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WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS PREVIEW for July 23 -- July 22, 2001 Anthony Ervin revs up the crowd before his 100 Free race.

By Phillip Whitten
FUKUOKA, Japan, July 22. THIS is our preview of the events to be contested tomorrow, July 23, at the World Championships in Fukuoka. For more information on the meet, take advantage of Swimming World and Jr. Swimmer Magazine's Special Subscription Offer

Women’s 200 meter butterfly
With Olympic champion Misty Hyman sitting this one out, and WR-holder and defending champion Susie O’Neill retired, this race should belong to Australia’s Petria Thomas, the perennial bridesmaid. Thomas has the world’s fastest time this year, 2:07.32, by nearly two seconds. This should be her coming-out party.

German up-and-comer Annika Melhorn, 18, should be Thomas’s closest pursuer. She’s improving quickly and could give the Aussie a tough go, but another two second drop seems unlikely.

The battle for third should be very tight, with the USA’s Kaitlin Sandeno (2:08.81 in Sydney last year) mixing it up with teammate Shelly Ripple (2:11.50), Japan’s Yuko Nakanishi (2;09.66 last year), 15 year-old Hungarian Eva Risztov (2:10.39), Danish veteran Mette Jacobsen (2:08.11 last year) and Spain’s Mireia Garcia (2:10.24). Sandeno, however, may be spooked by her 800 freestyle final later in the evening.

Every one of these women has the capability of going 2:09 or better and it probably will take a sub-2:09 to win the bronze.

Our picks:
1. Petria Thomas (AUS)
2. Annika Melhorn (GER)
3. Yuko Nakanishi (JPN)

Capable of winning a medal: Eva Risztov (HUN), Kaitlin Sandeno (USA), Mette
Jacobsen (DEN), Mireia Garcia (ESP), Shelly Ripple (USA)


Men’s 50 meter Freestyle
In the absence of the two fastest men in history - Russia’s Alex Popov 921.64) who is recovering from a severe throat infection and the USA’s Gary Hall, Jr. (21.76), who is just rounding into shape - this event should belong to the third fastest man in history: the USA’s Anthony Ervin (21.80), who tied with teammate Hall for Olympic gold last year.

This is Ervin’s chance to show he’s the fastest man in the water, and all indications are that the University of California junior will do just that.

Ervin’s closest competition should come from Holland’s Pieter van den Hoogenband and Britain’s Mark Foster. Hoogie was third last year in Sydney with a 22.03, but only has a 22.74 to his credit this year. No matter. This isn’t Hoogie’s strongest event, but we think he’ll uncork a sub 22-effort.

As for Foster, he took Ervin’s short course record away this year, but he also feels he has something to prove, after landing a spot on the British team in this event only after appealing a decision by National Team Director, Bill Sweetenham. In the past, the 31 year-old Foster has been dynamite in short course but much less impressive over the 50 meter course. This could be his chance at redemption.

Other challenges could come from Australia’s Brett Hawke (22.29 last year) and South Africa’s Roland Schoemann (22.19 last year). Sweden’s Stefan Nystrand, European short course champ, Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Shyrshov and Japan’s fast-improving Tomohiro Yamanoi may also threaten.

Poland’s Bart Kizierowski (22.05 last year) has been inconsistent in big meets, while
Italy’s Lorenzo Vismara (22.11 last year) and Algeria’s Salim Iles (22.59) tend to fizzle under pressure. The USA’s Jason Lezak (22.30 last year) is better at 100 meters.

Our picks:
1. Anthony Ervin (USA)
2. Pieter van den Hoogenband (NED)
3. Mark Foster (GBR)

Could medal: Brett Hawke (AUS), Roland Schoeman (RSA), Stefan Nystrand (SWE)


Women’s 100 meter Breaststroke
On the face of it, this race should belong to the USA’s Megan Quann, whose American record 1:07.05 last year brought her Olympic gold and the world’s fastest time. But Quann has been struggling a bit of late, especially since her coach left his club in Puyallup, Washington, to take a position in Florida.

Chinese 16 year-old Luo Xuejuan, who locked herself in a bathroom in Melbourne last January refusing a drug test, is ranked first globally this year with her 1:07.42, and she could be the one to beat. This, however, is her first-ever, high-pressure international meet. Another sweet 16 year-old, Australia’s Leisel Jones, has gone sub-1:08 this year (1:07.96) after earning silver behind Quann last year in (1:07.42).

That’s not all: There’s Hungary’s Agnes Kovacs, Olympic champ in the 200 breast. She went 1:07.79 last year but usually is better over 200 meters. And there’s the USA’s Kristy Kowal, the defending world champion who is also better at 200 meters, but who beat Quann in the 100 at Trials, 1:08.25 to 1:08.41. Finally, South Africa’s Sarah Poewe, who swam 1:07.48 last year, has to be considered a threat, though less so if FINA officials watch her dolphin kick on the pulldown after the start and turn.

Our picks:
1. Luo Xuejuan (CHN)
2. Leisel Jones (AUS)
3. Kristy Kowal (USA)

Definite medal possibilities (maybe even gold): Megan Quann (USA), Sarah (RSA), Agnes Kovacs (HUN).


Men’s 100 meter Backstroke
In the absence of reigning Olympic and world champion and WR-holder Lenny Krayzelburg, this baby is up for grabs. On the face of it, Olympic silver medalist Matt Welsh (54.07) should have the inside track to be crowned king of the 100 meter dorsal swim. But it’s far from a lock.

The USA has two strong contenders in Aaron Peirsol and Randall Bal. Peirsol was the silver medalist in Sydney at 200 meters and he has the world’s second fastest time this year in the 100 (54.80), but the 17 year-old may lack confidence in his ability to sprint with the best of them in the shorter race.

Bal, a Stanford sophomore, may have a better chance to medal. Third last year at the Olympic Trials in a pr 55.00, he improved steadily during the short course season and is ready to go a sub-55: perhaps 54.5.

Challenging Bal will be his Stanford teammate, Markus Rogan of Austria, whose 55.90 this year is ranked 16th coming into Japan. Rogan, too, is ready for a drop to the exclusive sub-55 second club.

Australia’s #2 guy, Josh Watson, swam 54.82 in Sydney last year, winning the bronze, and he’s already gone 55.26 (8th) this year.

Others who may upset: Iceland’s (yes, Iceland’s) Orne Arnasson, who only has a 56+ to his credit and is better at 200 meters, but is ready to join the Big Boys; Croatia’s Cal-educated Gordan Kozulj, also better at 200; the German pair of Stev Theloke and Steffen Driesen; and Hungary’s Peter Horvath, whose 55.05 (5th) earlier this year is a national record.

Our picks:
1. Matt Welsh (AUS)
2. Randall Bal (USA)
3. Orne Arnasson (ISL)

Definite medal contenders: Markus Rogan (AUT), Josh Watson (AUS), Peter Horvath (HUN)
Long shots: Aaron Peirsol (USA), Gordan Kozulj (CRO), Stev Theloke (GER), Steffen Driesen (GER)


Women’s 800 meter Freestyle
Like the women’s 200 fly and the men’s 50 free, this is another event where the world’s top two swimmers last year are not in contention. Olympic champion Brooke Bennett (USA) missed the US Trials and thus did not make the American team. Ukraine’s Yana Klochkova, the silver medalist in Sydney, is skipping this event to make her big time debut in the 400 free.

The absence of the Big Two opens the door Big Time for a one-two US split. Kaitlin Sandeno was third in Sydney last year (8:24.29) while Diana Munz ranked fifth in the world off her 8:28.66 effort at the US Olympic Trials, where Sandeno just touched her out.

We’re going to go out on a limb here and pick a US sweep, but it won’t be an easy sweep for the Red, White and Blue - especially because Sandeno already will have swum a 200 fly.

Switzerland’s Flavia Rigamonti, who finished fourth in Sydney (8:25.91) is in this field, though she only has an 8:44 to her credit this year. So, too, is Germany’s Hannah Stockbauer, ranked sixth last year with her 8:29.84.

China’s Chen Hua, ranked seventh last year (8:30.58), can’t be counted out, nor can Japan’s Sachiko Yamada, 8:32.92 for 10th last year, or Britain’s Rebecca Cooke ((8:34.91 this year). Yamada has been on the verge of breakthrough for two years and may finally reach her potential in front of a hometown crowd.

Our picks:
1. Diana Munz (USA)
2. Kaitlin Sandeno
3. Hannah Stockbauer (GER)

Could wind up on the podium: Flavia Rigamonti (SUI), Sachiko Yamada (JPN), Chen Hua (CHN), Rebecca Cooke (GBR)


Women’s 4 x 100 meter Freestyle Relay
The USA is hurting with the loss of co-captain Lindsay Benko to a freak accident, and at least six other nations are hungry to grab the crown from the defending World and Olympic champions. With the retirement of Dara Torres, Jenny Thompson and Amy Van Dyken, the Stars and Stripes are nowhere near as dominant as the team that set the WR (3;36.61) in Sydney. This is a much less experienced American team, but it also is quite deep - no great superstar to compare with Inge De Bruijn or Dara Torres, but four solid world class young women.

Holland (the only other sub-3:40 team in Sydney last year), Sweden (if Therese Alshammar is recovered from her illness), Germany, Great Britain, Australia and China all smell blood. But, if we are right, smelling it is all they’ll do. There will be no American-cut prime steak for those outlanders this evening.

The US should win a close race, with the battle for silver and bronze fast and furious.

Our picks:
1. USA
2. Germany
3. Great Britain

Could get silver or bronze: China, Sweden, Holland, Australia.