By John Lohn
PHILADELPHIA, Penn., June 3. THE latest installment of our World Championship previews revolves around the men’s 200 butterfly, probably the most wide-open event on the male slate. No clear-cut favorites – not for gold, nor for the medal podium.
Who Takes Home the 200 Fly Title?
As the two-time defending champion, Michael Phelps would have been a lock to hit the trifecta. But, Mr. Olympia is focusing elsewhere and has provided a gift to his world-class brethren in the four-lap version of the butterfly. With Phelps out of the equation, the battle for gold is a tossup.
Phelps, though, accounts for just a portion of the depletion in the event. At last summer’s Olympics, Japan’s Takashi Yamamoto and Great Britain’s Stephen Parry collected silver and bronze, respectively. However, both will not be in Montreal. So, who are the contenders? Let’s see.
Poland’s Pawel Korzeniowski might have the strongest argument for favorite status, although such a distinction probably doesn’t exist. With the second-fastest time in the world this year (1:56.36), Korzeniowski knocked on the medal door at the Olympics, but settled for fourth. Perhaps he is due for a top-three finish.
In Takeshi Matsuda and Ryuichi Shibata, Japan boasts a duo capable of filling the void left by Yamamoto’s absence. Matsuda, en route to victory at the Japanese Nationals, uncorked the fastest time in the world this year, an effort of 1:56.28. Ryuichi was right behind, clocking in at 1:56.84.
Among the other challengers are China’s Wu Peng and Germany’s Helge Meeuw, who hold the third and fourth-fastest performances in the world. The Chinese youngster has gone 1:56.54 this year and was sixth at last year’s Olympics. As for Meeuw, he went 1:56.61 at the recent German Nationals.
With Phelps out, the American contingent will find a medal push to be difficult. Davis Tarwater (1:58.71) and Michael Raab (1:58.79) earned the U.S. Slots at April’s Trials, but must slice at least two seconds from their times to be in contention.