Australian Murray Rose passed away earlier this year. Let’s hope that as this event is contested in London, Rose’s excellence and contributions to the sport will be recognized.

The Headliners: Unlike the 200 freestyle, where the field is stacked at the top, the 400 freestyle figures to generate a head-to-showdown between Korea’s Tae-Hwan Park and China’s Sun Yang. Both men have been performing well in the leadup to the London Games and should have big performances to unload.

Not only is Park the defending Olympic champion, he secured the world title last summer in Shanghai by defeating Sun, who settled for the silver medal. While Park has been an impressive 3:44 this year, Sun holds the top time in the world with a sterling showing of 3:42.31 from April. Many have been wondering if the 3:40 barrier could be broken when these two square off.

The world-record holder at 3:40.07, achieved during the tech-suit era, Germany’s Paul Biedermann was the bronze medalist at the World Championships, proof that he is more than a suit swimmer. However, if Biedermann wants to contend with his Asian rivals, he’ll have to drop some serious time, likely close to what he went during the tech-suit times.

American Peter Vanderkaay and Canadian Ryan Cochrane, who were fourth and fifth at the World Championships, will be battling with Biedermann for the bronze medal, along with Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli. Cochrane and Mellouli are better geared toward the 1500 free, slated for the last night of competition.

What Else?: One of the more disappointing storylines surrounding this event is the absence of China’s Zhang Lin from the field. The silver medalist at the Beijing Games, Zhang has struggled mightily this year and, despite several attempts, never managed to produce a performance which made him worthy of an appointment to London.

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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