Chad Le Clos at the 2011 World Cup
Courtesy of: OSports-USA TODAY Sports
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PHOENIX, Arizona, July 12. FOR the first time since 2000, we won't see Michael Phelps in a major international swimming final of the 200 butterfly. But the field this year could be historic event without The Greatest of All Time. And on the women's side, look for a near mirror finish from London, with a few fresh faces trying to sneak in for a medal.

Swimming World correspondents Jeff Commings, David Rieder and Julia Wilkinson-Minks offer their medal predictions for each event throughout this series and a brief analysis of their top-three selections.


Women 200 butterfly

Rieder
Gold:
Jiao Liuyang
Silver: Natsumi Hoshi
Bronze: Katinka Hosszu
Darkhorse: Jemma Lowe

I'll take the reigning World and Olympic champion to add another title in Barcelona. She has been the most consistent 200 butterflyer in the world over the past several years, and I expect that to continue. Hoshi won bronze in London last year, while Hosszu has had a resurgent year after finishing ninth at the Olympics. Hosszu took third at the 2009 Worlds in this event. I expect American Cammile Adams to be in the medal mix, as she took fifth in London, as will Mireia Belmonte, Liu Zige and Audrey Lacroix. Lowe, meanwhile, has been in the finals at the last Worlds and last Olympics. She had the top time in semi-finals in 2011 before finishing seventh in the final. She could break out with a big finals swim.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Jiao Liuyang
Silver: Natsumi Hoshi
Bronze: Mireia Belmonte Garcia
Dark horse: Liu Zige

Unlike the men's 200 butterfly, the entire women's Olympic podium has returned in this event, as has the world record holder. Although sometimes I am hesitant to choose last year's champion to repeat their win, when the Olympic champion also owns the fastest time in the world this year, it would appear that any post-Olympic letdown hasn't affected their training too severely. Jiao Liuyang is first in the world currently, but only a few tenths ahead of last summer's bronze medalist Natsumi Hoshi. Both of these women, and third place Mireia Belmonte Garcia, all posted these times back in the spring, so will probably be faster this summer. Liu Zige was eighth last summer, but is still the world record holder in the event, and is seeded fourth in the world currently. It would look like the medals could be the same (albeit slightly rearranged) as last summer, but then again, no one seems to be an obvious favorite headed into Barcelona. There definitely is potential for other swimmers to come out of the woodwork and earn a medal in this event.

Commings
Gold:
Jiao Liuyang
Silver: Mireia Belmonte Garcia
Bronze: Katinka Hosszu
Dark horse: Natsumi Hoshi

This should be smooth sailing for Jiao Liuyang, the reigning Olympic champion, but if the crowd really gets behind Mireia Belmonte Garcia, it could be enough to get the Spaniard to the wall first. Belmonte Garcia challenged for Olympic gold last year but couldn't match Jiao's final 50 meters. The world rankings behind Jiao is tightly bunched, with two swimmers posting 2:06s and four in the 2:07 range. Katinka Hosszu has been crisscrossing the globe regularly since missing out on the Olympic final last year, and all that racing experience will come in handy in Barcelona. But I don't want to neglect Natsumi Hoshi, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist. She could be a factor as well, but her problem is that she swims slower at the meet that matters than she does earlier in the season.

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Men 200 butterfly

Rieder
Gold:
Chad Le Clos
Silver: Bence Biczo
Bronze: Takeshi Matsuda
Darkhorse: Tyler Clary

Chad Le Clos should be the overwhelming favorite in his signature event. Le Clos ended the reign of Michael Phelps in the 200 fly a year ago, and he returns to a much weaker field than he faced in London. Takeshi Matsuda finished a close third in that race, and although he has not posted a competitive time yet in 2013, Japan pre-selected him for Worlds as a result of that medal. Only four men total broke 1:55 in that final, leaving plenty of openings for newcomers in 2013. Watch out for Bence Biczo, who could finally break out and get on to the medal stand after finishing ninth in London. Others in the medal mix include Japan's Yuki Kobori, China's Chen Yin, and American Tyler Clary, who finished fifth in the Olympic final and has swum a 1:53 in the past, but he swam only a 1:56.58 at U.S. Nationals. Look for a big improvement over that in Barcelona.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
Chad Le Clos
Silver: Pawel Korzeniowski
Bronze: Grant Irvine
Dark horse: Tyler Clary

Compare the world top ten and last year's Olympic final in this event and you won't see a whole lot of overlap (if you can focus on anything other than the absence of Michael Phelps). I think the gold medal will come down to a close race between Chad Le Clos and Pawel Korzeniowski, but it's hard to bet against the guy who is, as of right now, probably most famous for being the kid who beat Michael Phelps last summer. Although he has not been incredibly consistent this season, I refuse to count him out unless he swims poorly when he is tapered. Korzeniowski is a world champion in this event, from eight years ago at the 2005 World Championships in Montreal. He did not beat Phelps, but rather took advantage of Phelps' absence in the event while he was "experimenting" with other events beyond his usual 200 butterfly and 400 IM domination. Now that Phelps is gone again, maybe Korzeniowski will step up again. Grant Irvine has the second-fastest time in the world right now, but is a rookie on this stage. Either the excitement of World Championships will bring out the best race in him, or he could buckle under the pressure. I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he will be successful. Tyler Clary's swim from Trials does not have him in the top ten in the world this year, but he was an Olympic finalist last summer, and now that he is out of Phelps' butterfly shadow, might shine in this event in Barcelona.

Commings
Gold:
Chad Le Clos
Silver: Takeshi Matsuda
Bronze: Pawel Korzeniowski

Eight men in the 1:55 range headed into world championships. Eighth place in last year's historic Olympic finals was 1:55.18. Usually, the world championships are a tad slower, but if all eight men go as fast or faster than they've swum so far this year, we could see a faster final heat than we saw in London -- and this year won't include Michael Phelps! Chad Le Clos and Takeshi Matsuda should find themselves separated from the pack after 100 meters, with a great battle for bronze in the making. Who will come out on top for that minor medal? This is what makes this sport so exciting. Whoever can fight through the burn and accelerate through the final 50 meters will be rewarded with a trip to the medal stand. Pawel Korzeniowski, who's ranked No. 1 going into Barcelona, is the 2005 world champion, so he knows what it takes. So does Tyler Clary, the Olympic champion in the 200 backstroke, but the training in the past few months might not carry him to a medal in this crowded event.


Tomorrow: 50 breaststroke

Missed our previous previews? Click the links below.
400 freestyle ---- 400 freestyle relay ---- 100 butterfly ---- 100 backstroke ---- 200 freestyle ---- 100 breaststroke ---- 800 freestyle

Agree or disagree with our world championship medal predictions? Sound off below in our comments section.