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By John Lohn
LONDON, July 30. EXTRA chairs had been placed in the clubhouse and special-insignia blazers were designed, but Australian Dawn Fraser and Hungarian Krisztina Egerszegi are still waiting for new membership to arrive in their exclusive club. Yep, it's still nothing but ladies in the Olympic Three-Peat Club.
Leading into the Olympic Games, there was considerable discussion concerning which man — Michael Phelps or Kosuke Kitajima — would become the first to win an event at three consecutive Olympiads. So far, those guys are 0-for-2 in their pursuits, and neither even medaled. It just shows how difficult it is to produce a trifecta, and confirms why Fraser (100 freestyle) and Egerszegi (200 backstroke) have no company.
Phelps, of course, missed out on the chance at a third straight crown in the 400 individual medley on the first night of Olympic action. Lacking the power we've been accustomed to seeing, the 17-time Olympic medalist finished fourth. Phelps, though, has three more chances to join the special club. He's also the two-time defending champion in the 100 butterfly, 200 butterfly and 200 individual medley.
As for Kitajima, his chase of a three-peat in the 100 breaststroke ended with a fifth-place showing on Sunday night. Unable to match the 58.90 he delivered at the Japanese Trials in April, Kitajima watched South African Cameron van der Burgh break the world record with a clocking of 58.46. Like Phelps, Kitajima has another opportunity. He is the two-time defending titlist in the 200 breast.
Why are there only two members of this unique fraternity? For starters, there were many years in the sport in which athletes didn't hang around for three Olympiads. Meanwhile, longevity is not easy to maintain. There are always up-and-coming competitors trying to knock the established stars off their pedestal, and maintaining world-best form is more of a challenge as the years pass by.
There is also the element of timing. This sport can be finicky, and the slightest miss of a taper can prove costly at a competition which features the best in the world racing at the highest level. Additionally, it can take nothing more than a fingertip to lose a race in a sport which is decided by hundredths of a second.
Chances are, Fraser and Egerszegi will welcome an additional member before the end of the London Games. After all, Phelps is the favorite in the 100 and 200 butterfly events. If he indeed gets the job done, it will add another chapter to his legacy, a difficult chapter at that.
**Let's throw a couple of questions out to the readership: What have been your favorite surprises during the first two-plus days of Olympic competition? What do you consider to be the biggest disappointments?
**Look for another battle between France's Camille Muffat and American Allison Schmitt to brew. One night after duking it out in the 400 free, with Muffat holding off Schmitt for the gold medal, the women returned to the pool for the preliminaries of the 200 free. The shorter distance is a little better suited for Schmitt, who no doubt will be hungry for redemption.
While Muffat and Schmitt is a quality storyline, they'll have pressure from the likes of Missy Franklin, the rising United States star, and reigning champion Federica Pellegrini of Italy. Franklin has a tough double to deal with tonight, as she must negotiate the semifinals of the 200 free before fighting for the gold medal in the 100 backstroke.
**With three world records already being set, it has been shown that the tech-suit era standards might not be around for as long as first thought. They won't all go down rapidly, but seeing them drop here and there is a positive.
One of the records which was thought to endure longer than most was the 2:06.15 of Ariana Kukors in the 200 individual medley. (Another is Liu Zige's mark in the 200 fly). But with the way China's Ye Shiwen looked in setting a world record in the 400 IM, is Kukors' time actually within reach? Stunningly, it just might be.
In the prelims of the 200 IM, Ye turned in a time of 2:08.90 without exerting considerable energy. The reigning world champion, Ye has the ability to push Kukors' world record. The key for the teenager will be going out quick enough in the first three legs to allow her astounding closing speed in the freestyle to carry her home, and potentially to the record.
**Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom is desperately trying to rid herself of the fourth-place demons. After placing fourth in the 100 butterfly on Sunday night, the 18-year-old returned to the pool and qualified for the semifinals of the 200 freestyle in a tie for seventh. At last year's World Championships, Sjostrom was also fourth in the 50 fly, 100 fly and 200 free.
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