World Championships Preview: A Breaststroke Rivalry Rekindled

By John Lohn

PHILADELPHIA, Penn., May 20. THE fourth installment of our World Championships preview series peers at the intrigue surrounding the men’s breaststroke events, particularly the impending 100-meter faceoff between the United States’ Brendan Hansen and Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima.

Breaststroke Battle

Phelps vs. Hoogie. Phelps vs. Hackett. Hoff vs. Klochkova. The potential clashes in Montreal are juicy. But, is there a better storyline than the rematch of Brendan Hansen and Kosuke Kitajima in the 100 breaststroke? Maybe not. After all, the final should feature the two fastest men in history less than a year after controversy surrounded their duel in Athens.

It was at last summer’s Olympics where Kitajima edged Hansen for gold in the 100 breast. Yet, Kitajima’s tactics during the race raised red flags, as the Japanese star illegally dolphin-kicked off the start and flippered his way off the turn. Consequently, he earned a narrow triumph over Hansen and proceeded to celebrate the victory with a primal-scream routine.

Well, Hansen has not forgotten those post-race antics and is intent on changing the outcome at the World Champs. The world-record holder (59.30), Hansen was scorching at the United States Trials last month, as he blistered world-leading times in the 100 and 200 breast events. Meanwhile, Kitajima sputtered at the Japanese Trials. Although he qualified for the World Champs in the 100, Kitajima failed to do so in the four-lap event.

So, it’s down to one meeting, and we’re picking Hansen to stand on the top step of the medal podium. While Kitajima owns two of the five sub-minute performances in history, he has not cracked the one-minute mark in two years. As for Hansen, his world-record swim was in another stratosphere. If Hansen swims to his capabilities, Kitajima will not have the ability to stay with the American.

Once finished with his duel with Kitajima, Hansen will shift his focus to a meeting with Dani Gyurta, the Hungarian youngster who won silver at the Olympics in the 200 breast. Long considered the future of the longer breaststroke, Gyurta owns a personal-best time of 2:10.75. What type of progression has he managed in the last year? That answer remains unclear.

In terms of Hansen, the 23-year-old owns the global standard (2:09.04) and went 2:10.20 at the U.S. Trials, a race that saw Hansen maintain world-record pace through 150 meters. Similar to the 100, if Hansen is clicking, he’ll be difficult to beat, largely due to Gyurta’s come-from-behind style. While Gyurta caught Hansen at the wall in Athens, he’s unlikely to do the same against Hansen when the American is in peak form.

NEXT WEEK: The Katie Hoff Phenomenon

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