Olympic Preview: Men’s and Women’s Distance Freestyles

By John Lohn

GILLETTE, New Jersey, April 26. 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 800 Freestyle
Reigning Champion: Rebecca Adlington (Great Britain).
Past Champions: Debbie Meyer (1968); Keena Rothhammer (1972); Petra Thumer (East Germany); Michelle Ford (Australia); Tiffany Cohen (1984); Janet Evans (1988); Janet Evans (1992); Brooke Bennett (1996); Brooke Bennett (2000); Ai Shibata (2004); Rebecca Adlington (2008).
World Record: Rebecca Adlington (Great Britain) 8:14.10.
Notable: When Rebecca Adlington won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, she didn't just collect her second title of the Games, she took down Janet Evans' long-standing world record, a mark that had stood for nearly 19 years. Prior to winning the 800 free, Adlington took top honors in the 400 freestyle.

The Headliners: Racing in front of her home fans, Rebecca Adlington will be the favorite to capture the gold medal. Adlington is the defending champion and world-record holder and, for good measure, won the world title last year in Shanghai. She's already been under 8:20 this year, proof that she's on target for a repeat.

Denmark's Lotte Friis, who won the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, is expected to be one of the biggest challengers to Adlington. Friis was the silver medalist at the World Champs and was less than a second behind Adlington in Shanghai. A third European to watch is Spain's Mireia Belmonte, a multi-event standout whose profile has soared in the past few years.

For the United States, Chloe Sutton and Kate Ziegler are expected to be the top contenders, although their presence will require handling a difficult qualifying process. Sutton was the fourth-place finisher at the World Champs while Ziegler earned the bronze medal, capping a comeback from a few down years. Ziegler was once the world champion in this event.

A plethora of other athletes will be in the hunt for a berth in the championship final and, perhaps, a minor medal. China will look for Xin Xin to excel while Kylie Palmer will carry the banner for Australia. Also slated to race the 400 free in London, Palmer won the 800 free at the Aussie Trials with a time of 8:26.60.

What Else?: A pair of American youngsters could nail down bids to the 2012 Games — Kathleen Ledecky and Gilliam Ryan. The teenagers appear to be the future of distance swimming for the United States, but might be the present as well. Meanwhile, the United States Trials will witness Janet Evans, a two-time Olympic champ in the event, try to rekindle the past.

Event: Men's 1500 Freestyle
Reigning Champion: Ous Mellouli (Tunisia).
Past Champions: Henry Taylor (1908); George Hodgson (1912); Norman Ross (1920); Andrew Charlton (1924); Arne Borg (1928); Kusuo Kitamura (1932); Noboru Terada (1936); James McLane (1948); Ford Konno (1952); Murray Rose (1956); John Konrads (1960); Bob Windle (1964); Mike Burton (1968); Mike Burton (1972); Brian Goodell (1976); Vladimir Salnikov (1980); Michael O'Brien (1984); Vladimir Salnikov (1988); Kieren Perkins (1992); Kieren Perkins (1996); Grant Hackett (2000); Grant Hackett (2004); Ous Mellouli (2008).
World Record: Sun Yang (China) 14:34.14.
Notable: The history of the 1500 freestyle has been incredibly rich for Australia, which boasts eight gold medals in Olympic competition. The likes of Murray Rose, Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett all rank as some of the greatest distance freestylers in history.

The Headliners: The conversation concerning the favorite for Olympic gold starts and stops with China's Sun Yang, the distance phenom who is continually improving and excels from the 200 distance on up. In capturing the gold medal at last year's World Championships, Sun used a phenomenal finish to check in with a world-record performance of 14:34.14.

A trio of names jump out in the tier below the Chinese superstar. Mellouli is the reigning Olympic champion, thanks to a victory over legend Grant Hackett, but will need to be much better than he was four years ago if he plans on pushing Sun. The silver medalist at the World Champs, Canada's Ryan Cochrane has been a consistent performer on the international stage and won the bronze medal in Beijing.

The third individual with prospects of giving Sun a battle is South Korea's Tae Hwan Park. Although Park is better known for his prowess in the 200 and 400 freestyles, the latter event landing Park a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, Park produced a clocking of 14:47.38 earlier this year. Park, however, figures to be a bigger factor in the shorter freestyles.

From the Faroe Islands, Pal Joensen has etched out a quality portfolio on the international scene and was fourth at the World Championships. Also in contention for a medal will be Hungarian Gergo Kis, who was the bronze medalist at the World Champs in 14:45.66. For the United States, Chad La Tourette and Peter Vanderkaay are top names, but teenager Arthur Frayler is one to watch.

What Else?: It will be interesting to see what Sun Yang will be chasing when he races the 1500 free on the last day of Olympic competition. At that point, he could have already won medals in the 200 and 400 freestyles..

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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