By Phillip Whitten
FUKUOKA, Japan, July 26. THIS is our preview of the events to be contested tomorrow, Friday, July 27, at the World Championships in Fukuoka.
Six finals are being swum but only one event – the men's 4 x 200m free relay – features a clear-cut favorite.
Men's 200 meter Backstroke
The USA's Aaron Peirsol faltered in the 100m back and faileed to medal, but he's much better – and more confident – over 200 meters. He should win, probably in a 1:57.
The battle for silver and bronze will be fierce, among Aussie Matt Welch,, Croatia's Gordan Kozulj (who holds the short course WR in this event), Iceland's Orn Arnasson and Austria's Markus Rogan. Israel's Joav Gath could be a factor as well.
1. Aaron Peirsol (USA)
2. Orn Arnasson (ISL)
3. Markus Rogan (AUT)
Could get silver or bronze: Matt Welsh (AUS), Gordan Kozulj (CRO)
Long shot: Joav Gath (ISR)
Women's 50 meter Breaststroke
You have to go with China's Luo Xuejuan, who won the 100 and looked very good in the 200. The 50 is probably her best distance and she may even challenge Penny Heyns' WR.
Britain's Zoe Baker is a drop-dead sprinter. 100 meters is too long for her, but a 50 is just right. (Too bad there's no 25!). She can get silver.
The bronze should feature a fight between the two Americans, Megan Quann, the Olympic 100 meter champ, and Kristy Kowal. on paper, Quann has the definite edge, but she's been having a difficult meet and has consistently been off her bst form. Kowal is not quite in the best of condition, but it doesn't matter in the one-lapper.
1. Luo Xuejuan (CHN)
2. Zoe Baker (GBR)
3. Kristy Kowal (USA)
Could medal: Megan Quann
Men's 100 meter Freestyle
Just as it was for Mark Spitz in 1972, the 100 free will be the sternest test for Ian Thorpe in his quest for seven gold. It's always a mistake to under-estimate The Thorpedo, but we feel he doesn't yet have the speed to beat the likes of Hoogie in the 100 meter sprint. The result: he may have to settle for only five or six gold.
WR-holder Pieter van den Hoogenband should be the winner today, but he is definitely off his form from 2000, the result of too much party time. There will be no sub-48 second swims this time around.
The guy to watch is the USA's Anthony Ervin, who earlier won the 50 and came into this meet with the world's fastest 100 time (48.98). Sweden's Lars Frolander, who won the 100 fly, is a threat for the bronze, where he'll probably be contending with Thorpe.
All three medalists will go 48s, and several others, possible including the USA's Jason Lezak, may also dip under that once-formidable barrier.
1. Pieter van den Hoogenband (NED)
2. Anthony Ervin (USA)
3. Lars Frolander (SWE)
Could medal or even win: Ian Thorpe (AUS)
Women's 200 meter Freestyle
This is the hardest of tomorrow's races to pick, as no one is a clear favorite and any of the eight finalists could win. To complicate matters, every finalist has a down side: a lack of consistency, inability to perform under pressure, or being just a bit off here in Japan.
With some trepidation, we're going to go with Costa Rica's Claudia Poll, the 1996 Olympic champ, who has swum well all year but hasn't shown any progress since May. That lack of improvement is what makes us wonder about her ability to pull this one out.
Slovakia's Martina Moravcova has also swum well this year, but appears to be struggling a bit here. she pulled out of the 100 fly – an event in which she probably would haved medaled – to swim the 200 free. That may have been a mistake.
The Aussie pair of converted backstroker Giann Rooney and Elka Graham swam lifetime bests in their ill-fated relay, so they should be considered contenders. Romania's Camelia Potec probably has the fastest potential in the group, but has been less than impressive here. The USA does not have a finalist. Well, here goes…
1. Claudia Poll (CRC)
2. Giann Rooney (AUS)
3. Camelia Potec (ROM)
Definitely could medal: Elka Graham (AUS), Martina Moravcova (SVK)
Women's 200 meter Individual Medley
Olympic champion Yana Klochkova has to be the favorite, but she's stronger in the 400 than the 200. On the other hand, the USA's Maggie Bowen swam a lifetime best in the 400 IM for silver, and she's much stronger in the 200 medley. We have to go with Klochkova, but Bowen definitely could pull off an upset here. 2:11, and possibly 2:10, should win it.
China's Qi Hui should also be in the hunt, but judging by her 200 breast, she's lost a bit of her edge.
1. Yana Klochkova (UKR)
2. Maggie Bowen (USA)
3. Qi Hui (CHN)
Men's 4 x 200 meter Freestyle Relay
This is the easy one. Barring an act of God, massive disqualifications or a failing tioming system, the Aussies take this. In fact, they should be able to lower the WR they set last year in Sydney. With Thorpe more than a second better than he was last year, Hackett probably capable of a 1:45, and Klim and Kirby able to contribute 1:47s, we're looking at 7:04 here folks.
The battle for second should feature the USA, Italy, Germany and the rising lads from Great Britain. That battle could go any of several ways.