Pre-coverage of the World Championships is sponsored by Wylas Timing. Each week leading up to the start of the swimming competition at the FINA world championships, Swimming World will offer medal predictions for the 42 events set to be contested in Kazan, Russia.
Commentary by Jeff Commings, Swimming World Senior Writer
South Africa’s Chad Le Clos is looking for a sweep of the three butterfly events at the world championships, something no one has ever done in the meet’s history. The 50, 100 and 200 butterfly races require different talents, which makes it very difficult to claim gold in all three at worlds. Le Clos was able to pull off the triple at the short course world championships last December, and the confidence of pulling that off could carry over to Kazan. Le Clos will have very strong competition in all three events to keep him on his guard.
Le Clos’ chase for history could be overshadowed by Sarah Sjostrom, who has the capability of claiming the 50 and 100 butterfly events. The 100 fly will be the spotlight event for her as she looks to reclaim the world record and break the 56-second barrier.
Men’s butterfly at the world championships
Brazil is the biggest threat to Le Clos’ planned triple butterfly gold, coming into the meet with the top two seeds. Cesar Cielo is on the hunt for his third-straight gold in this event, with compatriot Nicholas Santos ranked first in the world with a 22.90. Unfortunately, only two swimmers per country can swim in any event, so Brazil couldn’t put third-ranked Henrique Martins in the race after his 23.22 from the World University Games.
The 50 butterfly will take a swim in the 22.7 range to win gold. Le Clos’ weakness is his opening speed, which is needed in the 50 fly. Cielo, Santos and others know how to blast into top speed right off the blocks, which puts Le Clos in a major disadvantage. As he did at short course worlds eight months ago, he will target the finish and will hope to pull off the upset.
Fred Bousquet was the bronze medalist in 2013, but he didn’t make France’s team. In his place will be Florent Manaudou, who will look to raise the French flag in the 50 fly. Manaudou will be a very strong challenger, having amazing underwater kicking skills and talent to stay with the leader at the finish.
The Americans are only entering Tim Phillips in the meet, and he should be a finalist. Tom Shields would also be a strong medal contender, but is saving his energies for the 100 and 200 distances.
Men’s 50 butterfly medal predictions
Gold: Cesar Cielo
Bronze: Florent Manaudou
Le Clos’ defense of his 100 butterfly world crown will not be easy. Shields is looking to bring the title back to the United States, and his 51.73 last week unshaved makes him the moist formidable opponent. Winning the national title over Michael Phelps at last summer’s nationals proved he’s finally grasped the intricacies of long course butterfly, and that will help him greatly in Kazan. Shields’ 51.25 from last summer might be enough to win gold, unless we see someone dig deep and crack the 51-second barrier.
Le Clos has been on the edge of seeing “50” on the scoreboard since 2012, but hasn’t made it happen. Perhaps the excitement of a fast final will get him under. Le Clos’ challenge will be keeping in contact with swimmers such as Shields on the first 50 meters. That’ll give him the ability to run down the sprinters and break 51 seconds.
Konrad Czerniak of Poland goes into the meet as the top swimmer of the year with his 51.37, and he’ll be looking to return to the medal podium after taking bronze in 2013. As was the case in 2013, the field will be very tight, and Czerniak is one of the few swimmers who paces his 100 fly evenly. Where Le Clos will almost even-split his race, Czerniak takes the race out hard and manages to hold on. Czerniak will need to not panic and overswim his first 50 in an attempt to build a big gap over Le Clos and Shields.
Belarus could have two swimmers in the final. Yahuen Tsurkin of Belarus was a finalist in 2013, and has made big strides to post a 51.44 so far this year. Pavel Sankovich, now a postgrad swimmer after a good college career at Florida State University, has the potential to join Tsurkin in the final.
Men’s 100 butterfly medal predictions
Gold: Chad Le Clos
Silver: Tom Shields
Bronze: Konrad Czerniak
Le Clos was crowned the king of the 200 fly after beating Phelps in the 2012 Olympics, and that reign could end in Kazan, if Japan’s Daiya Seto has his way. Seto has the potential to outswim Le Clos in the 200 fly and give Japan its first world championship gold in the event.
Le Clos hasn’t been under 1:54 since the Olympics, but he’ll need to dig down and crack that barrier if he wants to defend his title. Seto is on the cusp of a 1:53 in the 200 fly as well, but we’ll see if he can get past the Japanese curse of not swimming faster in the big championship.
Laszlo Cseh looks to be returning to the event after a few years away. He was the 2008 Olympic silver medalist and is never one to be counted out when the race is close. If Le Clos or Seto can’t get under 1:54, look for Cseh to make a sneak attack and possibly steal gold. Cseh is a strong closer, like Le Clos, but has been working on improving his front-end speed, as evidenced by his venture into the 100 fly that resulted in a silver medal at the 2013 worlds.
Leonardo de Deus won the 200 fly at Pan Ams earlier this week with a 1:55.01, and we will see if he has a faster swim in him for his second taper meet. De Deus has the makings of a 200 fly superstar, but has been lurking in the shadows of Phelps and others for many years.
Shields and U.S. teammate Tyler Clary are wild cards. We haven’t seen them in a taper meet in a year, but their times from summer 2014 show they have the potential for a 1:54 in the final. Others to watch are Belgium’s Louis Croenen and Japan’s Masato Sakai.
Men’s 200 butterfly medal predictions
Gold: Chad Le Clos
Silver: Daiya Seto
Bronze: Laszlo Cseh
Women’s butterfly at the world championships
What a great story it would be if Jeanette Ottesen were to successfully defend her 50 fly world title! It would come about six weeks after she was part of a brutal road rage attack that left her with some injured fingers, and no doubt some shaken nerves. She’s been back in the race pool, and doing well, but she’ll need the swim of life to get past Sarah Sjostrom.
Sjostrom is the world record holder and is on the cusp of a very successful world championships. Sjostrom will have a packed schedule, though she’s skipping the 200 freestyle, and will need to approach her world record of 24.43 to keep competitors at bay.
Getting under 26 seconds won’t be enough to guarantee a medal. Behind Sjostrom, the remaining seven ladies could all have a legitimate shot at the minor medals. But it depends on the race execution in a swim that is over in a flash. Ottesen looks to be in a good place for silver, while Inge Dekker of the Netherlands and Lu Ying of China are strong. Sprint freestyle specialists Fran Halsall and Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace have potential to make the final and use their explosive speed to put up big challenges.
Women’s 50 butterfly medal predictions
Gold: Sarah Sjostrom
Silver: Jeanette Ottesen
Bronze: Fran Halsall
Can Sjostrom reclaim her world record in the 100 butterfly? She got close to Dana Vollmer’s 55.98 just a few weeks ago with a 56.04, so the answer might not be “maybe,” but rather “how far under 56 can she go?”
This would be Sjostrom’s third world championship title in the 100 fly to go along with the 2013 gold medal and the 2009 win that made her an international celebrity. She was just 15 years old when she took the gold in 2009 with a then-world record time of 56.06, and after a few years of struggles, she’s back on track and on the verge of a major swim. The good thing is the 100 fly is her first event, so the fatigue of multiple races will not have worn her down in any way.
Ottesen is in position to take silver in this event as well, but Australia’s Emma McKeon continues to get faster with each taper swim. If the trend continues, McKeon might break 57 seconds for silver. Look for McKeon’s teammate Madeline Groves to push for Australia to go 2-3 in the event.
The Americans don’t look strong in the 100 fly. Unfortunately, Kelsi Worrell was not fast enough to make the world team when it was selected last summer, so her 57.24 from Pan Ams might reign as the fastest American time of 2015. Kendyl Stewart and Claire Donahue have the potential to make the final, but a medal does not seem likely.
Canada’s Katerine Savard didn’t look particularly strong in her Pan Am swim, but she might be saving her big race for Kazan. If so, we could see the 2014 Commonwealth Games champion in the medal mix.
Women’s 100 butterfly medal predictions
Gold: Sarah Sjostrom
Silver: Jeanette Ottesen
Bronze: Emma McKeon
Women’s 200 butterfly
This is the only women’s butterfly race that does not have a clear favorite. As many as five ladies have the makings of being world champion here, and they can thank some missteps from the Chinese in making this a wide-open event.
Jiao Liuyang, the 2011 world champion, has had some physical issues to deal with this year, and did not compete at the Chinese trials. Liu Zige, the reigning world champion and world record holder, is also struggling and did not make the world team. Based on the results of the 2013 meet and last year’s rankings, Spain’s Mireia Belmonte Garcia is on track to win her first long course world title. She was second to Liu in 2013 and had a great European championships last year.
Also in the mix is Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, who has long been a gold medal contender in the 200 fly but has never been able to put together the right race. The major issue for her and Belmonte is their loaded race schedules and how it could affect them in the 200 fly. It’s likely to not be a major problem, though their challengers will be fresher.
Groves’ specialty is the 200 butterfly, but her speed in the 100 fly will help her in the longer race. She could find that opening speed a lot easier than the other women, and will hope to shake the pace a bit. Australia has been searching for the next big female butterfly star to join Susie O’Neill and Jessicah Schipper as world champions, so Groves has some big shoes to fill.
A big surprise at the top of the world rankings right now is Germany’s Franziska Hentke, whose 2:05.26 won’t be fast enough to win in Russia, but has the potential to get her on the medal stand. The gold medalist will swim in the 2:04-mid range, and Hentke’s confidence to go that fast might have taken a major positive turn after her swim at the German Open.
American teenager Katie McLaughlin is becoming a major international player in the 200 butterfly, and though her lifetime best is “only” 2:07.08, she made big drops in 2014 to get on the world team and snag a bronze medal at the Pan Pacific championships. Another big drop could be in the making in Kazan. Cammile Adams is likely to also make the worlds final, and will also need a big drop in her lifetime best of 2:06.52 to earn a medal to put next to her Pan Pacs gold.
Women’s 200 butterfly medal predictions:
Gold: Mireia Belmonte
Silver: Katinka Hosszu
Bronze: Madeline Groves